Festival food and local hotspots take seafood to another level in Barbados
Year-round, for Barbadians and vacationers alike, a weekend trip to Oistins Bay Gardens for the traditional fish fry dinner is always a good and tasty time.
But on the opening night of the 9th Barbados Food & Rum Festival in mid- October, the proceedings at the venerable but low-key gathering spot on the island’s south coast were especially boisterous.
As usual, flames leaped high as fish vendors tended their grills. At picnic tables, hundreds of diners savoured oversized slabs of marlin, mahi-mahi and kingfish, served in Styrofoam takeout boxes with helpings of plantain, coleslaw and macaroni pie.
Splurging eaters devoured spiny lobster, dipping chunks of toothsome tail meat in glistening melted butter. Between bites, they drank rum punch and locally brewed Banks beer.
But that Thursday night, there was plenty of post-dinner entertainment, too. In the best carnival tradition, a troupe of drummers and horn players viscerally exhorted brightly clad female dancers wearing more feathers than clothes to shake themselves silly. Later, on a nearby stage, celebrity chefs and mixologists demonstrated their creations.
In all, that night at Oistins was an enthralling kickoff to a signature celebration for foodies on an island that calls itself the Caribbean’s culinary capital.
The rest of the weekend included upscale gatherings on the island’s west coast that were packed with elegantly but casually dressed folks living the good life.
On Friday night, at the high-end shopping destination Limegrove Lifestyle Centre, and on Sunday afternoon at Holders Polo Field before an exhibition game, the island’s top chefs served creative small plates, always paired with killer cocktails. The all-you-caneat-and-drink events respectively cost $200 and $220 in Barbadian dollars, or roughly $130 and $145.
Friday’s revellers sampled innovative treats such as a pickled flying fish roulade, braised black belly lamb shank and even Asianinspired fried BBQ pig tail.
After the last small plates were served, a soca band and a dynamite vocalist — never forget that Barbados gave the world Rihanna — kept people dancing for a few more hours.
On Sunday afternoon, as ponies coursed on the field, foodies noshed on treats such as breadfruit Parmesan soup with rum-braised lamb and bacon jam, smoked snapper on a sweet potato rosti and mango and passionfruit-filled drunken chocolate cupcakes.
Meanwhile, on the festival’s Saturday night, almost 20 participating restaurants wooed guests with special menus.
At Cocktail Kitchen, Damian Leach, who was named Barbados’ 2018 chef of the year, served a fivecourse tasting menu with matching rum-based cocktails. Among Leach’s dishes were lionfish ceviche and pan-seared scallops with vanilla-braised plantain purée, butter-roasted watermelon, pickled beetroot and cilantro coconut crumble.
Leach keenly champions an emerging Barbadian haute cuisine. “I like to use these flavours and these dishes and elevate them,” he says.
“Food is a big reason for travel now,” he adds. Tourists “are coming to experience our culture through food and our dishes.”
Pig tails at TimÌs in Barbados.