This column was written on Thursday, April 28, 2016.
I heard the following exchange on the radio today in Barbados between a moderator and a 90-year-old Barbadian woman, as they talked about people through the years who have done remarkable things for their communities without ever seeking the limelight. Towards the end of the programme in response to the moderator’s compliment on her astounding memory, the 90-year-old proudly said, “And I still cook my own food!”
“What you cook today?” asked the moderator.
The woman responded, “Cou-cou and Guyanese fish!”
I laughed in unison with the moderator. It was the way in which she said it, in her rich Bajan accent, emphatically, almost as if daring the moderator to say something negative at which I am sure she would have had a swift comeback. He asked the name of the fish and even before she could say it, I said aloud, “Bangamary!” If I were a betting woman I would have been rich.
So why am I mentioning this today? Simply to say that in life there is more that unites than divides us. And I don’t just mean Guyanese and Barbadians but the region in general.
However, I am a Guyanese living in Barbados and as both nations celebrate their 50th year of Independence this year, I can’t help but notice how well we go together in our homes, with our friends, our families, at work and at play. At the heart of all this unification and camaraderie, is food and drink; they are unifiers.
There are many dishes I consider a taste of home and among them – Bajan Rice and Peas with Fried Bangamary. I prefer my Bajan Fish Cakes with Guyanese Sour (mango, souree). The affection for each other’s food is not just one way.
I introduced a work colleague and friend to boil ‘n fry Channa and she loved it so much that she asked me to teach her to make it. It is now a dish on her table every weekend.
Another friend and work colleague is constantly in need of a Salara fix. I have yet another friend who would do anything (well, almost) for baigan (eggplant) choka and sada roti. I am going to a wedding of Bajan friends next week and the main rum being served is Guyanese rum. Scandalous, I know! Shhhh, don’t tell Mount Gay.
Bangamary is a fish that has won the palettes and hearts of many Barbadians. It has become such an iconic beacon of Guyanese-ness that when I meet people and tell them I am Guyanese, very soon into the conversation, I hear of their love of that Guyanese fish – Bangamary. Here in Barbados it is sold filleted and as we all know, Banga easily takes on the flavour of seasoning and cooks up quickly making for a delectable bite.
The snack guy at the weekly market in Bridgetown told me that 50 per cent of his customers are now Barbadians; the big sellers are cassava balls and egg balls. Another big seller
is a blend of Guyanese and Barbadian. Fish cutters – Bajan salt bread roll with fried Bangamary fillets.
There are many more examples of this togetherness on the plate that I can mention but I don’t need to.
So while the short sighted might try to shut national borders to stop people from entering, put each other to sit on benches, or limit the time we can spend with each other, we cannot prevent each other from opening our kitchens and uniting on our plates.