Top 25 Foods of Barbados (With Pictures!)
Barbados is a stunning little island in the western North Atlantic Ocean. Coming in at 21 miles in length and about 14 miles in width, we cover an area of 432 square kilometers. Tiny. Really! Hence our nickname, the Gem of the Caribbean Sea!
We’re relatively flat, with little to no natural resources and far too small to have any of the huge, dense rainforests and natural water sources (rivers, lakes, etc.) known to our far larger neighbors such as Jamaica and Grenada. Naturally, this affects the nature of locally farmed produce, with many species being a little different from those found elsewhere. Our size and geography also make the variety of locally grown food quite small compared to other islands that have, for example, volcanic activity and diverse soil types. But it is still unique, and if you’ve visited and gone home hoping to whip up a Bajan dish you tried on your trip…
Well, it’ll by mighty difficult to recreate and capture the essence of that local dish.
Barbadian cuisine derives from a mix of Post Colonial Cultures. First is its traditional African roots. This came to the island with the West African slaves, pre-18th century. Second is the mix of Arawak and Amerindian cuisine of the the native peoples who lived in Post Colonial Barbados. Third is the Irish and British cuisine, which came with the European settlers who perpetuated slavery and indentured labor as a way of life. The cuisines of all these cultures blended together to create something new and exotic, yet reflective of its diverse origins.
Bajan cuisine is robust in nature, with heady scents and bold flavors that tantalize the tongue in every bite! The aromas and flavors are sharp, yet complimentary. Well after the meal is finished, they linger on the tongue and in the nose for hours.
Absolutely nothing is bland. We believe in seasoning! Everything must have its due spice – from the meat to the rich gravies and even our drinks! Now let’s get into it! The top 25 must haves of Bajan Cuisine!
1. Cou-Cou and Flying Fish
This is a traditional meal that boasts the accolade as Barbados’s National Dish! Now, first of all, one needs a strong arm to make this meal. It’s quite a lot of work compared to other local dishes, but it’s definitely worth it! Cou-Cou begins with chopped okras which are boiled in water. The okra cooks and forms what is called ‘okra slush,’ a viscous, slimy liquid that is added to corn meal (finely ground corn).
The meal and slush are turned until the Cou-Cou retains a silky dough-like quality, absolutely no lumps allowed! It’s given a few tosses in a butter bowl to shape it and then plated. The flying fish gravy is the easier bit.
Now, flying fish is something very hard to source outside the Caribbean. It’s typically overlooked due to it being rather small and having many bones, but we love it here on the islands! After scaling and boning, the flying fish is rolled and pinned into position with toothpicks.
Fresh sweet pepper, tomatoes, onions, parsley, and fresh herbs are fried up with some butter. Water or fish stock is then added and brought to a boil. The rolled flying fish is added last. The finished gravy is poured over the cou-cou with a few rolls of fish and vegetables. Every bite is a lovely burst of sharp, buttery flavors.
2. Black Pudding and Souse
Let’s talk about the black pudding first! This dish is a relatively well preserved throwback of it’s original British-Irish counterpart – blood pudding. The Brit fried pigs’ blood with onions and herds to create it. The fried pigs’ blood would then be stuffed into pig intestine and boiled or baked. In Barbados, the pigs’ blood is no longer incorporated.
Black pudding is made with fresh herbs, grated sweet potato, brown sugar, spices, and some coloring or molasses. The molasses and coloring darken the mix, hence the name ‘black pudding’. Now for the souse. This is made with pork, often times the parts of the hog thrown away elsewhere: ears, feet (trotters), tongue, and bits of lean meat. All the meat is boiled in salt water then cut into tiny pieces, then pickled with grated cucumber, scotch bonnet peppers, fresh parsley, and lime juice.
It’s one of those dishes you’d think was complex but is actually perfect in its simplicity. The flavor is bold, zesty, and fresh! It’s a regular Saturday staple in Barbados!
3. Roasted Breadfruit (Loaded)
Breadfruit is largely found in tropical areas with no extreme seasons. It’s definitely a fruit you’ll have a pretty tough time finding outside the Caribbean, South Americas, and West Africa. Taste and texture wise, there is no substitute for it. It’s an incredibly starchy fruit and, like its namesake, very bready, both in taste and texture.
Breadfruits are roasted over an open flame with butter stuffed into the ‘heart’. The fruit is then pitted then loaded with a hearty topping of choice. Toppings vary from plain butter and pepper sauce, to pulled pork, souse, ham and cheese or sautéed salt fish with herbs. It’s a heavy decadent meal, the kind that gives you ‘niggeritis’, as the locals call it! A heady condition where the food was so delicious it puts you into sleep mode: just ready to hit the sack after a good meal!
4. Yellow Split Pea Rice & Salt Fish Gravy
Split peas are another tricky find outside the Caribbean and South Americas. They’re also a staple in parts of India! The split peas are boiled with herbs and a salted pig tail. Pig tails are another Caribbean staple, also common in Chinese cuisine! The tail is dried and cured with huge amounts of salt and then packaged for sale. When brought to a boil with the peas, all that salt and pork fat is dissolved in the water, adding to the taste.
Once the peas and pig tail is cooked, the rice is added to the mix to absorb all that flavor. Now the gravy. Salt fish is very similar to the pig tail: it’s dried and cured the very same way. The gravy begins with frying up some fresh vegetables and herbs in butter. The salt fish is added to the sautéed herbs with water and brought to a boil until the gravy thickens. The finished gravy is poured over the split peas and rice and enjoyed at one’s leisure.
5. Bajan Chicken Soup
The base of a good Bajan soup is fresh pumpkin. It can be pureed and added to salt water or it can be added whole. The pumpkin is boiled with your chosen chicken parts, as well as pig tails and quartered onions, until the meat is cooked and the pumpkin completely dissolved. The pumpkin is what gives this soup it’s vibrant, signature color!
A wide selection of veggies are also steamed or boiled separately to go with the soup: sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, yams, English potatoes, and a few others. The last thing added are the dumplings. These little bites of sweetness are made with flour, brown sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The final touch once the heat is turned off is freshly chopped spring onions.
Another of Barbados’ national dish, a Conkie is a dessert made around Independence Day when we celebrate the end of slavery and the country’s autonomy from it’s ‘mother’ country, England. Conkies are made of freshly grated pumpkin and, you guessed it, coconut! As you can tell, coconut is a well loved staple in Barbados. The trees are a dime a dozen both in Barbados and throughout the entire Caribbean!
The coconut and pumpkin are mixed with fragrant spices, vanilla, sugar, and currants, then the mix is wrapped in banana leaves. These little bundles are then steamed in a huge pot until the mixture is firm. The result is a perfectly shaped, silky pocket of spiced sweetness!
7. Fish Cakes
These pillowy snacks are just lovely. Made with finely shredded salt fish, flour, and select herbs, they are deep fried until golden brown. They can be enjoyed as is or with a local pepper sauce or other common ones such a sweet and sour, ranch, or even barbeque sauce. Just pile your plate up with a handful of these babies when they’re fresh off the heat!
8. Pickled Chicken Feet
Chicken feet may not be the most popular part of the animal in the rest of the world – except Chinese cooking, perhaps – but here in Barbados we simply love them! This dish is made by boiling the chicken feet, or steppers, in salt water until fully cooked. They are then served with a huge about of fresh pickle consisting of diced cucumbers, scotch bonnet peppers, lemon juice, and an healthy pitch of salt. Zesty and satisfying, with the unique gelatinous chicken feet, it’s a simple recipe but it sure packs a punch!
9. Jug – Jug
This is another traditional dish, this one typically enjoyed around Christmas time. It’s made with a variety of peas as well as many types of meat: lamb, pork, chicken, beef, and even pig tails. The preparation varies but usually the peas are cooked with fresh herbs and all the finely chopped, deboned meat until all the liquid evaporates and everything is moist and tender. The texture is very similar to stuffing, very soft and delicate. Jug-jug can be eaten alone or as a topping for crackers or bread.
10. White Rice and Sea Eggs
Sea urchin, or sea eggs, as they’re called in the Caribbean, are quite a delicacy. They are so highly sought after, the wild populations have been heavily damaged. Fishing is now only allowed during a special open season to give the population time to recover and breed. Sea egg is typically eaten raw with just a squeeze of lemon or lightly cooked and spread over rice. It’s best enjoyed extremely fresh, quite literally an hour at most out of the water.
The rice for this dish is cooked simply with salt, onions, and a few herbs. The same for the sea eggs. It is lightly sautéed with onions, fresh sweet peppers, salt, and herbs. Sea eggs are extremely delicate so they are literally cooked with just the heat from the sautéed vegetables. The result is a silky, buttery delight! A perfect cap for a small mountain of rice!
11. Chicken Pilau (Browned Down)
A definite household favorite come lunch or dinner time, chicken pilau is quite common throughout the entire Caribbean. It’s unique taste comes from the browned sugar used as the base for the chicken broth the rice is cooked in. The sugar is placed in an clean pot and cooked until it turns a very dark brown, almost black! The chicken and salt is added and allowed to simmer. Then water, seasoning, fresh herbs and vegetables are added. Once the flavors are well incorporated, the washed rice is added last. In a about 30 minutes you have a delicious chicken pilau with tender meat and fluffy, dark rice!
12. Barbeque Pig Tails
The very same cured pig tails we use for rice and many other dishes come into play yet again! These babies are boiled, to remove most of the extra salt, then tossed onto a roaring flame to be lightly charred on the grill. They are then doused in local barbeque sauce and given one more turn on the grill before being served. You definitely can’t enjoy pig tails without getting your hands dirty! The second best part is licking all the sauce off your fingers – after the actual tail of course!
13. Cassava Pone
This sticky delight is a treat enjoyed all year round! It is made from fresh grated cassava, coconut, currents, and cherries all brought together into a fragrant mix filled with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and brown sugar. With a healthy amount of vanilla essence and a little flour and milk, the batter is quite heavy. Pone is typically placed into a large rectangle pan then topped with a sprinkle of brown sugar and spiced coconut flakes. It is then cut into perfectly even squares of sweet, gooey joy, best enjoyed warm.
14. Sweet Bread
All day every day, this pastry is thoroughly enjoyed in Barbados! There’s no inappropriate time for a good sweet bread! It’s made with a simple dough: sugar, flour, lard, cherries, currents, vanilla, and of course, coconut all kneaded together with some spices until smooth. Rectangular disks are formed and freshly grated coconut, sautéed with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and a bit of clove, is stuffed into the middle of the dough.
A checkered pattern is etched on top and some brown sugar sprinkled on before they hit the oven. Baking sweet bread will leave the house smelling like heaven for HOURS after the fact! To many Barbadians, nothing says home quite like a good sweet bread. Ask Rihanna!
15. Rock Cakes
These pastries are a common snack usually had with a warm cup of tea or with some mauby (local drink). The dough is a rough one, more on the dry side. Flour is mixed with lard, brown sugar, raisins, cherries, and vanilla abstract then kneaded until smooth. Small rough circles are then formed and dusted with brown sugar. As the name suggests, the result is a hard, densely packed cake – lovely for snacking on.
Bajans put everything inside salt-bread. Quite literally. From pizza to fish cakes, conkies and cheese to plantain, not to mention Christmas ham as well! Salt-bread is an every day must have for Barbadians. Water, salt, yeast, a teaspoon of sugar, and some patience? And these pillowy buns are ready to eat! Locals bake them at home or buy them in packs of 6-12. Every. Single. Day!
17. Meat Rolls
There are many varieties of meat roll throughout the Caribbean. They’re always a quick snack at any time of day. Ground beef or minced meat is sautéed with spices and then placed on strips of delicate puff pastry once cooled. The dough is then rolled into small cylinders and coated with egg and butter. The result is a flaky, satisfying mouthful with a spicy meat filling that keeps you coming back. A person never eats just one meat roll!
18. Currant Slices
What a joy these are, but you definitely can’t overdo it as they are quite sweet! To make them, a good heaping of currants and raisins are stewed in sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and sometimes rum, then wrapped in puff pastry. The pastry is brushed with egg then dusted with sugar and baked until golden brown. The amazing aroma of that baking sugar and spice will stay with you for life – it is instantly recognizable! Currant slices are another local staple eaten at any time of day!
19. Bajan Turnovers
Some might call turnovers the King of Bajan Pastries and it just may be true! The star of the show is once again, coconut! Just like the filling for sweet bread, freshly grated coconut is sautéed with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla then spread over a soft, freshly risen dough. This dough is basically the same as that used for cinnamon rolls, just with coconut filling.
Bajan turnovers are also rolled in a similar way. After rolling, the turnovers are brushed with egg and butter then, fresh out the oven, brushed a second time with sugar syrup and dusted with even more sugar! There’s almost nothing like biting into a fresh, warm turnover and enjoying the way that delicate dough falls apart – a perfect marriage to the spiced coconut filling. Just fantastic!
20. Guava Cheese
This traditional candy has roots all across the world! From the Goans (Indians of Goa), to the Brazillians, Portuguese and of course here in the Caribbean! Surprisingly enough, the recipe remains the same regardless of culture or country! The seeds are separated from the fruit and the guava meat or pulp is cooked with sugar and sometimes lime juice until a thick paste is formed. This paste is then shaped into a rectangular block then allowed to cool and firm. It takes on a silky, leathery consistency much like a very soft cheese – only much stickier. In Barbados we usually cut the guava cheese into tiny squares which are them rolled in sugar. This candy is enjoyed in tiny portions as it is extremely sweet but one simply can’t be blamed for over indulging!
21. Sugar Cakes
Coconut! And again it’s coconut! These treats can be spotted from a mile away due to their vibrant colors! Grated coconut is stewed with sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg then brightly dyed. The gooey mix is then spooned onto cookie sheets and baked for a few minutes. They harden in the oven and are ready for packaging once cool. With every bite, the spiced sugar just melts on the tongue! The coconut lends a mild flavor but it’s really more to give added texture. Though most attractive to children, sugar cakes are something enjoyed regardless of age. If they were a childhood favorite, they’re sure to still be an adult one!
22. Black Bitch (Yes, You Read that Right!)
Indeed. What a name! These little things are made almost exactly like sugar cakes: freshly grated coconut stewed with sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg. The difference, however, is they aren’t baked and molasses is added to the recipe. They are shaped into disks and eaten as is – a sticky, gooey loveliness. The molasses not only gives a stronger, more unique taste but also gives black bitch its signature color.
23. Tamarine Balls
Tamarine is a uniquely sweet yet sour fruit. It’s another item you’d be hard pressed to find outside the Caribbean. The scarce meat of the fruit and it’s seeds are stewed with sugar and spice until a thick paste forms. The paste and seeds are then pressed into small balls and rolled in white sugar. Tamarind balls have a bold, tangy sweetness that clings to the tongue! They might be tiny but they receive big love in Barbados!
Though not a food, Barbadian cuisine just can’t be discussed without including this local drink! It’s made by seeping the bark of the Mauby tree with cinnamon sticks (cinnamon tree bark) and sometimes star anise. After boiling, the liquid is drained, sweetened, and the deed is done: ready to serve in a tall glass with ice. The slightly bitter flavor is quite reminiscent of brewed coffee only with more flowery, tea-like notes.
Yet another beverage but relevant for the same reason! This drink is made with the flowers of the sorrell plant. The flowers are boiled with cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, star anise, and whole cloves. The liquid is then strained, sweetened, and ready for drinking! This drink has none of the bitterness Mauby has. It’s light and fresh with the same beautiful reddish, maroon color of the flowers.