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Guardians Of Our Heritage: Local Cuisine

Charles Harding

Guardians Of Our Heritage: Local Cuisine

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SUN-DRIED PLANTAIN, breadfruit or guinea-corn porridge is a rarity at breakfast tables in Barbadian homes as would be the sight of village women traversing urban and sub-urban districts at daybreak, vending fresh cows’ milk from galvanised pails atop their padded heads.

Barbadian villages have also long lost the early morning aroma of hot, bubbling chocolate and/or cocoa, alongside roasted or fried salt (cod) fish and cassava bakes; fried eggs, bacon and sausage from private kitchens and dining rooms, as ordinary people prepared for school – the adults for work places.

One is now more likely to encounter youngsters roasting flying fish and breadfruit on St Vincent’s west coast fishing village of Barroullie, more known for processing black fish, than in Barbados where villagers once cooked upon blazing coalpots packed with wallaba wood and coals.

cou-cou-and-flying-fishCou-cou and flying fish, usually a Saturday’s favourite, is still officially recognized as this country’s national dish.  But in recent years, especially since the 1960s, there has been a greater demand for the English-styled fish and chips, as well as chicken and French fries, popularized in North America.

Greater importance now seems attached to macaroni pies than rice and green peas and (beef) stew, breadfruit pies, breadfruit chips or breadfruit soup; pickled pulp eddoes or green banana pudding.

Unlike several other English-speaking Caribbean countries, which have preserved the African, East Indian and Amerindian influences of their cuisine that is increasingly important to regional culture, Barbados has ditched along its way to economic prosperity, several food preparations that were once part of its Anglo-Caribbean tradition.

“Big grain rice” (sweet potato), along with other root crops that served as food staples and “saviours” during the years of World War ll (1939-45) and salted cod that was the main meat fed to enslaved people in the two centuries before emancipation in 1834, were frowned upon as “poor man’s food” and spurned by an emerging middle-class since the late 1950s.

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, some stepping up the socio-economic ladder bought  (or otherwise obtained) the versatile breadfruit, brought to the Caribbean from Tahiti in the 18th century, allegedly to feed their pigs; others caught in supermarket’s sardines’ aisles, would frequently identify the tinned product, rich in vitamin ‘E’ as ideal for their feline companions.

Village butchers, who once enjoyed a thriving trade in beef, pork and mutton sales, particularly on Wednesdays and Saturdays, lost customers to the importers of frozen meats from far-away places such as New Zealand that account for about (Bds) $43 million in foreign reserves annually.