A trip to Barbados may be a welcomed escape to turquoise beaches and fruity cocktails, but you don't have to sacrifice quality dining for a taste of heaven on earth.
The young island, easternmost point of the Caribbean and motherland to hip hop sensation Rihanna, has been boasting an impressive array of culinary offerings for years, perhaps none more famous than its annual Food and Rum Festival held in November.
I was fortunate enough to attend 2017's event, leaving any preconceived notions behind to fully embrace the complex and unfamiliar flavors of Bajan culture and cuisine. Needless to say, I left feeling stuffed (obviously), awakened, and—without fear of sounding too cliché—equipped with a newfound respect for Barbadian food and, unsurprisingly, rum.
From fish cakes and macaroni pie to cou cou (cornmeal and okra) and British-inspired puddings, the island anchors an abundance of delicious ingredients that can be succinctly described in one word: fresh. Sustainable farming practices, coupled with a high import tax rate, have encouraged (and nearly forced) farmers to grow indigenous plants like sugar cane and avocado in excess while creatively incorporating foreign crops like cacao and turmeric into seasonal harvesting schedules. The result: a diverse cornucopia of produce for chefs to highlight in their Caribbean-influenced cooking.
On the first night, our group ventured into Oistins Bay Gardens to sample some of the island's more rustic fare. The adventurous side of my palate craved a whole red snapper, grilled and seasoned to perfection with only lemon juice, local spices, and black pepper. As I teethed through the delicate bones from tail to gill, I was in awe over the meal's simplicity, yet robust notes of saltwater. The dish was truly an ode to the fish and its origin, forcing any eater to appreciate the journey from ocean to table.
The remainder of the celebratory weekend, which just wrapped its eighth year, had also attracted the likes of Michelin-award winning chefs Jean-Georges and Tom Aikens, as well as dozens of influential local talent, who all aimed to curate Barbados' plethora of fish, meats, and produce through personalized cooking styles and techniques.
A standout dish was Chef Aikens' roast lamb loin, featuring island-grown piquillo peppers with a tangy garlic puree. Everything on the plate served a purpose and each bite, cushioned with an herb-based sauce and tender zucchini ribbons, complemented one after the next.
Sunday brunch proved that good eating would be an all-day affair as glitzy and celebrity-friendly Sandy Lane Resort wowed us with an over-the-top smorgasbord of options, including a suckling pig carving station, rainbow of ceviches, and a made-to-order outdoor grilling area with rows of customizable rubs and marinades. The meal culminated with a beachside frozen yogurt with sprinkles, serving as an ideal refresher in 83 degree heat.
Second only to the beauty of these dishes was the awe-inspiring intricacies of each establishment's architecture. Treehouse-esque Tides restaurant, with Casaurinas growing through the pavilion's foundation, offered magnificent views of the sea in a romantic and beach-chic environment. Appropriately titled Cliff restaurant sat above the ocean's shoreline on a rock formation reminiscent of the breathtaking caves from Harrison's.
(Pro tip: If you're looking for a thrill, an eco-tour of Harrison's Cave is absolutely not to be missed. As a self-diagnosed sufferer of claustrophobia, the experience was equal parts haunting and exhilarating, but overall unforgettable.)
Lastly, if you need a place to relax, unwind, and digest as you eat your way from place to place, look no further than the gorgeous Cobblers Cove hotel. I'll let the view speak for itself.
Joey is editor-at-large at Chowhound. When he's not writing or eating french fries, he's probably listening to Beyonce, playing volleyball, or practicing his stand-up comedy routine. You can preorder his debut cookbook, BASIC BITCHEN (Aug. 4), at bit.ly/BasicBitchen.