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by Hans Tammemagi
(for Travel Writers’ Tales)

A cigarette dangling from his lips and wielding a lethal machete, the street vendor looked positively frightening. But flashing a smile, he pulled a coconut from a shopping cart, lopped off the top and handed it to me. Yumm! The fresh coconut juice was refreshing in the heat, and his big friendly smile the perfect welcome to Barbados.

Photo 2: The Coconut Vendor

I was on the Lickrish Food Tour and we were tasting our way through historic downtown Bridgetown, the country’s capital. Staying at a boutique hotel on a palm-tree-lined beach, I had sought out the tour because I wanted to eat like a Bajan and see the “real” side of Barbados.

Photo 1: Claudette, Tour Guide

The three-hour walking tour started in Independence Square where Claudette, our guide, explained the traditions, politics and long, colourful history of the island. Beginning with its discovery in 1536, Barbados has been influences by sugar cane, rum and slaves from Africa. Barbados gained independence from Great Britain in 1966 but still retains a strong British flavour. “This is one of the friendliest islands in the Caribbean,” she said, adding, “This tour will be a peek into Barbados through your taste buds. We’re not going to 5-star eateries, but to more basic restaurants — places locals frequent.”

We entered Zadelle’s Café where a friendly local loudly welcomed us. Soon we were tasting meat rolls and smoothies made on the premises. Next, we crossed Constitution River on the Chamberlain Bridge with great views of the Gothic parliament buildings with the blue and gold national flag flapping atop.

Wandering through the crowded, bustling downtown, my eyes were drawn to a Slave Route plaque that highlighted past misery. It described the former “Cage,” a prison of wood and wire used to temporarily hold runaway slaves.

Farther down the street was Tim’s Restaurant, renowned for Bajan specialties. I enjoyed sitting among locals but became apprehensive when a dish of pigtails was served. Surprise, the barbequed pigtails were delicious! The backbone of a pig (not the tail) is brined, boiled multiple times, and then seasoned and grilled. The cassava and sweet potatoes were a perfect accompaniment.

Narrow, crowded streets led us to Palmetto Mall Market where stores and stalls were crammed with fresh vegetables and fruits. At one, a man waved a small Barbadian flag while he showed his knee-length braided hair. Not able to resist his sales pitch we sampled fresh juices from coconut, sorel, golden apple and tamarin. Outside, a man behind a cart overflowing with nuts and fruits, insisted I try a papaya. It was sweet, juicy and delicious.

Photo 5: Legendary Fishcake Street Cart

Then the coconut vendor with a machete caught my eye. He had a flair with the blade and stood out against a bright blue wall. Sipping coconut milk, we proceeded to the Legendary Fishcakes street cart. Behind the cart I watched two ladies cooking the fish (cod) cakes in a batter of fresh herbs and spices. A customer was eating three fishcakes placed between two slices of Bajan salt bread. “This is called a cutter,” he said, “and it’s really good with hot pepper sauce.”

Photo 4: Synagogue, Historic District

We entered the Synagogue Historic District with its tombstones, an ancient synagogue (1654), tall trees and stone museum. It was a serene oasis after the bustling centre. We walked quietly, in awe of the long Jewish history in Barbados.

Across the street, a line of small shops crowded the sidewalk and up above a telephone pole held a tangle of wires like a Gordian knot.

At Ryanne’s Restaurant we crammed in amongst the locals and savoured Bajan soup made with chicken, sweet dumplings, fresh herbs and sweet potatoes. On the neighbouring tables I could see numerous macaroni pies, a Bajan favourite. The baked macaroni dish is made with evaporated milk, eggs, onions, sweet pepper, ketchup, seasonings and grated cheddar cheese.

Photo 3: Plate of Flying Fish, and Cou-cou with Mauby Drink

Mustor’s Restaurant was the tour’s final stop and here we received the national dish, flying fish and cou cou, usually served on Fridays. Cou cou is made with yellow cornmeal and cooked with finely chopped okra, butter, and spices. They were delicious, especially when washed down with mauby, a traditional drink made from the bark of the mauby tree, boiled with cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg and cloves. Since it’s reported to also have medicinal properties, I quaffed a second glass.

Blinking as we came back into bright daylight, I was pleased. We had burrowed under the skin of the city, meeting locals, eating like locals and feeling like locals. Mission accomplished!



Food tour in Bridgetown:

Barabados tourism:


1 Canadian Dollar = 1.50 Barbadian Dollar

PHOTOS by Hans Tammemagi

1 – Claudette, our tour guide

2 – The coconut vendor

3 – Plate of flying fish and cou cou with mauby drink

4 - Synagogue Historic District

5 - Legendary Fishcakes street cart

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