The National Dish of Barbados

For Barbados, the national dish is Cou-cou and flying fish. Cou-cou and flying fish as a dish are influenced by various cultures and the island’s geographical bounty. Barbados, often referred to as the “Land of the Flying Fish,” has been fishing for flying fish on its shores for centuries. The flying fish, with its shimmering scales and unique ability to ‘fly’ over the sea’s surface, became not only a symbol of the island but also a staple part of the local diet.

Cou-cou, on the other hand, has its roots in West African cuisine. Resembling polenta or grits, Cou-cou is made from cornmeal and okra. Over time, as the recipe travelled and evolved, it found its perfect partner in the flying fish, creating a dish that’s as harmonious in flavours as it is in its representation of Barbados’ multicultural tapestry.

Main Components and ingredients of the Barbados national dish

  1. Cou-cou: At its core, Cou-cou is a rich, creamy concoction made primarily from cornmeal and okra. The cornmeal provides a hearty texture, while the okra imparts a subtle sliminess that gives Cou-cou its unique consistency. Preparation requires a special wooden utensil called a “cou-cou stick” to stir the mixture, ensuring its smoothness.
  2. Flying Fish: The star of the dish, flying fish, is typically steamed or stewed in a rich sauce made from tomatoes, onions, peppers, and a variety of spices. The fish’s delicate and slightly sweet flesh complements the robust flavors of the sauce, creating a harmonious balance on the plate.
  3. Seasonings and Spices: Bajan seasoning, a blend of spring onions, garlic, thyme, parsley, and peppers, is essential for marinating the flying fish. This mix infuses the fish with an aromatic and slightly spicy flavour, a hallmark of Barbadian cuisine. Other spices like clove, marjoram, and bay leaf might also find their way into the mix, each adding layers of depth to the dish.
  4. Accompaniments: Often, Cou-cou and flying fish are paired with pickled cucumber or a tomato-based sauce, adding a tangy contrast to the dish. These accompaniments enhance the flavours, making each bite a fusion of tastes – from creamy and savoury to tangy and spicy.

How to cook Cou-cou and flying fish

The magic of Cou-cou and flying fish lies not just in its ingredients but also in the traditional methods employed to bring them together.

  1. Preparing the Cou-cou:
    • First, the okra is boiled until it’s tender. Its water is reserved for mixing the cornmeal, ensuring the right consistency and flavour infusion.
    • The cornmeal is then slowly added to the boiling water while being stirred constantly with the cou-cou stick. This continuous stirring is crucial to prevent lumping and achieve a smooth, consistent texture.
    • Once the mixture thickens, the boiled okra is incorporated, giving the Cou-cou its distinctive slimy texture.

  2. Cooking the Flying Fish:
    • The fish is first marinated with Bajan seasoning and other spices, allowing it to soak up all the aromatic flavours.
    • It’s then either steamed with a medley of onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic or stewed in a rich, spicy tomato sauce. Both methods ensure that the fish remains tender, soaking up the surrounding flavours.

  3. Presentation:
    • Cou-cou traditionally serves as the base, laid out smoothly on the plate. It often takes the form of a perfect mound or is moulded using a bowl for a more structured appearance.
    • The flying fish is placed on top or beside the Cou-cou. The vibrant colours of the sauce contrast beautifully with the Cou-cou.
    • Garnishes, often slices of fresh tomato, sprigs of parsley, or a dollop of pickled cucumber, are added to enhance the visual appeal and provide additional layers of flavour.

Where to find the Best Cou-cou and Flying Fish in Barbados

There are plenty of places that serve the Barbados national dish, each with its unique touch.

For a genuine taste of Bajan life, nothing beats the local markets and roadside stalls. The Oistins Fish Market, for example, is a hive of activity as the sun sets, with vendors passionately preparing the freshest catch of the day.

Traditional Bajan restaurants have been the custodians of age-old recipes. Eateries like Brown Sugar or The Fish Pot serve great Cou-cou and flying fish.

Luxury restaurants and resorts cater to those with a penchant for gourmet experiences. Establishments like The Cliff or Sandy Lane infuse the traditional Cou-cou and flying fish with a touch of sophistication. Another way to try the national dish is by attending food festivals and events. The Barbados Food and Rum Festival, for instance. Here, enthusiasts can interact with renowned chefs, witness live cooking demonstrations, and of course, relish various interpretations of Cou-cou and flying fish.

The final word on the Barbados national dish

Cou cou and flying fish are part of Barbados’s rich history and vibrant culture. From its humble beginnings in Bajan kitchens to its global acclaim, cou-cou and flying fish isn’t merely a dish; it’s an emblem of national pride and a testament to the island’s culinary prowess. Visitors to Barbados will undoubtedly be mesmerized by its scenic beauty, but it’s in the flavours of its national dish that the soul of the island reveals itself.

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I love to travel with my family. Over the years, we’ve found ourselves coming back to the magic of Sunset Crest. So much so, that we finally decided to take the plunge and buy Villa Sunnyside in 2022!