Some things will never change. Among them, the timeless view of the bay upon entering St Lawrence Gap on Barbados’ south coast, and seeing an often-photographed restaurant overlooking the water. Lanterns illuminate the length of this gorgeous oceanfront property, reflected on the surface of the sea as fishing boats gently bob on the water. It stirs a sense of warmth within me.
Barbados is by no means a hideaway, and for me there is something about each restaurant that sets it apart from other destinations — perhaps because the local chefs are no strangers to the world of culinary competition.
Award-winning culinary ambassadors who believe that people first “eat with their eyes”, as well as those presenting audacious new creations, serve up abundantly appetising dishes — all packaged with passion — that foodies like me savour.
Many of these establishments along the south coast boardwalk are favourites among locals. Seaside dining? You bet! Eclectic menus? Of course! Mediterranean, Indian style … they’re all available. Cuisine from around the world effortlessly satisfies any palate, especially when paired with the south coast’s natural charm.
The island is abuzz with foodie activity in October, of course, for the Food & Rum Festival. Gastronomes, along with international chefs like Britain’s Michelin-starred Tom Aikens and American Anne Burrell descend on the island, while local talent like chef Marvin Applewhaite (who calls himself “a kitchen addict”); chef Nicholas Ifill (who’s won numerous awards including Barbados Chef of the Year 2019); and health coach and plant-based wellness chef Ann-Marie Leach have created quite a buzz.
But for foodies, the island’s old tourism slogan holds true all year round: “never a dull moment in Barbados”.
The hardest part of trying to make the most of my foodie adventure is determining where to start touring, and what to add to my itinerary. Should it be the platinum west coast; the jagged north coast with the Animal Flower Cave and stunning views; the highly traversed south coast, or the east coast’s countryside?
Okay, a swim in the gorgeous aquamarine waters surrounding Barbados is high on the list too — while eating pommecythere or golden apples (as Bajans call them), dipped in the salt water to enhance the flavour, of course.
There’s something unique about eating fruit in the sea or roast breadfruit on the shore — it makes me truly feel at home. Perhaps it’s my memories of growing up in Barbados and going to the beach 1,000 times a year eating homegrown food and freshly caught fish.
Seafood is very popular across the island. Flying fish, mahi mahi, amberfish, and shellfish frequently appear on menus. Bajans use the freshest herbs and spices with a few unique tricks, so don’t be surprised if your fish tastes … different, in the best possible way.
“Fish! Fish! Fish!” call the vendors at Oistins — the renowned fishing village on the south coast. It’s also known for the Friday and Saturday night limes with karaoke, accompanied by fun vibes and delicious fare ranging from grilled fish to barbecue spareribs.
Further along the south coast, towards Bridgetown, hides a food garden otherwise known as Worthing Square Food Court. Inconspicuous except for strings of lights glowing through the trees, food trucks serve up dishes from Jamaican to Japanese. Live music combined with a chill vibe under the stars make this a cool spot for a night out with friends. The food trucks are open from morning to night, but be sure to confirm opening hours since they vary for each food truck.
If you’re on a tight budget, the capital city Bridgetown is your treasure chest. Sometimes roadside vendors sell food from vans, and makeshift stalls line the pavement as well.
As for the sweets … Are you a coconut lover? There’s nothing like sweetbread with coconut in the middle, sugar cakes, coconut rolls, and coconut turnovers (a sweet bun with a coconut filling) to bring out child-like glee!
While in Bridgetown, I highly recommend a walking food tour through the city. Charismatic and extremely knowledgeable guides teach eager foodies about Barbados’ culinary heritage, including how pudding-and-souse rose to fame.
Of course, you’ll have to take the tour to find out why the lines to access anywhere selling pudding and souse sometimes spill into the streets on Saturdays. The pudding — steamed sweet potato seasoned with spices — is plated loosely with pork souse and pickled breadfruit.
Honestly, breadfruit isn’t my favourite, but various establishments like Yelluh Meat in Black Rock on the west coast are excellent at persuasion. Additionally, their outdoor concept captures the community spirit of roasting breadfruit combined with tuna, red herring, lamb, pickled pigtail and other meats. This delightful fuel can make the most generous person on earth stingy if they can’t buy an extra meal to share.
Making up for your stinginess can happen along the major highways, since some vendors prepare freshly roasted corn, roasted breadfruit, barbecued pigtails, and fishcakes on the highway’s shoulder. Be warned: leaving Barbados without a bread-and-two — “salt bread” (a bun or hops) with two fishcakes — is sinful. Your conscience, and Rihanna, may not forgive you.
Speaking of that superstar, fame and Barbados go hand in hand. And only Barbados’ award-winning rums can rival Rihanna’s fame. A sip of liquid gold will likely pique your curiosity about what happens behind the scenes. Learn about classic rums at the main distilleries on the island: Mount Gay Distillery (established in 1703), Four Square Rum Factory, St Nicholas Abbey, and The West Indies Rum Distillery.
Over 1,500 rum shops dot Barbados, but the term “rum shop” is subject to interpretation because they vary in form, theme, and culture — like Mexican, Irish, and of course, local. They can be considered off-the-beaten-path culinary treasures, too. Some of the best Bajan macaroni pie and baked chicken, sweet potato pie, cou-cou and flying fish (Barbados’ national dish) can be found in these haunts at economical prices. Follow your heart — and nose!
Not that this needs to be justified, but food is a common denominator among travellers. Although a new wardrobe appears necessary for me after eating my way across Barbados, I’ll mount a soapbox to declare Barbados is full of culinary luminaries winning over travellers with both the earthiest and most sophisticated palates.
Could this truly be the “culinary capital of the Caribbean”? An intra-Caribbean fight may break out over this. But good food, a full tummy, and unforgettable experiences will tide me over until my next visit … This could be the start of a new tradition.