Barbados Gastronomy: Must-Try Caribbean Cuisine
More than one million people visit Barbados each year, and most come in search of just a few basic commodities: beach, sea and sunshine. The gorgeous tropical island serves up generous helpings of all three, but Barbados is also an important stop on the Caribbean circuit because of its culinary prowess. In fact, foodies are often more interested in the cuisine than in the white sand and palm trees.
The Barbadian government declared 2018 to be the year of culinary experiences, and locals proudly call their island the culinary capital of the Caribbean. If you are lucky enough to find yourself on Barbados, here are some delectable dishes you shouldn’t miss:
Cou-Cou and Flying Fish
If there is any doubt about the importance of the national dish of Barbados, consider this: the flying fish is depicted on the island’s coins, fountains and artwork, and is part of the official logo of the Barbados Tourism Authority. Cou-cou and flying fish even made National Geographic’s list of top 10 national dishes in the world.
Cou-cou is a polenta-like cornmeal and okra porridge with a mushy consistency similar to its Middle Eastern cousin, couscous. Happily, someone once discovered that it goes perfectly with flying fish, which are abundant in the waters of Barbados. This fish, which admittedly has a strong fishy flavor, can be breaded, steamed or baked and served with garlic, tomatoes, pepper and fresh onions, or fried and served with a tasty sauce.
Pudding and Souse
There are many variations of this centuries-old dish, traditionally eaten on Saturdays, but it essentially consists of pickled pork and a savory pudding made from sweet potatoes, hot peppers and spices. The pork (souse) is mixed with pickled onions, cucumbers, limes, peppers and parsley. While pork shoulder is often used nowadays, traditional souse is made from the pig’s feet, snout, ears and tongue. This island favorite is usually served cold and often accompanied by pickled breadfruit on the side.
If cou-cou and flying fish are the national dishes of the island, then fish cakes are certainly the most popular one. Salted cod is mixed with herbs and spices and fried up until it reaches the perfect golden brown. You can get them all over the island, from street vendors to the most elegant restaurants. Barbados’ version of the “meal deal” is the “Bread and Two,” which includes two fish cakes, a slice of cheese and pepper sauce.
There is no specific recipe for this island classic, the Barbadian version of macaroni and cheese. Tubular macaroni is used instead of elbow. Herbs, spices and ketchup or tomato sauce are also mixed in. Its unique taste comes from a secret ingredient, yellow mustard. Everything is combined into a baking dish and baked until golden brown. Vegetables or tuna can be added to change it from a side dish to the main entrée. Every home and restaurant on the island has its own version, but one thing is for sure: no visitor to Barbados should ever leave the island without tasting someone’s macaroni pie.
Conkies were originally a traditional snack prepared on Guy Fawkes Day. Today they are eaten all year round. This sweet treat is made by mixing corn flour with coconut, spices, sugar, pumpkin and, sometimes, raisins or cherries. The mixture is wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed until hot. You can get them anywhere at any time, but they are especially popular on Nov. 30, which is Barbados' Independence Day.
For a delicious snack or meal on the go, grab a cutter and keep moving. This is a simple sandwich with egg, ham or fish. Tomato, lettuce and even cucumber are sometimes added for a heartier treat. And cutters are always made with salt bread, a savory bread that’s also a Barbados specialty.
Many Caribbean islands not only have their own traditional cuisine, but also a beverage that they are famous for. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, it’s the painkiller. It’s the dark and stormy in Bermuda, and Puerto Rico has its piña colada. On Barbados, rum punch is king. It’s as much a part of the island as the palm trees and sand. Rum punch is made with lime juice, simple syrup, rum, water, bitters, nutmeg and lots of ice. You can get one at any restaurant or beach bar — it’s a wonderful complement to the unique foods and flavors of Barbados.