I’d been waiting all week in excited anticipation for the Taste of Barbados festival put on by the Barbados Cultural Association of BC. Bajan (Barbadian?) food is a regional cuisine I don’t recall trying before and I really had no idea what to expect. Well I guess I had some vague ideas about jerk stuff or patties or whatever but boy was I wrong…
Craig and I hopped in the whip and skrrt’d it down to Fleetwood Community Center, only to find these signs in all their beautiful flower patches: “Plant theft has occurred at this location”. What what WHAT?? Is this the way we treat our neighbourhoods? I really hope it’s just some kids misbehaving and not someone selling them as bouquets at the Skytrain. #onlyinSurrey
We arrived around dinner time and Taste of Barbados was in full swing with steel drum players lining the stage, festive dancers dressed (or undressed as the case may be) in traditional garb, and folks eating, drinking and generally making merry.
Oh, and a looong line for food. Thankfully they had a separate lineup for drinks that was moving at a much brisker pace so I sauntered up and ordered a Bajan rum punch ($6). I pronounced it Bah-han and the jovial bartender quickly corrected me, it’s “BAY-jan” with a hard J. Well good luck pronouncing it either way after you knock a few of these back; by the end of the evening I’m pretty sure I was just slurring out a barely decipherable “hit me”. So good…so strong! These were pre-mixed so there was no telling how much booze was in them but the standard is three ounces per drink. Add bitters, syrup, and a sprinkle of nutmeg and you’re off to the races.
They also had a stall selling cultural goods and food, kinda like the one at the Surrey Greek Food Festival we covered recently. I wanted to buy something intriguingly titled Guava Cheese but they were sold out, but apparently they’ll have it on hand at the Fusion Fest which Surrey Eats will be covering. Stay tuned if you’re as curious about guava cheese as I am!
We started with a Taster Plate ($5) which came with some fried plantain, fishcakes, and macaroni and cheese pie. Apparently they call it pie because they bake it with a layer of cheese on top, and that’s the way my mom always made it too. They add some ketchup and some mildly spicy spice, making this about as close as you can get to Canadian comfort food from c. 7000 km away.
The plantain was soft, sweet and superbly caramelized; wish there was more of it but the menu did warn that the taster plate is small! Apparently Barbados is famous for fish cakes, but unfortunately these ones will have to remain in obscurity.
Okay, yes that looks nasty but believe it or not this was the most flattering photo of the bunch…and we took a lot! But lo and behold, the Salt Fish Pie ($8) was the star of the evening. Yup, this hot mess of pike mashed up with sweet potato was packed with tropical flavours and even had Craig, an avowed enemy of all things fish, singing it’s praises. Apparently this dish can also be baked with cheese on it like the mac and cheese pie, and this sounds so godly if I find it I will probably give up all worldly possessions and spend the rest of my days trudging through Barbados with an alms bowl begging for Saltfish Pie with Cheese!
After Craig’s pleasant experience with the fish dish he was truly stoked to try one of his faves Taste of Barbados-style: a heaping helping of pork!
Well, that didn’t last. Turns out the souse in Pudding & Souse ($8) is pig’s feet with breadfruit. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of either but at least they don’t gross me out. These little piggies were given a foot massage with hot chili then lightly caressed with cool cucumber before being boiled until super soft and gelatinous. They partnered up well with the mealy and neutral breadfruit.
The pudding was also mealy-textured — that sweet potato again, this time with onion and spice and masked with brown colouring. Thankfully for Craig this wasn’t the traditional black pudding where the pig’s blood gives the colour, this was a “white” version for the Western crowd. Overall this combo reminded me of an exotic Thanksgiving dinner meal, and as the spiciest dish of the evening it was challenging but comforting at the same time.
Last—and yeah maybe least—the Bajan Roasted Chicken with rice and peas ($12). I actually have zero notes on this one but as I recall someone telling me in line, “It’s chicken.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.
Well now that our tummies are full and the rum’s got us feeling the effects, it’s time to mingle! So I’ll leave you with a snapshot of some of the fine folks that make a festival a festival:
Taste of Barbados really blew our minds — and tastebuds — with their inventive yet inviting comfort food and warm island vibes…we’ll be back next year!