Basking in the Caribbean sun on a white sandy beach, swimming in turquoise waters enjoying a cocktail—or two—in the birthplace of rum, is just what the doctor ordered. But eating like a local is what really immersed me in Barbadian culture. Bajan dishes start with a passion and love for food, something that gets amplified throughout the Barbados Food & Rum Festival. In Barbados, it’s about people gathering together and sharing stories around a table while enjoying traditional dishes and homemade rum punch. Here, the people are at the heart of it all.
Cuisine in Barbados is renowned for its diversity, variety and freshness. Often referred to as ‘The Land of the Flying Fish,’ Barbados’ national dish is flying fish with cou-cou. Somewhat like polenta or grits, cou-cou is made with cornmeal and okra.
Pickled pork with spiced sweet potatoes, known as pudding and souse, is another quintessential dish. I tried breadfruit for the first time. It is easily accessible on the island and seldom eaten raw. It has a slightly nutty flavour and can be roasted, fried, pickled or dried and ground into a gluten-free flour. Another local delicacy, bakes, comprise just three ingredients–sugar, water and flour, fried up into simple (and tasty) perfection.
Favourite catches include marlin, king fish, mahi mahi, swordfish and tuna, while fish cakes, home-grown grass-fed meats, rice, pepper sauce, sweet plantains and macaroni pie are other foods you’ll find on the island. Champers Restaurant in Bridgetown features an open-air terrace overlooking the Caribbean Sea—the oven roasted barracuda did not disappoint.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with traditional coconut bread and quench your thirst with a refreshing glass of mauby, made from the bark of the mauby tree, boiled with cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg and cloves, and sweetened to taste. Or try any number of cocktails made with the oldest and greatest export on the island—rum.
Barbados Food & Rum Festival, Oct 27-30
After a two-year hiatus, the Barbados Food & Rum Festival returned, highlighting the unique talents of thirty-two local chefs and mixologists and five international chefs. This year’s theme, Feed the Future, was designed to support local youth in the areas of culinary and hospitality development.
Oistins Under the Stars kicked off the festival with an open-air fish fry. Oistins is Barbados’ premier fishing village in Christ Church parish that houses a variety of vendors. I had the mahi mahi with rice from Mo’s Grill and Bajan Cooking. On a menu, mahi mahi reads as dolphin, but not to worry, you’re not actually eating Flipper! Pull up a seat, grab an ice-cold bottle of Banks beer and enjoy this unique foodie spot.
Bravo Top Chef season 16 finalist, Eric Adjepong, hosted a Chef Classics cooking demo. He made a beautiful red snapper dish with Cholula. As a first-generation Ghanaian-American, he sources the flavours and influences in his cooking from many of the West African dishes he grew up eating. He would love to win a Michelin star, but not for the bragging rights. Chef Adjepong simply wants to be recognized as a chef of colour, and to highlight Caribbean and African food.
Friday night’s Rum Route featured a parade of flavours and signature cocktails across bars and restaurants at the world-renowned St. Lawrence Gap. Cocktail Kitchen’s ‘Chef of the Year’ Damian Leach’s flying fish tacos and fire-roasted breadfruit and lobster paired with the signature Ginger Lily cocktail were truly memorable.
The birthplace of rum
Barbados rum is distinguished and strong with complex flavours. Cask The Story of Rum is an essential element of the Food & Rum Festival, as it delves into Barbadian heritage by telling the story through the birthplace of rum.
Located on the northern tip of Barbados in St. Lucy parish, Mount Gay Rum Distillery is where rum was born. They hold the official deed dating back to 1703, making them the first on record to produce rum and the oldest rum distillery in the world. Mount Gay is also home to the country’s first female master blender, Trudiann Branker. Branker began her journey in 2014 working in quality assurance as she worked her way up, learning from 25-year veteran Master Blender Allen Smith. Trudiann takes a very hands-on approach, exemplifying the love, care and passion she puts into each bottle that is released, blending 300 years of tradition with a modern and personal twist. Three natural elements make up Mount Gay Rum: water, yeast and molasses. The heart of it comes from hundreds of feet below from coral caverns, where Barbadian water is drawn.
During fermentation, airborne yeast creates a unique aromatic profile. The molasses is made using hand-selected Barbadian and Caribbean sugarcane. Mount Gay does not have a recipe they follow. Instead, what a master blender passes on is the knowledge as to what a Mount Gay Rum should look, taste and feel like.
Whether you visit for the Food & Rum Festival or just come to experience the many flavours of Bajan cuisine, Barbados offers a multitude of memorable dishes and drinks well worth trying.
Latest posts by Sabrina Pirillo (see all)
- Exploring the Wide World of Bajan Flavours in Barbados - April 27, 2023