Too often in Barbados, ‘native’ food experiences take visitors to resorts and restaurants catering to tourists — rather than showcasing and supporting the spots frequented and run by locals. These contrived offerings rarely reflect the surrounding community or how they really enjoy their meals.
Having been raised in Barbados, Andrew Foster knew that the small businesses he loved weren’t being put in the spotlight by local food tours; instead, he was keen to support the places he dined at with family and friends. At the same time, he aspired to celebrate the traditional foods he grew up with and continues to enjoy today.
In the Caribbean, to be “lickrish” means to crave, to be greedy; an ardent lover of food. Andrew — together with his brother, Christopher — wanted to share his craving for the unique tastes of home. The goal? To make visitors just as lickrish as he is, while imparting Bajan history, culture and traditions.
There’s an intriguing blend of influences on the plate here; Britain, Portugal, India and West Africa all had notable input into the gastronomy of Barbados.
For example, take pudding and souse, a dish with steamed sweet potato and pickled pork which locals enjoy for Saturday lunch. A speciality which has been made for centuries, some say the original recipe used haggis, introduced to Barbados by indentured servants arriving from Scotland in the 1600s.
Moving on to Iberian inspirations, guava cheese — a popular filling for pies and cakes, made by cooking down the fruit with sugar into a sweet paste — traces back to Portugal.
Hailing from closer to home, there’s cassava root, native to Barbados and an important staple throughout the Caribbean. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t taste cassava [while they’re here]” says Foster. The plant’s root is cooked and grated, then used to bake into pies and breads. For cassava pone, coconut and cassava are combined in a soft snack cake.
Foster doesn’t take visitors to fine-dining establishments, and wherever they do go is locally owned. There’s nearly always a queue upon arrival (but Foster knows all the owners, accelerating the trip to the front) and the service is friendly. One popular stop is a bright-orange food truck dishing out some of the island’s best fish cakes in ball-shaped, deep-fried form. The outer shell is crisp and crunchy while the inside is soft and spicy. Locals often enjoy them with hot sauce.
“I wanted things that visitors could experience that are authentic or Bajan,” he says, “what my brother and I grew up with. We thought, ‘What are some of the restaurants in the city that we know are very well patronised by Barbadians?’ ”
Developing a dream list of what a tour of genuine Bajan cooking would include took time. “We started with snacks — sugar cakes and nut cakes — then added foods like macaroni pies [a take on macaroni and cheese inevitably personalised according to the cook’s own recipe] and fish cakes,” he says.
A fresh-fruit market is also on the itinerary, with an opportunity to sample what’s in season, as is a bakery. “We chose the bakeries that Barbadians go to on their way to work,” says Foster. “Anything that sells in there is Barbadian.” This includes conkies, a dessert of cornmeal, coconut, sweet potato, raisins and pumpkin, steamed in banana leaves and traditionally made in November to mark the country’s independence from Britain (November 30), as well as at Christmas time.
Black cake is another bakery find for those who’ve never encountered it. “If you said ‘black cake,’ any Barbadian would know what you are talking about,” says Foster. “It’s made with lots of fruit.” To put it mildly; it’s chock full of cherries, raisins, prunes, and orange rind, with a splash or two of local spirits for good measure. This dark-hued treat for celebrations may have origins in Britain’s rich plum pudding, but it now has a decidedly Bajan character.
And while the exploration of local food does a good job of accommodating those who don’t eat meat, “Barbados loves pork. They love it baked and they love it well seasoned,” says Foster. Consequently, pork was a must-have on the menu.
Foster has been doing this since 2016; organising walks with visitors, making sure they’re well fed and showing off the best of Bridgetown, Barbados’ capital city. About eight stops are on the way, ending up at a chocolate factory which ethically sources cacao beans from around the world and turns them into chocolate bars right here on the island. Vegan and gluten-free ice cream is also made on-site including a flavour that’s a nod to one of the most famous Barbados exports: Rum Caramel.
“It’s all locally made and by a Barbadian-owned company,” says Foster of the factory and its products.
This theme comes up again and again. The idea of championing food by locals, for locals — and proudly supporting the businesses that enterprising Barbadians have started themselves — is what drives Foster. The two brothers knew their efforts were a success when they began to notice a trend; it wasn’t just tourists signing up. “We have had a few Bajans take the tour. They’re very intrigued by the historical past of Bridgetown,” says Foster, adding with a grin “and we all like to eat.”