When you call yourself the Cuisine Capital of the Caribbean, you had better be ready to back that up. And with so many amazing food stories coming out of the islands these days, punctuated by the annual Cayman Cookout and Jamaica’s Food and Drink Festival, you could say that Barbados has some fairly stiff competition.
But at this year’s Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival, an extra-long weekend of eating — south end, north end, all about the towns — revealed one sure-fire thing that eclipsed the fine-dining establishments, The Cliff, The Tides, Cin Cin, among them: You can find exquisite home cooking everywhere, on side streets, in parking lots, a few steps away from busy beaches and in the middle of nowhere.
People cling to the backs of the food trucks on the streets at lunchtime on street corners from Speightstown in the north to Oistins in the south. Super-fresh fare can be had for next to nothing; large portions of fish and rice or chicken roti washed down with a Banks beer, eaten on the spot or transported back to your lounger by the pool. Food carts with the biggest lineups are the ones to hold out for, naturally.
It doesn’t take long for fresh tourists to catch wind of Cuz’s Fish Stand near the Radisson on Needhams Point, which serves a tasty, breaded flying fish sandwich on a melt-in-your-mouth white bun to tourists and locals alike. Doctor it with mayonnaise and hot sauce to your taste, and you’ve got a mind-blowingly good lunch-to-go. The stand is so busy on the weekdays that Cuz has the luxury of taking the weekend off.
The same goes for the food counters at some of the little rum shops that dot the island — one- and two-room bars where locals gather to take a break, play dominoes and shoot the breeze. Again, achingly good fish and chicken dishes like Mama used to make will have you coming back when your taste-memory jogs. Count on that being even the next day!
A pilgrimage to Oistins fish fry is a Friday-night tradition for islanders and one you must take part in for its warm, community feel and local authenticity. This little fishing village’s Oistins Bay Gardens has multiple seaside stalls, with surrounding picnic tables blue with smoke from grills sporting swordfish, mahi mahi, snapper, flying fish and more. Rustic and fun, this island icon is quite near St. Lawrence Gap, a strip of restaurants and pubs that cater mostly to the tourists. Again, skip the bar and grills in favour of the food carts woven among them, or just wander over for drinks after your Oistins experience.
A roundup of the island’s fast food wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Chefette, the Barbados version of KFC. Seemingly everywhere, the chain can thank the quality of the local chicken for its popularity. Their broasted snack-packs and sumptuous rotis are two top-notch delights, guilty pleasures that aren’t really that guilty – just pleasure.
In all, Barbadian traditional cuisine in its simplest form is not just good value, it’s worth writing home about.
See you in the rum shops.