How to eat your way around Barbados
When it comes to the laidback, idyllic island lifestyle of the Caribbean, Barbados has it down. White sand beaches and crystal waters attract not only visitors but major hotels, too. And with high-end accommodation come high-end restaurants. As a result, top chefs from around the globe are enticed by the island’s beauty and lifestyle. And while these restaurants are world-class, Barbados is much more grounded for chef David Carter. Here are the places, dishes and flavours that draw him in
Cuzz’s Fish Shack
Located on Pebbles beach, this two-by-two-metre box trailer sells one thing and one thing only: a Bajan fish cutter. It’s a pan-fried piece of swordfish, heavily marinated in Bajan seasoning (a mix of onions, chives, thyme, garlic, Scotch Bonnet peppers, marjoram, Worcestershire sauce and lime) and served in salt bread (a local bap). Made fresh and served hot, I could live on this. It’s a national treasure.
Everyday home cooks wake up at the crack of dawn to prepare lunch to sell later to other local folk – workers, builders, toilers of the land. Quite literally sold from the back of a van – often on the side of the road or in car parks – this is some of the best food you’ll come across and most certainly the cheapest. And it’s cooked from the heart. Look out for fried chicken, baked pork, stewed oxtail, grilled fish, rice and peas, macaroni pie, plantain, barbecued pig tails and breadfruit among the many menu delights.
Crop Over or Kadooment
This is our local carnival. Historically, it’s a celebration to mark the end of the yearly sugarcane harvest, hence the name Crop Over. It’s celebrated on the first Monday in August and sees us take to the streets in masquerade to form a conga line in full-blown costume right through Bridgetown, ending up on Spring Garden highway. The streets are lined with food hawkers, snow cones, coconut carts, local arts and crafts, van food and beer coolers. The island really comes alive. Last time I went, I was arguably ten years past my prime, but I still hold many a fond memory of pickled seacat (octopus) and roast breadfruit roadside.
Oistin’s Fish Market
A local fish market by day and fish-fry/grill by night, this place serves what is, and will forever be, my death-row meal. It has fast become one of the island’s most famed hotspots – particularly on a Friday night. Locals and tourists alike converge en masse to enjoy the food and soak up the atmosphere. Expect big open grills, picnic trestle tables, open-air market vibes and hearty portions. In addition to the food, there are street hawkers selling local crafts, steel-pan drum musicians and karaoke (which features some questionable local ‘talent’). Mahi mahi, known locally as ‘dolphin’ (from its Common Dolphinfish nomenclature), is a local meaty white fish that takes to the grills particularly well.
A rum shop to Barbados is what a pub is to England – you can expect to find one on every other corner. They’re part of our culture. There’s no beer on tap, only bottled, and there are no 25ml or 50ml spirit measures – you buy bottles of liquor only. A rum shop is a glorified off-licence with picnic tables out front sheltered by corrugated metal sheets. Buy a bottle of your liquor of choice, add an optional mixer, ask for a bucket of ice, receive your cup and off you go. One of the most famed rum shops in recent years to check out is the Village Bar in Lemon Arbour, St John. Time at a rum shop is soul food at its best, which is why they attract people of every age and from all walks of life.
Pudding and souse
This is a traditional Saturday staple lunch for locals. It has roots back to the time of slavery, when the offcuts and less favourable parts of the pig were given to the slaves. Taking ingredients from the land, the workers used local sweet potato and created a blood pudding of sorts. The sweet potato is mixed with pig’s blood, Scotch Bonnet chillies, chives, thyme, marjoram, cloves and other spices before being stuffed into pig intestines and steamed. The souse is pickled pork offcuts. The pork is boiled and mixed with more Scotch Bonnet chillies, lime and finely chopped cucumber. Recently, the dish has become gentrified, with a brown colouring substituting pig’s blood, and it’s now seldom seen stuffed in intestine. More commonly, it’s presented in a mash format and the souse now uses any cut of pork, including prime cuts.