I have a long connection with the Caribbean, in particular, Barbados and when I visit, some of my happiest times are touring the rum shops that lie around every corner on this tiny island. Rum was first commercially produced in Barbados in 1703 and the island was the first country to export rum; it is an important part of the culture.
It is said that the island has over 1,000 rum shops and whether that is true or not it can certainly be said that there is a different one for every day of the week. A rum shop is a place where food and drink are enjoyed, it is a social meeting place for Bajans and visitors and sells everything from groceries, lottery tickets, household goods and animal foodstuff to cooking fuel.
Food served varies from traditional fish cutters (a type of sandwich), fishcakes, fried chicken necks and gizzards to goat curries and roti (a filled wrap). Drinks arrive by the flask (a quarter bottle) or a full bottle of rum, accompanied by a plastic bowl of ice, cold water, soda or mixes.
Fish cakes in Barbados are a rum shop staple and each has its own recipe. They are delicious and unlike any fishcake I’ve ever tasted. Made with dough and dried saltfish, the texture is starchy but tasty, especially when dipped into a pepper sauce. Best eaten hot, they are the perfect food for the ‘morning after’ when only serious carbohydrate dishes will do.
Bajan Fish Cakes recipe
1 diced onion, 1 cup of flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 beaten egg
1 diced chilli pepper, chopped parsley & thyme, 1lb skinless cooked flaked salt cod, I cup water.
Combine fish with all ingredients to form a batter. Drop spoonfuls of batter into hot oil and cook till golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
My dearest Bajan friend, Deborah, has a particular favourite delicacy, which is fried pig tails. These can be found on a rum shop menu or as street food during festivals and carnivals. It is not a dish I have ever wanted to try but her eyes light up as she eats one and she tells me that I don’t know what I am missing.
Fish is plentiful on this beautiful island and there is a fish market both north and south, where the visitor can wander around and barter for their own seafood. At Oistens, a fishing town on the south of the island, there is the Friday night Fish Fry where scores of vendors fire up their grills and sell amazing street dishes. Fish includes tuna, swordfish, marlin, mahi-mahi and flying fish as well as chicken and meat dishes. All cooked to order while you wait.
Two sisters who run a fish stall at Oistens fish market gave me this recipe for Bajan Cerviche and it is absolutely wonderful.
Lizzie and Lucy’s Cerviche recipe
1 pound skinless, boneless fish, diced, 1 pound jumbo shrimp, diced Lime juice / half a red onion finely diced & half a chilli pepper, finely diced 2 tomatoes and 1 cucumber, finely diced /seasoning to taste In a large bowl, combine fish and shrimp and lime juice to cover.
Marinate for 30 minutes. Drain. Combine seafood with remaining ingredients and more lime juice, stir gently and chill.
The island’s ingredients include plantain, beans, cassava, culantro, bell peppers, chickpeas, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, coconut, and local meat such as beef, poultry, pork and of course fish, which is plentiful and all of these can be found in the markets and on the menu board in a rum shop.
If you are lucky enough to visit Barbados do take a moment to wander away from the beautiful beaches and step into a rum shop, which is a world of its own and definitely a place to spend a few hours if you enjoy participating with the locals in the Caribbean University of Life!
Caroline James lives in Lancashire and is the author of many best-selling books. Barbados, the island people and their food inspired her to write, Coffee Tea the Caribbean & Me which is an Amazon best-seller and a top recommended
read in Thompson Holidays InFlight Magazine.