Barbados and Guyana… Can we meet on a plate?

Taste Like Home

Hi Everyone,

Long before the Prime Minister of Barbados announced in Parliament, a week and a half ago, the six-month amnesty for undocumented Caricom Nationals to have themselves regularized, there has been tension. The tension has not just been between Barbadians and Caricom nationals but tension particularly about the presence of Guyanese in Barbados. When I heard the news, I looked down at the plate of Bajan rice and peas and Guyanese fish cakes I was eating. I marvelled at how well they complimented each other; they were at home on my plate. It reminded me of a comment a Bajan friend of mine made, when on another occasion there was a lot of Guyanese-bashing taking place. She said, “Barbados and Guyana, can we meet on a plate?”

The answer today as it was then, is a resounding YES!

Bajan Rice & Peas (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Bajan Rice & Peas (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

When I first moved to Barbados more than a decade ago, there were many ingredients with which I was very familiar that were not available here. Eating became challenging because the food here was different, the style of eating was different. Unlike Guyana where I could have weekday and weekend food, none of that existed here. Weekend food is everyday food here.

Adapting is one of the things I do well and so I adapted and used the ingredients available to me here in Barbados along with my cooking skills, techniques and methods to bring some sort of balance to my eating. Pumpkin, which I never liked while in Guyana, became a regular on my plate. Salt fish that I could not stand before would put in an appearance. Broccoli, which I figured I’d hate, became a constant friend and string beans, I’d cook and imagine to be bora.

While adapting I also learned the foods of my new home – cou cou and flying fish, the specialness of a Bajan macaroni pie. I fell in love with Bajan fish cakes. I perfected the making of sweet bread and rice and peas and discovered fire-roasted breadfruit. Like most migrants, home was now a merged space for me – Guyana and Barbados.

Guyanese Fried Bangamary (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Guyanese Fried Bangamary (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Over the years, I’ve observed the changing food scene here. Now I can buy and cook many ingredients that used to be difficult to find in Barbados – hassar, gilbaka, bangamary, butterfish, katahar, saijan, karaila, saim, squash, and white-belly shrimp and I can even choose from a variety of eggplants! Yes indeed, the food landscape in Barbados has changed and continues to emerge. Today one can find Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Greek and French restaurants among the already existing Italian, Seafood, Mexican, Indian, Irish and other eateries. Not to be outdone are the other establishments where you can readily purchase Jamaican and Trinbagodian food.

So these days, I find myself feeling right at home particularly where my food is concerned. I only have to think it and 85 per cent of the times, I am able to have it. In many ways, I’ve often felt protected, sheltered, comforted and cocooned from the sometimes harshness of the outside as I sit in my home here in Barbados and eat my Guyanese food and my Bajan food, at home.

Some of my favourites that meet on a plate are: Bajan fish cakes with Guyanese sour; Bajan sweet bread and Guyanese home-brewed mauby; Bajan macaroni pie and Guyanese baked chicken; Bajan rice and peas and Guyanese fried bangamary. And here’s some Bajan things that if I ever leave this rock to settle elsewhere will always be a taste of home for me – a ham cutter with Nichol’s salt bread and a Ju-C red drink, Chicken Barn’s super snack box, conkies and golden-apple drink to name a few.

So as the war of words continue, I find myself being hurt by some of the things being said about Guyanese and I take solace in the comfort of my home. I smile with my friendly Barbadian neighbour as I share with him the Trini Doubles I made today. The radio is turned off, no more call-in programmes today. Local news on television is over. The press is getting ready for tomorrow’s publication.  For now there’s quiet and all I can do is pray that tomorrow I will be a little less hurt than I was today. I’ll try and think of something to cook tomorrow where Barbados and Guyana can meet on a plate.


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