Five things to know about Bajan food and drink
With Barbados’s annual Food and Rum Festival coming up, discover more about the country’s gastronomic scene, from its national dish to its Friday-night traditions.
As the Caribbean’s biggest celebration of food, the annual Food and Rum Festival could only happen in one place: Barbados, the culinary capital of the West Indies. A time to ‘lime’ — the Barbadian word for partying and having a good time — this four-day gala showcases Bajan produce and gastronomy through the creations of local and international chefs, from street fare to upscale gastronomy. Get ready for it with this round-up of some of the country's best dishes, ingredients, eateries and beloved foodie traditions.
1. The home of rum
Widely considered the birthplace of rum, no visit to Barbados is complete without having sampled the beloved spirit — as well as the ubiquitous rum punch, made from the perfect mix of rum, lime juice, sugar cane syrup, a splash of Angostura bitters and a scrape of nutmeg. Learn about the history of the country's oldest export at Mount Gay Distilleries, founded in 1703 and believed to produce the oldest rum in the world, or get an insight into rum production at one of three other active distilleries, Foursquare, West Indies Rum Distillery and St Nicholas Abbey. For something more casual, join a tour of the island’s brightly painted rum shacks.
2. Flying fish is a must-try
Flying fish is a Barbados icon. Getting its name from its habit of leaping out of the water, using wing-like fins to glide, it's native to the island and appears on coins and the country’s passports. It’s also the main component of the national dish, flying fish and cou cou: fillets of the small fish are fried until crisp, then served hot and spicy with a thick, creamy mash of cornmeal and okra. Visit one of the island’s wet fish markets — Bridgetown, Oistins or Speightstown — and you’ll find experts trimming, filleting and selling it in bags, ready for locals to fry it in a coating of flour or breadcrumbs, mixed spices and Bajan blackened seasoning.
3. Macaroni pie, the Bajan comfort food
Another culinary treasure of the island, macaroni pie (or just ‘pie’, as locals call it) is the Barbadian take on macaroni cheese. The island's comfort food of choice, it comes with a kick: long tubes of macaroni are broken up into smaller pieces and mixed with cheese, evaporated milk, Bajan spices (including allspice, onion powder, nutmeg and more), mustard, ketchup and hot sauce, then baked until crisp. While variations of this casserole now exist all over the world, it's speculated that the dish was first created in Barbados, making the local recipe as storied as it is delicious. More firm than standard macaroni cheese, it's eaten in slices.
4. Join Barbados's weekly bash
Friday evening is 'fish fry night' in Barbados, when locals come together for an informal meal of grilled or fried bites, cooked on the spot. Small fries can easily be found all across the island, but the busiest and most famous place to join the tradition is the Oistins area, on the south coast. Being at the heart of a fishing community, it’s vibrant and convivial — the place for a lime with seafood, rum, beer and dominoes. There’s always a long queue at Uncle George Fish Net Grill, where the eponymous Uncle George — tongs in one hand, spatula in the other — flips tuna, swordfish, lobster, shrimp and dolphinfish (mahi mahi). Some nights there might be a band, but live music or not, there are always dancers moving to a mix of Calypso and old-time tunes — think Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Platters and Jimmy Cliff.
5. Tuck into a cutter
The Bajan king of sandwiches, a cutter is a salt bread roll filled with cheese, egg, ham or fish, along with lettuce, tomato and hot sauce. You’ll find cutters everywhere in Barbados, be it rum shops, street food stalls or beach huts, but the most famous are arguably those served at Cuz’s Fish Shack on Pebbles Beach, on the south-western coast. In operation for seven decades, first by Cuz Snr now Cuz Jnr, this trailer sells around 500 cutters a day — Cuz fills his with fried blue marlin seasoned with Bajan spices — and closes when they run out. Enjoy one with a bottle of local Banks beer.
Plan your trip
Virgin Atlantic and British Airways fly direct from London Heathrow to Barbados’ Grantely Adams Airport in around nine hours. The country has one of the largest collections of modern buses in the Caribbean, but to reach lesser-known spots, renting a car is recommended.
If you’re visiting in October, consider taking part in the annual Barbados Food and Rum Festival. In 2022, it will take place from 27 to 30 October at Golden Square Freedom Park. Chefs including Javon Cummins of Tapestry, Rhea Gilkes of Fusion Rooftop and Trevon Stoute of Pavão will oversee a series of events, from a food truck mashup and breakfast on the beach to rum tours and community pop-ups. This year’s theme is ‘Feed the Future’ and aims to support education and training opportunities for young people in areas of culinary and hospitality development.
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