It is said that street food is where the essence of a culture can be found. For Barbados, with its longstanding reputation for fine white sand beaches, days of abundant sunshine and friendly people, it is fast proving to be the new drawing card luring the visitor to the reality of a true Barbadian cultural experience.
With the introduction of the Food, Wine and Rum Festival five years ago, the island is slowly emerging as the holiday destination of choice for those with a keen appetite for indigenous food. Barbados now lays claim to the title ‘culinary capital of the Caribbean. Those who travel the world in search of a unique culinary experience have been zeroing in on the festival and the numbers making the “pilgrimage” every year are growing.
These foodies have discovered that along with the increasing number of upscale restaurants offering exquisite fare across the island, outside on the street in specially equipped food vans, wayside makeshift kitchens or food carts, a new culinary experience always beckons.
Here the food is strictly Bajan, and in most instances, an example of what is cooked daily in many a Barbadian kitchen, from recipes handed down from generation to generation. And the menu is not limited to the quick-bites expected from the typical wayside cart. All over the island, a three-course meal of peas and rice, salad and meat or fish served in one take-away container is a staple on most street vendors’ menus.
Eating on the street provides the opportunity to meet Bajans on their level, to rub shoulders and have friendly exchanges conversing with the local population who find fast-food convenient because of the ready availability.
The pace of life and early start to the work day in many instances, force many to “pick up some food” on the way to or from work. When lunchtime arrives, so too do the mobile food carts – from the more sophisticated to the simple – rolling on to work sites; taking up parking positions outside office buildings. It is the scene repeated across Barbados almost every work day of the week, as workers gather to “buy lunch”.
Some vendors step up the accommodation with wayside seating, while the small village grocers and the Bajan rum shop cashes in, offering menu selections of cooked food along with the beverage of choice – be it a spirited cocktail of fine Barbados rum, a cold locally-brewed beer, or a locally-made soda.
For many Barbadians, lunch is preferably a heavy meal with a selection of dishes. Bajan peas and rice tends to be the main dish, with the choice of peas ranging from split peas to red beans, lentils, black-eyed peas and dried or green pigeon peas. This is more often than not served with a spicy stew of beef or pork, or baked turkey wings (imported) which is now another popular feature on the Bajan dining table.
For a lighter choice, there is the “cutter” – a Barbadian sandwich made with a loaf of salt bread into which is inserted any selection of fillings, be it a steak of highly-seasoned fish, a slice of cheese or whatever else the fancy takes, sitting on a bed of lettuce and onion rings coated with salad dressing spiked with a sprinkle of hot Bajan pepper sauce.
Bajan fish cakes (small deep fried fritters made from a spicy salted cod fish batter) are also in demand as a highly favoured item among local street food offerings. The local specialty of flying fish (once a familiar Barbadian emblem), seasoned with a blend of local herbs and spices, deep fried or steamed and served alongside cou cou, (a dish made from cornmeal steamed with okras), is a staple at many street food outlets. Once the popular Saturday dish in most Bajan homes, it is now available on any weekday.