How We Cook

From Head to Hoof

It’s a Wednesday. My Ochi rounds are complete, and I’m approaching home. I reach for my keys and glance up at the gate. Gazing back at me from inside is a four-legged trespasser. His face is right up against the iron bars and has an expression, which reads “Yuh can let me out, please?”

Throwing out my hands in disbelief, I say, “Yuh really mek dis happen to yuh again??”

The dry look on his face says, “Jus’ help out a goat, nuh man.”

It’s apparently a habit of these creatures. They drift into the yard, get locked in accidentally and then wait to be freed.

I slide open the gate, stand aside and sweep both hands towards the road. He saunters half way through then stops, fore legs on the road, back legs still in di yard. He looks behind him. There are two younger goats, a stone’s throw away, anticipating the green light from their goat leader. I say to the young ’uns, “Hurry up, please! I don’t have all day.”

They skip out. I close the gate. Their body language suggests fearlessness or possibly a naive trust that the nice lady, who pass them on the road all di time, won’t butcher, curry and serve dem up with a side of fluffy, white rice and boiled green bananas and–because we Jamaicans don’t let anything go to waste—tenderize their innards and nether parts in a spicy mannish water or goat-head soup.

Okay, I can see some of my non-Jamaican friends recoiling in horror and ready to bear placards. Stop! It’s not as dreadful as it sounds. These soups are like oak trees on the landscape of traditional Jamaican cookery. And they’re actually rather tasty.

In contrast to many Jamaicans, the first spoonful of goat soup didn’t pass my lips until I was well into my 30s. (. . . I can hear the loud, collective gasps, around the world, from fellow Jamdowners.) Yes, for thirty-odd years, I allowed squeamishness to overtake my better judgment.

It was a mild case of motion sickness, which sealed my conversion. I can’t remember whether it was the twists and turns on Mount Rosser or the rhythmic pausing and swaying of the Knutsford Express through Fern Gully, but a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Kingston to Ochi on a long bus left me queasy. I landed on the steps of a nearby jerk centre in search of someting warm to sekkle mi stomach.

“That’s the only soup yuh have?” I asked the cashier, deflated, praying she had somehow forgotten about a less daunting, chicken-soup option.

“Yes,” she responded, straight-faced.

My mind raced back to the time a good friend brought me a container full of goat-head soup from her ten-year-anniversary celebration, which I was unable to attend. If I could shut my eyes and tackle the brew in her honour (and enjoy it, I dare admit) then what was a likkle goat tripe, eh?

I ordered the smallest cup, sipped slowly and belched discreetly. Now, in Jamaica, when you belch after eating, it mean seh di food ‘eat good’. This light version of mannish water with less than a tablespoon of chewy protein was delightful.

Mannish Water from Ocho Rios Jerk Centre.
Mannish water from Ocho Rios Jerk Centre.

In our culture, mannish water is a must-have at family reunions, weddings, dances and Christmas shindigs. The good times don’t roll until you open up your appetite with this party pleaser. Outside of a large social gathering, this element of authentic Jamaican gastronomy may be found at laid-back, reputable, Jamaican eateries. Just ask your Jamaican friends or your JUTA taxi driver. But be warned: the item may not be on the menu everyday. Hotels and upscale restaurants aren’t likely to serve it at all. And even if by some extremely, almost non-existent chance, they do, it would probably be a tamer version—more like mannish water cousin.

If you’re not yet a convert, challenge yourself. Put it on your bucket list. And when you finally have dat cup of deliciousness before you, look pass di unrecognizable tings, and focus on di rich, smooth, slightly peppery, flavourful liquid, the yam, green banana, Irish potato and dumplings. I guarantee you, the next time a goat crosses your path, you won’t look at him the same way again (but, please, don’t touch him unless you own him!).

A "dressed up" plate of curry goat served with a yam and potato mash and a neat bundle of steamed carrot sticks and string beans from June Plum (back in the day), now Aqua View at Mystic Ridge Resort, Ocho Rios.
A “dressed up” plate of curry goat with a yam and potato mash and steamed bundle of carrots and string beans from June Plum (now AquaVue) at Mystic Ridge Resort, Ocho Rios.

Below are ingredient lists for mannish water and curry goat. My apologies again for the lack of measurements. And, listen mi, don’t go substituting our traditional seasonings with celery and cilantro and all that fanciness you see on Food Network. Because while di pot a bubble pon di stove, the aroma should mek yuh feel like yuh in a Caribbean kitchen.

Let me know how they turn out, or if you’re already a pro, share your recipes with us.

Catch yuh next time.

Love and peace.

Mannish Water
Goat head, feet and tripe, chopped and rinsed well with water and white cane vinegar
Green bananas, cut into rounds
Irish potatoes, cubed
Yam, cubed
Scotch bonnet pepper, left whole
Flour- to make spinners (thin, cylindrical dumplings)
(Some persons also add carrots, coco, turnips, cho-cho, pumpkin and dry soup mix to their pot. No problem, but whatever you add, please ensure the goat doesn’t get lost in it.)

Bring water to a boil in a deep pot (be generous; make sure it’s more than enough to cover the meat). Add goat. Simmer until tender (2 1/2-3 hours). Add green bananas, Irish potatoes, yam and all seasonings. Simmer another 15-20 minutes. Add spinners. Adjust water and seasonings as needed. Simmer until soup thickens slightly (shouldn’t be too thick or too thin). Remove Scotch bonnet pepper. Serve.
Warning: Please do not let the Scotch bonnet pepper burst in the pot or you will literally be crying over your soup. These peppers are hot going in and hot coming out (you get what I’m saying?).

Curry Goat
Goat meat, cubed (don’t debone, please. Bones have plenty flavour)
Indian or Jamaican curry powder (roughly 1 Tbsp per pound of goat)
Cloves (use sparingly)
Scotch bonnet pepper, left whole
Irish potato, cubed
Cooking oil (enough for light frying)
Hot water

A day in advance, season meat with salt, curry powder, pimento, thyme, cloves, garlic and scallion. Heat oil in a deep pot. Burn about a tablespoon of curry powder in the oil. Add meat. Fry lightly, stirring frequently until meat is slightly browned. Add enough hot water to cover meat about three-quarter way. Lower heat. Carefully add a whole pepper (don’t pierce or squash it, please). Cover pot and let simmer until meat is tender. Add potatoes. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, the meat is falling off the bone, and the liquid has thickened. Total cooking time can take 2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on how tough the goat is. Don’t be afraid to add more hot water during the cooking process as needed. Serve curry goat with a vegetable salad and starch of your choice.
Warning: Please do not let the Scotch bonnet pepper burst in the pot or you will literally be crying over your goat. These peppers are hot going in and hot coming out. (can’t say it enough.).


5 thoughts on “From Head to Hoof”

  1. Gasp! 30 odd years without mannish water? Hope that isn’t how long it will take me to convince my boyfriend to drink mannish water. He’s been living here for 6 years. I’ll sooner convince him to have that than bulla though as bulla err… isn’t anything any heterosexual Trinidadian male will gleefully consume.


    1. Yes. For the squeamish, these things take time, can’t be rushed. He’ll get there. Maybe. But the bulla thing? You know, in JA, that’s pear’s best friend. Don’t even bother call the name. Just serve it. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, I love your writing. Curry goat is top of my to-do list for when I get back home to my kitchen.. but I might leave the mannish water until I try it somewhere else first..


    1. Thanks Lana. Even I haven’t tried cooking mannish water for myself yet. Will leave it to the pros for now. Let me know how the curry goat turns out when you get around to it.


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