DO THE THING you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it.
It’s the first sacred travel commandment, and in Barbados, it’s led me here. I’m dancing to soca music and drinking rum punch at an outdoor party lit by tiki torches and stringed lights. Since the dancing began, p.m. has become a.m., strangers have become friends, and I’ve fallen in love with this island.
In Barbados, though, the second sacred travel commandment is equally important: Eat the thing you’re supposed to eat in the place you’re supposed to eat it.
Here, this means flying fish. I’ve eaten it three ways: fried, steamed, and pickled. It also means pigtails. I’ve had them twice: the first time out of curiosity; the second time out of delicious certainty.
Barbados is known as the Caribbean’s culinary capital, but the food scene has fresh energy. The local food movement is here, which is no small thing. Barbados’ history as a British colony brought sugarcane to the island. For centuries, lush forests replaced by monoculture depleted the soil of nutrients. In the 20th century, attention turned from agriculture to tourism. Even as the island emerged as a dining destination, most food came from somewhere else. Now, farmers and chefs are partners in reclaiming the land and food through sustainable practices.
Chefs sound like kids on a dare. Food sourced from a tropical island just six by 19 miles? Let’s do it. Traditional Bajan cuisine? Yes, but in ways never seen. Pigtails, traditionally a barbequed snack, are a delicacy in the hands of chef Damian Leach at the trendy Cocktail Kitchen. He spices them with ginger and serves them with split pea puree and spiced pineapple chutney.
“In Barbados, people used to see new things and say, ‘We don’t do it that way here,’” says Rhea Gilkes, chef at Fusion Rooftop Restaurant and local food advocate. “But more and more, people are saying, what’s the fun in being average? Where’s the drama? Where’s the theater?”