Food, glorious food!
Want to get in touch with Bajan culture? The best way to really get to know the island is through your tastebuds.
One of the true delights of visiting Barbados is the opportunity to experience delicious authentic Bajan cuisine. And, it certainly is an experience – Barbadian food is made with a combination of fresh local produce and a variety of ingredients, enhanced with aromatic herbs and spices to create that distinct Bajan flare and flavour.
The national dish of Barbados is flying fish and cou-cou, which is traditionally served on Fridays. In fact, Barbados is known as ‘the land of the flying fish‘ and it is one of the Bajan national symbols. The flying fish is skilfully boned then rolled and stewed down in a gravy of herbs, tomatoes, garlic, onions and butter. Cou-cou is similar to polenta, and is traditionally made with a yellow cornmeal and cooked with finely chopped okras, water and butter. However, cou-cou can also be made with breadfruit and green bananas and served with salt fish or beef stew. Although a simple dish, as you can see, the options are endless.
Another popular Bajan dish (or snack) is fish cakes. These tempting little fried treats are made with salted cod, flour, herbs and pepper, and are served island-wide in all corners, from rustic rum shops all the way to elegant cocktail parties.
As Barbados is an island surrounded by water, a wide variety of high quality fresh fish is also readily available – barracuda, kingfish (wahoo), snapper, bill fish, chubb, yellow fin tuna and dolphin, you name it, we have it!
The Friday night Fish Fry in the quaint fishing village of Oistins on the south coast is a great way to sample these local catches of the day. A definite ‘must do’ experience for locals and tourists alike.
Note: Some visitors are mistakenly horrified to see dolphin on local menus – the fish is actually also called mahi mahi or dorado and rest assured it is not any relation to the porpoise.
The most common way to cook fish in Barbados is to season it with Bajan seasoning, coat it with egg, dust it in fine breadcrumbs then fry it in hot oil. Bajan seasoning is a blend of fresh herbs such as thyme, marjoram, spring onions, onions, garlic, parsley, basil and scotch bonnet pepper with spices such as clove, black pepper, paprika and salt. You can buy it pre-made in most supermarkets and convenience stores island-wide – try it for yourself.
A popular Bajan lunchtime favourite is a fish ‘cutter’ – fried flying fish or a fillet of fish sandwiched between a Bajan salt bread.
Bajans love their pork, and whether roast pork with crackling, a baked ham, or stewed down pork chops, the quality of Barbadian pork is especially delicious.
A local delicacy is pudding and souse made with various offcuts of pork meat, combined with sweet potato and various herbs. It is actually a Saturday ritual for many Bajans to eat pudding and souse and you’ll find many vendors selling this local dish religiously on Saturdays to cater to the demand of the local people.
Chicken usually heads up every Bajan’s shopping list. On Sundays, it is traditionally stuffed with a fresh herb stuffing made with the local ‘Eclipse’ crackers and baked whole. It can also be stewed, barbequed, stuffed with Bajan seasoning and fried, cooked with rice, curried, boiled into a delicious soup with vegetables – the list could go on.
Tip: Ask a local for their tip for cooking chicken and test it out for yourself!
While the diet of most cultures tends to focus on just one staple, the starch served with a meal in Barbados varies, with a wide variety of ground provisions available on the island – sweet potato, yam, breadfruit, eddo, green banana, bakes, cassava, rice, cou-cou, pasta, potato, and so on.
Rice is mostly cooked with some kind of pulse such as pigeon peas, black eye peas or lentils. Breadfruit, a large green football-sized fruit, has a similar taste and texture to that of a potato. It is served lathered in a tomato and onion, butter sauce, mashed or as crisp, wafer thin chips. You can also keep it very simple and roast it on a wood fire with a serve of coconut milk, fresh lime and a sweet or hot pepper.
One of the most popular starches with a meal in Barbados is actually macaroni and cheese, referred to simply as macaroni pie.
A wide variety of fresh locally grown vegetables are available from local markets. The most popular market is located in downtown Bridgetown and is a hive of activity on a Saturday morning.
Bajans serve their vegetables many ways.
Pumpkin is served boiled or made into sweet fritters and sprinkled with sugar and spice. Plantain, a member of the banana family but unpalatable when uncooked, is served fried or baked wrapped in bacon. Okra is served sprinkled with a little fresh lime juice or as part of a vegetable stew. Christophine (or chayote), a sugarless member of the melon family, is another unusual and popular vegetable which is often served with a cheese sauce or can be grated fresh into a salad.
Tip: Why not pop all of your veg into a pot and cook up a storm with a hearty vegetable stew? You can even try going fully ‘ital’ (from the Rastafarian faith – ital meaning ‘vital’ and strictly vegan in nature) and make your own boiled dumplings from flour and coconut. Try it and see!
Bajans are known for being ‘sweet mouts’. Local candies include guava cheese, tamarind balls, peanut brittle and chocolate fudge. However the most common and traditional Bajan dessert is coconut bread (also called sweet bread). For fancier occasions, lemon meringue pie, cheesecake, chocolate icebox pudding, good old chocolate cake and Bajan-baked custard are some of the local favourites to try.
By: Brett Callaghan