“What’d you get?” Dean asks. “Goat Water!” I exclaimed with a huge smile on my face!
It’s 2 am and I’m down at Gemma’s near English Harbour in Antigua. Ms. Gemma and her team of ladies are slinging local favorites like grilled chicken, cockles, rice and peas, macaroni pie, fried fish, and more.
Under fluorescent lights, locals swirl around the open air space rhythmically raising bottles of Wadadli‘s. There’s no music at Gemma’s, but Abracadabra Restaurant and Disco-Bar (more commonly referred to as “Abra’s”) is providing a growling backbeat from across the street.
Fueled by more than a couple rums, I’m weaving through the crowd back to a picnic table to meet my friends, Dean and Kieran. I plop down between Dean and a couple of young ladies he was sharing the table with. Dean inspects my styrofoam bowl, which leads to the exchange we opened with.
Upon hearing of my choice, Kieran looks me over skeptically.
“Goat Water?! Bu’ what you think you doing tonight?!!”
Laughs all around, but I swear I caught a couple approving looks from the ladies at the table.
What is goat water?
It’s a thin soup. Swimming in its brown depths you’ll find lumps of practically any part of a goat (usually bones and all), there’s clove, thyme, plus some other assorted herbs and spices. Depending on what island you find yourself sampling goat water, don’t be surprised to find some additional items in there, too. Small dumplings, yams, potatoes, and the like.
You can find goat water on many islands in the Caribbean from Antigua, Grenada, St. Kitts, Nevis, and many more. It’s even the national dish of Antigua’s neighbor: Montserrat!
On islands like Jamaica, expect goat water to be served at weddings. Especially to the grooms. Why?
Goat Water the legend
It’s easy to understand Kieran’s joke and the looks of appreciation from our female table companions when you consider the dish’s other name: mannish water.
Perhaps Pluto Shervington said it best in his famous 1974 song “Ram Goat Liver:”
Ram goat liver good fi mek mannish water… curried goat lunch put de bite in your bark
Hear the whole song here:
Back at our table, laughter and carrying-on continues (now coincidentally with the inclusion of our lovely table mates) fueled in large part by the questionably performed, half-remembered lyrics to Pluto’s classic.
It’s late. There’ve been more than a few rounds. Abra’s continues to pound across the street. And I catch myself asking aloud to no one in particular as to how goat water could have possibly gotten this robust reputation.
“Tested and proven.” Kieran answers.
“Tested and proven.”