Barbados Today begins a new feature, a syndicated food column, Tastes Like Home, written by journalist, author and food photographer, Cynthia Nelson. Cynthia teaches broadcast journalism at the Barbados Community College. Originally from Guyana, she has been living in Barbados now for more than 13 years. Tastes Like Home is a wide-ranging conversation about Caribbean food.
One comes in a brown paper bag but none are tied up with string, nevertheless, let me share with you this week, a few of my favourite Bajan-food things. It’s inevitable that as we travel and immerse ourselves in the way of life of a place, we grow to like certain things. In no particular order, here are my Bajan favourites:
Nicholls Salt Bread & Ham Cutter
There are various brands of salt bread here in Barbados but in my humble opinion, Nicholls makes the best. It’s like a tennis roll but much more solid. The shape is not as uniform as a tennis roll; it has that rustic, home made look and feel to it. Salt bread is eaten very much the same way as a tennis roll too — just like that or sliced and spread with butter, jam, peanut butter; or you can insert slices of ham, cheese or other deli meats. Whenever you put anything between sliced salt bread, it becomes a cutter, it’s like a sandwich. Therefore, when served with ham it is a ham cutter, cheese — a cheese cutter, fried fish, a fish cutter.
My favourite is a ham cutter with a dash of pepper sauce to jazz it up. Ham cutters are sold all year-round and you better be early at your favourite ham cutter shop because that is the first thing to be sold out. Some people time it so that they arrive just as the ham is coming out of the oven. You stand impatiently and drool as the shop owner slices the ham, and you’re engulfed in the aroma of clove and smokey meat. And as any Bajan would tell you, the only drink to have with a ham cutter is a red Ju-C drink, fruity, sweet and light.
You can tell that I’ve been in Barbados too long, you know why? I love their fishcakes so much that these days I prefer it to the Guyanese fish cakes, which I now feel “got too much fish in it!” Unbelievable!
Let me tell you about the first time I had Bajan fish cakes. It was at a craft sale and exhibition and as with everything else, there was food on sale. I saw on a menu board that they had fish cakes and I ordered four, thinking that they would be fish cakes like the ones we have in Guyana.
The vendor returned with four balls, they looked like huge phulourie. I was shocked and disappointed because I was really looking forward to the fishcakes.
I figured the woman got my order wrong because the place was crowded and the stall very busy. So I accepted the four big balls and turned to my friend, Susan, and explained the situation to her. She said: “Cyn, the woman gave you fish cakes, those are fish cakes.”
Huh? I thought okay, maybe they are shaped different but surely they taste like the ones back home. Nope, they did not. They were delicious, but definitely not the same. Bajan fish cakes are made with shredded salt fish, herbs, a little bit of flour, some people put baking powder, others don’t, and a friend of mine puts some grated pumpkin in hers to give it a moist texture.
The ingredients are blended well into a batter and then fried and served hot. I’ve discovered that eating them with a lil Guyanese sour makes them even more irresistible.
Pine Hill Dairy – Guava Pineapple Juice Drink
Of all the flavours of Pine Hill Dairy juice, guava pineapple is my absolute favourite. I love anything with guava and to have it paired with pineapple, great. I like the thick but smooth texture of this drink and the fruity flavour that comes through even though it is made from a concentrate.
It’s not too sweet and is really a satisfying drink. I drink mine cold with ice.
You know when you think of some countries, you automatically think of certain foods? When I think about Barbados, I think about sweet bread, some people also call it coconut bread.
I grew up loving coconut buns and mauby so when I got to Barbados and encountered sweet bread, I was happy. As with everything food related, each person has his or her own way of making things. There are some sweet breads that are made plain, meaning that they do not contain fruits; some are made with raisins or raisins and cherries. There are those with the coconut combined throughout the mixture and there are others where the coconut is found layered only in the middle.
One of my mom’s Bajan friend’s, Elsie Wilson, makes a really tasty sweet bread. Hers is made with the coconut thoroughly combined in the mixture and raisins.
Wilson also introduced me to a particular way of eating sweet bread — with a slice of cheddar cheese. My mouth was bursting with flavour the first time I had it — the sweet from the sweet bread and the saltiness of the cheese were a perfect union.
Since I don’t want to harass her often to make sweet bread, I hunted for good commercially made sweet bread and found it. Yvonne’s Cakes & Pastries sells the best I’ve eaten outside of Wilson’s; they make theirs without raisins and it’s moist and “coconuty” with a slight crusty top that comes from sprinkling sugar crystals before baking. I love mine with a cup of tea.
Adele’s Rice and Peas
In Barbados it is rice and peas not peas and rice and I love the way my friend, Adele, makes hers. There are many people who cannot cook rice and peas together without one being over cooked — meaning either the peas are too soft or the rice is too soft. Not Adele. Hers comes out perfect, every time, no matter which peas she is cooking with the rice.
I like the subtle flavour that the salt meat imparts, especially when it’s pig-tail. This simple, everyday staple with only five ingredients: rice, peas, onion, thyme and a piece of salt meat, for me, is Barbados on a plate. I love it.
* Cynthia Nelson is a journalist, tutor, food photographer and the author of the award-winning book: Tastes Like Home – My Caribbean Cookbook (IRP 2010). She writes regularly about food in various Caribbean publications.
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