Rather than going on one of the cruise-line organized tours, thanks to Tripadvisor and Google, we found a food / walking tour of Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados.
Eight food stops punctuated the four-hour tour. Our guide, Claudette, filled the gaps with interesting detailed stories from the history of Barbados. By education, she is an accomplished historian.
Her stories spanned from before the arrival of Europeans up to present-day independent Barbados. She exuded pride and passion for her country, and how it emerged from a challenging history of exploitation, slavery and racism. That sounds heavy! But her joy and knowledge showed again and again how adversity and conflict became the foundation of liberation and self-determination. Quite a feat to lead hungry tourists along this interesting path.
Before I get to the food, here are a few things we learned about Barbados, along with a few photos.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to come to the island, at the end of the 15th century. They didn’t find it interesting enough to settle, but they did release a number of pigs onto the island. Plenty of pork waiting for them if they were to return.
There is evidence for human inhabitants prior to Western “discovery.” The first Europeans found a wood bridge over the river that now flows through Bridgetown. The Portuguese reported finding no native inhabitants. Perhaps that is true. It is possible, however, that they rounded up the native inhabitants and carried them off into slavery. Historians don’t know.
The first English settlers arrived in two waves starting in 1625. The English crown — James I and then his son, Charles I — “sold” the island twice. The first group of settlers were not pleased when the second batch arrived. The second group founded Bridgetown.
The island was considered a plantation from the start. However, it took some time for the English settlers to discover that sugar cane grows well in Barbados. Growing and harvesting sugar cane requires a lot of labor, and so started the era of African slaves.
Up through the 20th century, Barbadian society was a strict hierarchy of social / economic / racial classes. The white, landowning elite on top; other whites just below; and then minutely defined strata of “colored” people, from mixed-race to 100% African. (Our guide said that, while she understood that “colored” has distinct pejorative meaning in the modern world, she used the term in her explanation as people used it in past centuries.)
There is a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson in the central square of Barbados. Claudette highlighted the huge incongruity of there being a commemoration of Nelson at the heart of the capital city, directly across from the Parliament buildings. Nelson was a cruel, racist, philandering man. He acted violently and aggressively against Barbadian people. He was cruel to his subordinates, and insubordinate to his superiors. When he died, it took a generation before anyone erected a statue to him; purportedly because his contemporaries so despised him that only after they passed away did successors honor him because of his military accomplishments. So why does this statue remain in Bridgetown? Because the heart of Bridgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that it is not allowed to change the buildings and monuments in the Site.
We began the tour in front of the statue of Errol Barrow, the founding father of modern, independent Barbados. Barbados achieved its independence from Britain in 1966. Claudette used this statue to explain how Barrow’s forebears valiantly worked to lead non-white Barbadians out of oppression. They started trade unions, and suffered grave repercussions. Many Barbadian men, technically British as they were, left to fight for Britain in the world wars. In many regions of the wars, as black men, they were relegated to subservient roles and not allowed to fight. In the Middle East, however, they were allowed to serve fully, and many distinguished themselves. From their experiences mostly of discrimination, many returned to Barbados dedicated to transform their island into an independent democratic country.
Claudette helped us develop our own experience — from tourists looking in, to a deeper understanding and appreciation of Barbadian society and culture. We couldn’t fail to feel her pride.
OK — a bit about the food!
Savory pastry with slightly spicy shredded beef. This type of pastry is often part of a morning or afternoon snack.
We stopped at the town market and enjoyed some sorrel juice. This isn’t the same sorrel as the green herb of continental cooking. This sorrel is a variety of hibiscus from West Africa. It tastes something like a mix of cranberry, raspberry and green herbs. We liked it so much that we brought a few bottles back to the ship, and, among other things, made sorrel mojitos.
Claudette led us through a chaotic shopping arcade to a food truck for fried codfish cakes. Salted or preserved cod shows up in just about every cuisine of the Atlantic, from Spain to the Caribbean to Brazil.
Pig’s tails, with cassava. Yes, pig’s tails. A bit of bone with succulent meat and barbecue sauce.
Bajan (proud colloquialism for Barbadian) soup: chicken, pumpkin, dumplings, and green herbs. Bland!
Mauby, which is a drink made from the bark of the mauby tree, and some herbs and spices. These little cups are samples because the drink is an “acquired taste,” as Claudette put it. She said that only last year did she try it for the first time. It is bitter, a bit like Campari. After the first surprise of the bitterness, we both found that we liked it. The taste grew on us; or the mauby killed some taste buds. So we ordered larger glasses of it to go with lunch.
Coucou is the yellow round food in the middle: cassava and okra. To the right is fried flying fish. Flying fish are the official fish of Barbados. We saw them flying away from the ship after the pressure waves of the moving hull startled them.
Finally, some tamarind ice cream, and auntie-made ginger and molasses cookies (almost solid sugar!).