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Discover Bajan Flavor

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By Hope S. Philbrick

Of course a camera, swimsuit, sunglasses, sport gear and perhaps even an umbrella will come in handy. But the only essential you need to enjoy a vacation in Barbados is taste buds. Whether dining in a roadside shack or at an elegant restaurant, Barbadian (locals use the term Bajan) flavors never disappoint. For an island that measures only 21 by 14 miles, Barbados is home to a surprising array of culinary treasures. Several are too good to miss—and reason enough to plan a visit.

Rum

With 1,600 rum shops on the island, there’s almost no escaping rum in Barbados. And why would you want to? Blended with a Coke or a simple ocean breeze, there’s something supremely satisfying about sipping the sugar cane spirit in the place where it was born. (Actually, no one knows for certain where in the world rum was invented, but compelling evidence suggests it happened on Barbados. Documents dated from May 1657 reference “rumbullion,” further described as “Barbados liquor” or “Barbados brandy.”)

Rum has deep roots in Bajan culture and bright colored rum shops dot the roadside, as integral to the country’s social network as pubs in Ireland. Most folks gather at the rum shops that are located nearest their homes to chat with neighbors, play cards or dominoes and, of course, drink. “Our tradition is when you buy a bottle of rum, you never take it back home,” says Brian Harris, tour guide at Mount Gay Rum Visitor’s Center. Instead, folks crack open their purchases on site and share the rum with whomever else happens to be there at the time—and then sit back and let someone else buy the next round. The best way to taste Bajan life is to visit a rum shop, buy a bottle of rum to share, and chat up your new friends.

For more insight into how rum is produced and its role in history, visit the Mount Gay Distillery. The oldest rum producer in the world, Mount Gay offers an educational tour that includes a twelve minute film that clearly explains how rum is made, opportunities to sniff rum at different stages of the production process, the chance to taste different rums and rum cocktails side-by-side, and a gift shop where you can purchase products that aren’t available in the U.S.

Mount Gay produces over 10,000 bottles of rum each day, 15 percent of which is consumed on the island. Bartenders and mixologists at restaurants, bars and clubs continue to create new concoctions to showcase the local spirit. Finding your favorite can be a whole lot of fun.

Oistin’s Fish Market

On Friday and Saturday nights in Barbados, Oistin’s Fish Market is one of those treasured places that’s popular with both locals and tourists—and not only because it’s casual and affordable. Under the stars you’ll find rows of small wooden booths that house food and beverage vendors. Menus vary little, as the focus is on fresh, seasonal seafood and preparations are kept simple. Whether you try a whole red snapper roasted over an open flame or opt for steaming fish cakes, odds are you’ll devour whatever you order. Seasonings are typically simple—such as salt, pepper and fresh thyme—but you can add zing with a splash of hot sauce.

More than just a place to eat, Oistin’s is where to be. Bands playing calypso music will lure you to get your groove on. With its festive vibe, Oistin’s is one big party that everyone on the island is invited to join.

The Cliff

“We bring in the best quality and don’t settle,” says Brian Ward, owner of The Cliff restaurant—which has been ranked number 28 of the 50 best restaurants in the world (by Europe’s industry magazine, The Restaurant). The quality commitment is evident from the first sensational bite. “We have people who eat here every night of their fourteen night vacation,” Ward adds. (Though the prices at this fine dining destination likely put it into the one-time-splurge category for most folks.)

Whether here for the first time or thousandth time, growing bored of The Cliff’s menu is impossible. At least half the menu changes each night, three times a week it changes completely—based on seasonality of ingredients and product availability. Eclectic options range from haute cuisine like foie gras parfait with apple and raisin chutney and port glaze to upscale preparations of traditional fare like filet of redsnapper on mushroom dexelle and wilted greens.

The Cliff boasts outdoor dining at its breathtaking best: Snag a table by the railing and you’ll have a birds-eye view of the waves of the Caribbean Sea crashing into the white-sand beach. The fiery torches that provide romantic lighting may invoke a Survivor set, but being stranded here would be heavenly.

Flying Fish and Cou Cou

The national dish, flying fish and cou cou is a tasty combination. Cou cou is made using corn meal and okra. Served soft or firm it’s similar in taste and texture to Italian polenta. Flying fish is a dietary staple. Filets are approximately the size of tilapia, though slightly thicker and with a dark stripe of meat down the center. Whether steamed or fried, flying fish has a dense bite and a savory flavor. Steamed flying fish is typically served with a fish and tomato broth that adds a savory flavor dimension. When fried, with either a dense crumb coating or a flaky crust, flying fish is usually served with a hot sauce.

Flying fish and cou cou is readily found on menus throughout Barbados. One great place to try it is at the Waterfront Café on the Careenage marina in historic Bridgetown. Popular with locals and tourists, Waterfront Café boasts a marina view and offers live musical entertainment every night.

Waterfront Café, Bridgetown
Waterfront Café, Bridgetown

Pepperpot, Jug-Jug and More Indigenous Fare

Bajan cuisine has many influences, including African, Mediterranean, English, Indian, Asian, American and other Caribbean cultures. But fresh, seasonal, native ingredients—some beyond compare—and local cooking traditions define the island’s delicacies.

Among the interesting ingredients is mauby, a tree bark that’s steeped in boiling water and flavored with sugar and spices to make a juice; christophene, a pear-shaped squash-like fruit that’s eaten as a vegetable and tastes like cucumber; breadfruit, which has a taste and texture similar to mashed potatoes; black-bellied sheep, which yields a lean, delicate meat that tastes like a combination of lamb and goat; and the Barbados cherry, which is the richest source of Vitamin C in the world.

Popular local dishes include pepperpot, a spicy stew with as many recipe variations as there are families, and jug-jug, a mixture of Guinea corn and green peas. But hot sauce is most ubiquitous to the Bajan table. The most common variety has a mustard base and fiery hot scotch bonnet peppers. But grocery stores stock a plethora of hot sauce options, ranging from sweet-and-warm to fiery hot.

Bajan cuisine rewards those with an adventurous palate, but it can be appreciated on even the simplest level – the tap water. Barbados is a coral and limestone island with naturally filtered water. It’s arguably the best drinking water in the world.

If You Go

KnowB4YouGo

U.S. citizens need a valid passport. Camouflage clothing is not allowed on the island. English is the official language of this member of the British Commonwealth. Barbados’ currency is tied to the U.S. dollar at an exchange rate of $1.98 BDS to $1 US.

How2GetThere

Delta offers several flights from Atlanta; non-stop routes are offered during peak seasons.

Where2Stay

Tamarind Cove
At Tamarind Cove Hotel all 110 rooms are steps away from the Caribbean ocean. Rates from $365 per night
Tel: 246-432-1332
www.tamarindcovehotel.com

Hilton
The Hilton Barbados offers 350 rooms, all with ocean views. Rates from $299 per night.
Tel: 246.426.0200
www.hiltoncaribbean.com/barbados

Sandy Lane
Sandy Lane, the island’s most exclusive guest address, boasts 113 units (95 one-bedroom units and 18 suites of varying size) Rates from $950 per night
Tel: 246.444.2000
www.sandylane.com

All rates vary by season and room amenities

What2Do

Reference the new Zagat Guide “2009 Best of Barbados,” the first and only Zagat guide in the Caribbean. Hundreds of establishments are rated, including restaurants, nightlife, attractions and golf courses.

More Information
Barbados Tourism Authority
Tel: 800-221-9831
www.visitbarbados.org

Bajan Mixology

Savor Bajan flavor at home by mixing up these cocktails.

Bajan Rum Punch

2 shots Mount Gay Eclipse Rum
4 wedges of lime
2 teaspoons raw or turbinado sugar
4 drops Angostura bitters
Grated nutmeg and lime wedge for garnish

Muddle lime and sugar. Add rum and shake with ice.  Pour into rocks glass and top with bitters. Garnish and serve.

Bajanpolitan

1.5 shot Mount Gay Premium White Rum
0.5 shot blue curaçao
Juice of half a lemon
Juice of half a lime
1 shot water
0.5 shot Falernum
Lemon zest for garnish

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish and serve.

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Hope S. Philbrick is a freelance writer because she doesn’t think work and fun should be mutually exclusive. For more of Hope’s writing on food, wine and travel visit her blog at www.insathope.blogspot.com.

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