A Taste Of Home: A Culinary Journey Back To Barbados

Food & Drink

Since I migrated to the Cayman Islands from Barbados four years ago, I’ve found myself yearning for the sensory experiences that I once took for granted.

The familiar pop of flying fish, our cherished national dish, as it sizzles in a greasy pan. The vibrant hues of multi-colored rum shops lining the coastline. The gratifying crunch of a freshly fried fish cake, its golden exterior yielding to a tender, flavorful interior. Or the crispy top layer of a macaroni pie, bits of which I like to peel off and savor when no one’s looking.

Okay. Okay. It’s the food I’ve been craving.

In the realm of cuisine, Bajan gastronomy reflects a fusion of influences hailing from Africa, England and India, seamlessly woven together with locally sourced, fresh ingredients. From the versatile breadfruit, yam, cassava and sweet potato, to the hearty pumpkin and aromatic green onion, and the tangy essence of sorrel, gooseberry, and sugar apple… Every dish is infused with the tantalizing tropical flair of locally grown herbs and spices such as thyme, scotch bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon, and bay leaf, creating a symphony of taste sensations.

Right at the peak of my craving for these flavors from home, destiny intervened in the most tantalizing way for me and my two daughters— Devon and Drew. Sadly, my oldest daughter, Aerin, who was away at university could not partake in the fun.

For the very first time, residents of the Cayman Islands were presented with a regular opportunity for direct travel from Grand Cayman to Barbados.

The timing of the inaugural Cayman Airways flight couldn’t have been more serendipitous. It aligned perfectly with my children’s mid-term break and the start of the Barbados Food and Rum Festival—an annual multi-day extravaganza celebrating the island’s culinary prowess.

It was an opportunity too enticing to resist.

For the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., and Cayman Airways, this inaugural flight wasn’t just happenstance. It was a carefully orchestrated event, marked by anticipation and excitement, offering us a taste of Bajan delights even before we boarded the plane.

For my family, this was a highly-anticipated short journey back home, free from the constraints of costly and time-consuming layovers in Miami that had previously prevented us from visiting more often.

My girls hadn’t set foot on Bajan soil in two years, and the prospect of dedicating an entire week to rediscovering Bajan food made us very excited. Armed with food journals and a carefully curated itinerary, we embarked on our adventure.

Our journey began with settling into a blissful week-long stay at the all-inclusive Sugar Bay Hotel, nestled within the heart of the historically rich Garrison area in Christ Church, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As the hotel is surrounded by a vast array of dining options, we opted to remain on the property for breakfast and venture outside for lunch and dinner.

Positioned along the pristine south shore of the island, the soothing symphony of crashing waves and salty sea breezes provided the perfect setting for breakfast buffet dining at the Reef restaurant, the hotel’s main dining establishment.

Among the breakfast options, my daughters were most enchanted by the freshly fried “muffins,” also known as bakes— golden balls of dough infused with nutmeg, cinnamon, and almond essence, which were perfectly complemented by savory accompaniments such as eggs and cheese.

Other islands in the region, such as Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, and Grenada, have their own take on this regional delicacy which is frequently served alongside salt fish and steamed vegetables.

To wash down their breakfast each morning, my daughters became fast fans of the hotel lemonade, always opting for the quintessentially Bajan version made with fresh limes and brown sugar and topped with Angostura bitters.

While mornings were reserved for breakfast, beach walks and journal-writing, nights belonged to the rhythmic sounds of soca music and of course, more delicious food at a variety of venues.

The most anticipated activity on our itinerary was Oistins Under the Stars— a cherished tradition marking the beginning of the Barbados Food and Rum Festival.

For us, the Oistins fish fry represented more than just a meal; it was the cornerstone of our weekly routine back when we lived in Barbados. Each weekend, we’d journey to the lively southeast of the island, placing our order for “dolphin” (known elsewhere as mahi-mahi), with sides of fried breadfruit, plantains, and macaroni pie. Massive smoking grills revealed a smorgasbord of seafood options including tuna, swordfish, marlin, and flying fish, while huge containers overflowed with fresh salads, potatoes, rice and peas, and other mouthwatering sides.

True to form, our night at Oistins Under the Stars transcended mere culinary delight— it was a cultural celebration pulsating with life. Under the starry night sky, we immersed ourselves in the vibrant atmosphere, where music and entertainment intertwined seamlessly.

It was an experience, blending cuisine made by local vendors with rhythmic soca music, illuminated by a parade, and a showcase of culinary expertise from Bajan Chef Creig Greenidge and US celebrity Chef Anne Burrell.

In the days that followed, chefs and mixologists embarked on a suspenseful challenge: creating dishes and cocktails incorporating 50% Bajan ingredients, along with rum and a secret ingredient from a ‘Mystery Box.’ From breadfruit and scotch bonnet pepper to hibiscus, cassava, sweet potato and tamarind, an array of local treasures prominently featured in dishes and cocktails, adding pizazz and color.

And speaking of color, no trip to Barbados would be complete without a visit to Chefette, Barbados’ most iconic— and colorful— fast food restaurant. Most days at around noon, you could find us at a drive thru window, ordering some chicken tenders or my daughter, Devon’s favorite— a chicken and potato roti. These were nostalgic indulgences that transported me back to the days when my kids were young and I didn’t have the energy to cook. To my girls, they were delicious reminders of a happy childhood that would be forever etched in their memories.

Once we got our food, we’d head for a picnic at a nearby beach— either Accra or Pebbles on the south coast— or on days when we craved a scenic road trip, we’d embark on a journey to Little Bay in St. Lucy in the north or Bathsheba in Saint Joseph in the east.

While our days quietly unfolded with leisurely meals and seaside adventures, our evenings took on a magical quality, as we immersed ourselves in Barbados’ luxurious culinary scene. Amidst flickering candlelight and gentle ocean breezes, we savored the finest Bajan hospitality, each night a celebration of flavors and joyful reunions.

At Buzo Osteria Italiana, we found ourselves enveloped in the embrace of Italian charm. Surrounded by loved ones we hadn’t seen in years, each mouthful of pizza or handmade potato gnocchi evoked a sense of nostalgia and togetherness. The Orzo e grano, a delightful blend of barley and wheat berries, veggies, herbs and taggiasche olives, accompanied by focaccia stuffed with olives and washed down with a half carafe of Vinchio Vaglio Rare Moscato— my longtime favorite— took me back into the fabric of cherished memories and shared laughter.

In the enchanting coastal setting of Champers Restaurant, we were serenaded by the rhythmic melody of waves crashing against the reef below. Each dish, from the refreshing shrimp and mango salad to the succulent oven-roasted barracuda, was a masterpiece of Caribbean flavor and finesse, leaving an indelible mark on our palates.

As we savored every moment and every morsel, our hearts overflowed with gratitude for the warmth of Barbadian hospitality and the richness of its culinary tapestry. In those fleeting moments, amidst the clinking of glasses and the laughter of loved ones, we found nourishment not only for our bodies but for our souls.

Our culinary adventure would reach a luxurious climax at the Liquid Gold Feast— the pinnacle event of the Barbados Food and Rum Festival— where we were treated to a black-tie gastronomic showcase featuring the talents of Bajan chefs and mixologists. From Chef Anne-Marie Leach’s fried okra and cornmeal cake with spicy vegan “crab” salad— an inventive and healthy take on our national dish of coucou and flying fish— to Nigerian songstress, Ayra Starr’s electrifying live performance, each moment was a testament to the taste and vibe of our island home.

As our journey drew to a close, we savored one last meal at Local & Co., a farm-to-table eatery nestled along the shores of Speightstown in the north-west parish of St. Peter. Once a major port and trading hub, the area surrounding Local & Co. features a unique blend of old-world charm with picturesque streets, colorful historic buildings, art galleries, shops, and eateries, that offer visitors a glimpse into the heart of Barbados.

Here, surrounded by the historic enchantment of Barbados’ past, we indulged in innovative creations crafted from locally sourced ingredients, including cassava fried chicken, pumpkin and coconut soup, and breadfruit gnocchi. Each bite was a testament to the island’s rich culinary heritage.

As we bid farewell to Barbados, our hearts and bellies full, we carried with us not just the flavors of home, but the warmth of shared moments and cherished traditions.

In the world of food and family, there is no distance too great, no craving too small, and no yearning that cannot be satisfied by the love of those we hold dear and the flavors that remind us of where we come from.

Barbados— our home— we will be back.

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