Well look-eey hey. A woman caused cuhmess (Bajan slang for commotion) earlier this month, when she got up in one of Barbados’ Anglican churches during the announcements session, to encourage people to bring a Bajan dish for their upcoming day of fun to mark Barbados’ 50th Independence, and had to nerve to say, “No pasta dishes, please. That is not Bajan food.” Whaaaat? That meant that macaroni pie, lasagna (meat or veggie), pasta with minced-meat sauce, macaroni salad, and macaroni and tuna casserole – foods Bajans eat daily – were off limits.
I partially agreed with the lady. Indeed, a lot of those pasta dishes are not really Bajan dishes, but cuhdere, she prohibiting macaroni pie? Nah, that’s my red line; there is no way I am eating a proper Bajan meal, especially at Independence, and not having macaroni pie. Period.
Years ago, 2008 to be exact, I had written to you about the importance of macaroni pie to Bajan cuisine. Each household has its own recipe and it is only the most skilled in the household that makes the pie.
Macaroni pie is a daily consumption here in Barbados and no holiday or festive table already heavy with the weight of multiple dishes, would be complete without a dish of macaroni pie.
I never liked macaroni pie until I moved to Barbados and had homemade Bajan pie. Although macaroni and cheese was a regular dish on our Sunday table at home in Guyana, I was not a fan.
But I like the Bajan pie. It is not a dish that I eat often but when I do, a proper Bajan macaroni pie is something special. As I said years ago, I think it is a combination of the ingredients that go into the pie that makes it unique.
The pie gets its signature orange-rust red hue from the Roberts’ Mello-kreem spread which looks like the ole time orange salt butter, and the addition of tomato ketchup.
A little yellow mustard adds to the subtle tang you get at the end of eating the pie. The use of fresh herbs and aromatics like onions and garlic round out the flavour profile of the pie. Sometimes, finely minced sweet peppers are added to the mix too. The cheese of choice is Anchor cheddar though some people like to use a combination of cheeses. The number one recipe request I get from visitors to the island when they return to their homes in Europe and North America is for Bajan macaroni pie.
They would have eaten the pie at any of the eating establishments selling local food or from one of the many food vans around Barbados. Macaroni pie is an iconic dish of Barbadian cuisine. Given this, it is hard to fathom that there would be no macaroni pie at the upcoming fun day. As Bajans would say, wuh loss.
This got me to thinking about national dishes and how they came about. According to research, during the age of European empire-building, nations developed dishes and cuisines as part of their nation’s identity and self-image.
The purpose was to distinguish themselves from one another. I believe that is a pattern that we have followed too – coming up with dishes that represent who we are as a nation and people.
Our national dishes reflect the many facets of who we are. The designation of a dish as a national dish could be as a result of it being a staple, or a dish made only of locally available ingredients that are prepared in a disinctive and unique way. Or, it could be the use of ingredients only available in that country or region, such as Cassareep in Guyana. Another criterion for a dish being hailed as a national dish could be that it is served only on special occasions as part of our culinary tradition or cultural heritage.
I’m not saying that Barbados should make macaroni pie a national dish but I believe that it has earned a place of honour in Barbadian cuisine.
Since Independence, the make-up of most of our societies has changed. Over the decades, our ethnic make-up has shifted, shrunk and expanded in various ways as people moved and continue to move, taking their food with them.
The availability and access to a much wider range of ingredients has meant the expansion of our palettes. Travel and the influence of food media have also impacted our plates.
All of this makes me wonder, if we should, at certain moments in our history, consider including 1 or 2 dishes into our cuisine – dishes that are not only popular, but have been cooked over and over, and have been mastered using skills, ingredients combo, and cooking techniques unique to a place and people. In this case, Bajan macaroni pie that is like no other macaroni pie.
I don’t know what is going to happen at that fun day but what I can tell you is that Bajan macaroni pie will be on my plate, on my table, at home, on Independence Day.
Happy 50th Barbados!
WE NATIONAL DISH
– Cyralene Benskin Murray
Girl, Wuh you bringing?
– Macroni pie!
Cou cou and flying fish?
Dah is still we national dish?
Maybe it uses to be back in de day
But right now dat doan hold no
sway- bout hey!
Now Macaroni pie! Fuh dat a Bajan would
From de littlest chile to de oldest guy
Does just like it, Doan ask me why
Even de tourists does drive roun’ trying
to find some to buy
I got a little experiment fuh wunna to do
Guh ta a fancy restaurant and ask fuh
flying fish and cou cou?
De excuse yuh gine get is -”flying fish is a
bad word bout hey”
Or “de cou cou stick brek just de udder
But turn and ask dum fuh macroni pie
And dem gine got pans pile high, high,
But…wunna figure out yet why cou cou
ain’t nuh longer a hit?
‘Is because it is tummuch truble to cook it!
And if yuh want a national dish – one dat
de main ingredient must be – it does cook
easy and fast!
Bile de macroni, stir in cheese and taste it
And b’fore de neighbour dog cud got pup
It out de oven and we got it lick up!
So wunna think we cud start a petition
And ask for a national dish replacement –
And get Bajan people to cast dey vote
And mek macroni pie we national dish
– I ain’t laughing or nuh mekking sport!
Girl Wuh you bringing?