Saturday, November 22, 2008

Flying Fish, Saltfish Soup and Kingfish Ceviche



Caribbean cuisine is one of my favorites. I love spicy flavors, exotic combinations and anything accented with tropical fruit. Most island dishes offer that and more. So I was looking forward to sampling Bajan food, to say the least. I did have a fleeting experience with the Bajan staple flying fish, years ago. My former mother-in-law, a Tobago matriarch, enthralled by the recent popularity of the fish in Tobago, insisted that I smuggle frozen flying fish in my luggage on the eight-hour flight back to Chicago. But that's another story. Barbados is called "land of the flying fish" for good reason. They are everywhere. Popping up on little pectoral fins in the harbors, decorating Bajan coins and the coat of arms, flying fish are part of Bajan life. And they are truly a part of the daily cuisine. The national dish is flying fish and cou cou, which is a cornmeal side dish called fungi on other islands and polenta in Italy. Succulent and slightly oily, flying fish was featured at every restaurant and every event that I attended. I ate it fried, steamed and baked. It was offered at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I estimate that I ate flying fish at least two times a day during my Barbados stay. The fish is tasty and highly flavorful but if I never have it again, I won't be upset.


Besides the flying fish, I discovered that Bajan cuisine can be innovative. At the Waterfront Cafe, nestled along the Bridgetown marina, I sampled a tasty saltfish soup. Saltfish or salted cod, is another Caribbean mainstay that I love but I had never seen it featured in a soup. It was rich and only slightly salty. I preferred it to the king fish ceviche which was heavy on innovation as well as lime. The acid from the limes and vinegar made it hard to stomach after awhile. At Brown Sugar, a landmark Bajan restaurant, I tried the popular lunch buffet amid a gurgling fountain and lush greenery. The buffet provided other popular Bajan dishes like macaroni pie, lamb stew, banana salad and of course, flying fish stewed and fried.



For me, local cuisine represents an important part of the travel experience. It gives you insight into the culture. So I typically ignore any element of fast food or Americanized offerings like pizza, burgers or hot dogs. But Barbados has it's own fast food eatery that's as much a part of the culture as McDonald's is part of American culture. The purple and yellow sign for Chefette greeted me in every Bajan town that I journeyed to. I saw one in the airport, I observed one in downtown Bridgetown, one across from the famous Oistin's fish fry and they were always crowded. So I ventured in to see if it was different from American fast food places. Aside from the British reference of chips for fries, I saw the familiar fried chicken, burgers and chicken nuggets. On closer inspection, I found that roti, with "genuine curry directly from India" was prominently displayed on the menu. Roti is a popular tortilla-like wrap of curried chicken and potatoes brought with the Indian workers that flooded British Caribbean colonies after slavery was abolished. I also spotted mauby, a bitter drink made from tree bark and herbs that's another Caribbean staple. Even with fast food, the innovative Bajan flavor remains.


8 comments:

Beth Blair said...

Fascinating post. I'm headed to the Caribbean in two weeks and will be keeping an eye out for some of these exotic dishes. (I'm a sucker for a good ceviche - hope what I find is good!)

Fly Girl said...

Thanks for visiting Beth! Wherever you go in the Caribbean,you will defintely find something good to eat!

everthenomad said...

I just had a craving for a good old oxtail stew and had to leave the apartment on a cold Brooklyn night to pick it up from my neighborhood West Indian hole-in-the-wall resto. And then I found your blog. :) Great work! I added a link from my blog.

Fly Girl said...

Thanks Anja! I'm jealous that you can get your Caribbean faves so closeby! I loke your work as well, I'll be dropping by often.

Wendy said...

Sounds (and looks) like good eating.

Fly Girl said...

It was Wendy, believe me, it was!

Jacqueline Smith said...

"The fish is tasty and highly flavorful but if I never have it again, I won't be upset." Heh-heh-heh. That's too funny. Fantastic post. Is the cou cou what we call 'turn cornmeal' in Jamaica?

Fly Girl said...

Yes, the cou cou and turn cornmeal are the same. I much prefer plantains as a side with any meal, however.