Exhausted after the sports day, a bowl of hījā (goat) soup felt refreshing.
“Hello young man, would you like to try some hījā soup? It may smell a bit, but it’s good for a tired body. Do you think you can handle it?”
I had seen a gigantic pot giving off steam by the small building of Hatoma Elementary School in Yaeyama. It was my first hījā experience, although in Hatoma people pronounced it pījā. I wasn’t familiar with goat meat so the soup did feel a bit gamy, but I thought I would give it a try. Sipping the steaming soup, I immediately noticed its rich and lingering flavor. It must be quite nourishing, I figured. At the time (1976), the population of Hatoma Island was around twenty and there was only one elementary school student. However, the school’s annual sports day was held with numerous events and welcomed the participation of tourists like me. They even had a softball game at the end. It didn’t feel like a school event; it was more like an event to demonstrate that Hatoma Island was still full of energy. I was told that a group of people in Ishigaki Island, who were originally from Hatoma, also enthusiastically supported the event.
At such big events in Okinawa, people often prepare goat dishes. They’re offered before the event for people to boost their energy or afterwards to sooth their exhausted bodies. As the evening approached, I heard someone say, “the sukiyaki is ready.” Wow, they even cooked beef, I thought with surprise. But I soon found out that it was stewed goat offal. The flavor was even stronger than the hījā soup made with meat and bones, but it tasted good and went well with awamori. The party was now on the lawn section of the field. As someone started to sing “Bashintoui (The Eagle Bird Song),” a celebratory tune of Yaeyama, people began to dance. The sound of sanshin filled the still air of the autumn evening.
Goat meat is usually cooked as a soup or stew, but it is also enjoyed as sashimi nowadays. However, it’s not like they offer completely raw meat, instead, it is seared first. As people now enjoy a wide variety of cuisines, goat is the most expensive meat due to its rarity. The loin meat and the skin are usually offered as sashimi, but I prefer the latter due to its firm texture. The sashimi is enjoyed with soy sauce mixed with ginger and vinegar. Broiled over a gentle straw-fueled fire, the raw meat is slowly cooked, making it tender like roast beef. That is the authentic hījā sashimi, I was told.