It’s a daunting task that only true epicureans can conquer. It won’t happen in just a day or two, so pace yourself — start on an empty stomach, grab a road map, rev your engine, and let’s nyam our way through Barbados one parish at a time.
A drive through this parish proves Barbados is neither quiet nor sleepy. Commercial, leisure, and educational activity booms in the southwest. A walk through the capital city Bridgetown leads to meals reminiscent of family reunions. Restaurants on Broad Street are renowned for generous portions of macaroni pie, sweet potato pie, creamed potato, cou-cou and flying fish, rice and peas with baked chicken and stewed meat. Oh, and a side of sweetbread with coconut in the centre. First-timers can enlist the help of Lickrish Food Tours for an in-depth experience.
Buying a meal is simple, but obtaining the ingredients opens a world of theatrics. Celebrated calypsonian the Mighty Gabby sings:
Bridgetown early, Saturday morning,
See de women, how dem calling,
Saying, come fuh ya breadfruit, come fuh ya corn,
Come fuh de apples, fresh as de morn,
Come fuh banana, come fuh potato,
Come fuh de guava, de guava, de guava, de guavaaaaaaaaa.
With aprons around their waists and heads traditionally wrapped to balance the loads on their heads, Bridgetown’s market vendors beckon eagerly to potential buyers. Most wear broad smiles while they engage in unpretentious friendly conversation. The sweet aromas of the fruits in season easily persuade you to grab a few banknotes from your stash. Nearby, the Rastafarian street market Temple Yard sells ital and vegetarian fare.
Whether you’re heading into Bridgetown and its Garrison — a UNESCO World Heritage site — or leaving, there’s a landmark on Pebbles Beach you’ve got to pause at. Cuzz Café is sweet for so! Before Adam was a lad, this fish shack was satisfying locals and visitors alike with the best fish and cheese cutters in town.
Barbados is the land of flying fish, and Bajans have proven over and again that they are true fish connoisseurs. Fish cakes (round saltfish fritters) burn like an eternal flame in the hearts of many. When you’re on the south coast, at any time of day, Oistins Bay Garden is definitely worth a stop for terrific budget dining. Many of the eateries next to the second-largest fish market in Barbados play the dual role of restaurant and bar. The catches of the day are prepared with your choice of sides, and you’ll even find a splendid serving of barbequed pork ribs on the menu. Outdoor family-style picnic tables provide an uninhibited, relaxed atmosphere as you dine roadside or around the amphitheatre. Or come back on Friday and Saturday night, and join the locals who gather for an after-work lime with dancing and karaoke.
Let’s not forget Granny’s across the street! For over thirty years, queues have stretched into the parking lot as patrons patiently wait to taste Granny Walcott’s renowned chicken necks, gizzards, and livers. Her recipes continue to live on, though she’s no longer with us.
Spirits soar high in Barbados. For every church, a rumshop is close by. Traditional rumshops sport a spinoff design from traditional chattel houses, with three wide doors and two steps leading to the road. Over a thousand colourful shops with drinks branding are scattered around the island. Barbados, after all, is the birthplace of rum. And, given the Caribbean’s climate, a five-year-old rum has the maturity of a ten-year-old scotch whisky.
What are you drinking? The slam of dominoes may greet you as you enter a rumshop. An intense game of draughts may be happening in the corner, too. Lively chatter fills the air while you sip an infamous Bajan rum punch. Some of the cheapest but most scrumptious local food is found here, without the inflated prices of cosmopolitan eateries.
Rum shop visits are entertaining, and so too is an exploration of Barbados’s distilleries, which all make internationally acclaimed rums. Although the Mount Gay Distillery is the oldest in the world, in this parish, the Foursquare Distillery and Heritage Centre brings high notes of enlightenment. The tours are insightful, and if you’d like to sample the beverage, there’s a fee of US$10. Leh we fire one for the road!
Try not to be amazed if someone sings a rendition of this ditty:
Hark the Herald Angels sing
A gallon o’rum is just de t’ing
Peace on earth and mercy mild
A pint for a man and a gill for a child
Many Bajans identify themselves as pork-mouths. One dreadful year, the island experienced a pigtail shortage. Desperate to quell the cravings and possibly earn money, someone broke into an establishment which sold “proper pork” to obtain some buckets of pigtail. Those were some serious times. Barbecued pigtail is generally a street food, but it’s also accessible in some restaurants islandwide.
If you’re around on a Saturday, this day is dedicated to pudding and souse. The pudding is made from grated and steamed sweet potato, while the souse is pickled pig parts. It’s often accompanied by breadfruit. Two locations, a bit difficult to find but definitely worth getting lost for, are Lemon Arbour and the Souse Factory. People drive from all areas of Barbados for the lime and the food. One couple I know first met at one of these establishments, and years later it was the scene for the marriage proposal. Where there’s food, there’s love.
Community spirit is palpable as you traverse this parish en route to the Flower Forest Botanical Gardens. Have you ever wondered what Barbados would have looked like before it was colonised and the landscape transformed by agriculture? These gardens paint a beautifully vivid picture. Complete serenity. Birds harmonise with each other, chirping in delightful melodies. Inhale deeply for the scent of ginger lilies. You’re caught mid-breath as you take in the panoramic views towards the Atlantic Ocean and Scotland District. Here’s a good place to rest for a bit. Conkies — coconut, pumpkin, sweet potato, sugar, spices, raisins, and cornflour wrapped in banana leaves — are on offer at the café. Traditionally, conkies were prepared on Guy Fawkes Day (5 November), commemorating a failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London. Since that colonial-era celebration has disappeared, conkies are now in abundance around Barbados’s Independence Day (30 November).
Empty tour buses line the east coast road after offloading groups for picnics, surfing, and sunbathing. On Ermy Bourne Highway, a large tent above picnic tables catches your attention. Like an oasis in the desert, the Sand Dunes Bar and Restaurant stands out. There’s no official menu, except for a chalkboard highlighting the daily specials — mostly traditional Bajan cuisine. During the Christmas season, jug-jug (a meat and pigeon pea dish), great cake (black cake), and sorrel will make appearances on menus. Eat your heart out!
The second largest city in Barbados is named after William Speights, who once owned this land. Speightstown (pronounced Spites-town) is rich in history, and some of the colonial buildings still remain along Queen Street, Church Street, and Orange Street. Have you ever heard of lead pipes and meat rolls? Maybe salt bread? How about salt bread with two fish cakes, locally known as “a bread and two”? These can be found in just about any Speightstown bakery. They are perfect for a good breakfast or mid-morning snack. On Orange Street, head to P.R.C. Bakery for some of the most mouthwatering coconut slices, turnovers, and current slices on the island.
Sometimes in the evening, mainly on Sundays, bread vans drive around Barbados honking their horns and yelling, “bread, bread, bread!” You may see them parked outside of workplaces selling baked goods, pumpkin or corned beef fritters, cutters, fish cakes, and bakes (the name is misleading since they are fried).
Generally off the beaten path, this parish is the only one named after a female patron saint. Located at the northern tip of the island, the Animal Flower Cave welcomes numerous return visitors. In the cave, small brightly coloured sea anemones, biologically classified as animals, play hide and seek. After eating so much, the cave is a good, dimly lit place to swim, especially if you’ve developed a slight paunch. Above the cavern, souvenir huts, spectacular views, and the North Point Restaurant overflow with Barbadian and West Indian flavour.
Against the backdrop of the Caribbean Sea, the districts of Holetown and Sunset Crest are your oysters. Locally known as the Platinum Coast — due to the abundance of upscale hotels, resorts, golf courses, and shopping centres — this stretch offers endless choices for fine or casual dining. The Tides Restaurant breathes life into your culinary sojourn with elegance, and across the road, Just Grillin’ Restaurant exemplifies the true meaning of refreshment after a day at the beach — or, in this case, a road trip. Grilled mahi mahi seasoned with Bajan seasonings and love is a crowd favourite. Maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of DC United football player Wayne Rooney (formerly of Manchester United) leaving his villa when you’re in the area.
Magnificent stalactites and stalagmites run through caverns in Harrison’s Cave. Deep inside, near the cave’s lowest point, is a forty-foot waterfall dropping to a blue-green lake. Outside, vendors sell souvenirs and local sweets. A hard candy made with molasses, coconut, and sugar melts in your mouth. But when you hear what it’s called, try not to choke. The controversial black bitch has been having this effect on people from time immemorial. Other local sweets include guava cheese, nut cakes, tamarind balls, and sugar cakes.
When traffic gets heavy around the island, this parish provides ample back roads to reach your destination. The Bulkeley Sugar Factory is a major landmark, although it’s no longer operational. The Portvale Sugar Factory (in St James) is the only working sugar factory remaining in Barbados. They’d be happy to give you a tour.
Meanwhile, early on Saturday mornings (6 to 10 am) the Brighton Farmers Market on Brighton Plantation has become the meeting spot for those seeking a good bargain, plus breakfast and coffee. You may find roast corn and breadfruit, with some mauby too. Come rain or shine, this open-air market supplies produce, artisanal products, plants, and clothing.
Barbados is considered the culinary capital of the Caribbean for the numerous international and local cuisines available on the island. Options range from street food to fine dining, Japanese to Italian, as our award-winning chefs take you on a journey around the world. The Barbados Food and Rum Festival is the pinnacle celebration of Barbados’s gastronomy, now in its ninth year. The island continues to be a major hub in the Caribbean for promoting the influences of the world.
For more information, visit www.visitbarbados.org/food-and-rum-festival
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Caribbean Airlines operates daily flights to Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados from destinations in the Caribbean, with connections to North and South America