Like so many of the world’s great cuisines, the food of Barbados takes influence from both its landscape and the various cultures who have passed through the island.
Bajan cuisine is inflected with the styles, spices and seasonings of India, Africa and Portugal, and when fused with the traditions of both Creole and indigenous cooking, this is a heady, intoxicating cuisine with something to please everyone. Indeed, you’ll often find spiced macaroni cheese pie, pickled pork, rice and pies, and fried fish all sharing a plate; we just love it.
Speaking of fried fish, and owing to its status as an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, seafood is the biggest draw here, with grilled and smoked fish defining some of Barbados’ most delicious dishes. A-fish-ionados will be happy here, make no mistake.
Anyway, enough of the foreplay, we’re getting hungry. If you’re heading to the country for your holidays this year, then you’re probably wondering what to eat in Barbados. You’ve come to the right place to learn more; here, we take a culinary tour of the capital Bridgetown and beyond in 7 stops.
Breakfast Bakes at Cheapside Market, Bridgetown
Sometimes simply referred to as ‘The City’, Bridgetown is one of the Caribbean’s earliest established towns.
Boasting intricate colonial architecture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, several fascinating museums and Rihanna as its most famous daughter, the capital of Barbados also boasts abundance of natural riches on the city’s doorstep, with beautiful pink-tinged beaches, luscious gardens, wildlife reserves and unique rock formations just a grain of sand’s throw away.
But today, we’re focusing on the captivating cuisine of the island, and our first stop has got to be a traditional brekkie at Cheapside Market – the delicious Bajan speciality known as ‘a bread and two’. Or simply, fishcakes in a bun. Topped off with some chilli sauce and washed down with a coconut water, this is the ideal way to start your culinary tour of Bridgetown and beyond.
Sunday Food at Brown Sugar, Bridgetown
The island’s version of the Sunday Roast, ‘Sunday Food’, is a veritable spread of nourishing, homecooked food, Bajan style.
Enjoyed as a buffet, chicken is typically the main protein served, but it’s the sides that are most important; rice and peas, the beloved Bajan version of macaroni cheese (macaroni ‘pie’), steamed vegetables and salad all feature, but that list keeps growing according to the number of guests and the generosity of the host. Which, in Barbados, traditionally knows no bounds…
Of course, the most authentic versions of Sunday Food are enjoyed in a Bajan home, but if you’re not lucky enough to be invited over to one, then the family-run restaurant Brown Sugar in Bridgetown is one of Barbados’ oldest institutions, and serves a fantastic spread.
As our friends and Mark and Lisa Hammerton, owners of a string of luxury rentals in Barbados, tell us, Brown Sugar is known by some as ‘’the home of Bajan cuisine’’, and their Sunday spread features some classic island dishes including pepperpot, seafood creole and baked cinnamon plantain. We’re hungry just thinking about it!
Flying Fish & Cou Cou in Oistins, Christ Church
Next up, it’s time to tackle Barbados’ national dish, flying fish (so important to the island that it’s even on Bajan one dollar coins) and cou cou, which is a delicious mix of cornmeal and okra that’s akin to an Italian wet polenta.
This popular combo is most commonly enjoyed on Fridays, when fresh fish is eaten in restaurants all across the island. Fridays tend to be hugely sociable on the island, and it’s the day that Bajans eat out without fail.
The fishing village of Oistins, 10km south of Bridgetown, is reputed to serve the finest seafood on the island, with their Friday Night Fish Fry a huge draw. There’s arguably no better place on the planet to feast on the sea’s bounty.
Chicken Liver Cutters at Pink Star, Bridgetown
Boy, do Bajans love a cutter. A type of sandwich defined by the crusty yet fluffy Bajan salt bread, fillings vary from stall to stall, street to street and restaurant to restaurant. And whilst a flying fish cutter remains very much on brand (and is, admittedly, fantastic), our very favourite form of cutter has to be the chicken liver version.
Here, chicken livers are rolled in seasoned flour, breadcrumbed and deep fried, stuffed into salt bread and topped with freshly sliced scotch bonnet chilli and your choice of salad and sauces. Just delicious.
On Bridgetown’s lively Baxter Road, Pink Star represents the Caribbean version of a kebaby in the UK or late night diner in the States, where the drunk and the dancing gather to soak up the alcohol and fuel themselves for further frolics. A rum or two here is pretty much obligatory.
Pudding & Souse in Holetown, Saint James
We’re taking a diversion out of Bridgetown next, though you’ll certainly find plenty of pudding and souse – essentially pickled pork (the souse) and steamed sweet potato stuffed into pig’s intestines (the pudding) – in the capital.
But we’re looking for the best version of this Saturday staple in the whole of Barbados, so we’re heading a few kilometres north of Bridgetown to Holetown, which The Guardian recommends making the journey for. Simply suggesting that you ‘’find the van parked by the bus stop on the coast road heading south out of Holetown’’, it’s as much the queues you should be looking out for as the van itself. Be warned; these guys regularly sell out before noon.
Conkies, Everywhere in November
If you’re visiting Barbados in November, then you won’t be able to miss conkies, which are eaten heartily during the month to celebrate the country’s independence day, which falls on the 30th and is a national holiday.
Similar to a Mexican tamale, here coconut, pumpkin, cornmeal, raisins, sugar and spices are wrapped in banana leaf and steamed for around an hour until firm.
The result is a luscious, moreish sweet treat, and a wonderful way to end our culinary tour of Barbados…
The World’s Oldest Rum at Mount Gay Distillery, Bridgetown
Yep, we realise that we just said we were ending our culinary tour with a conkie, but it would be rude not to raise a glass to Barbados before we depart. Those who enjoy a tipple will be pleased to hear that the world’s oldest rum can be found here, and that the island has an enthusiastic rum drinking culture as a result.
At the Mount Gay Distillery, established in 1703, you can take a tour and tasting of their fully-operational rum making headquarters, which is the oldest on the planet.
For those looking for something non-alcoholic, the beloved Bajan drink of mauby – made from the bark of the mauby tree and spices like cinnamon, orange peel and cloves – is served over ice and as refreshing as it comes. Cheers!