What’s Cooking? Barbados Style

There are no limes in our closest grocery store.

There were no limes yesterday in the larger supermarket where we went for our weekend shop. And I have checked every produce stand I’ve come across; no limes there, either.

The giant bag of limes was about $3 CDN the first month I was here.

Limes are important here— I don’t think it’s a coincidence that liming is the Bajan term for mingling, eating, drinking, and spending time with friends. Having a lime is a national pastime, although currently it is not allowed under Covid regulations.

There were so many limes in September when I arrived that you could buy a bag of the fruit for $5BBD ($2.50USD). The Barbadian limes are smaller, juicier and more flavourful than the ones I’m used to, but they are not in season now, so we have been making do with the more expensive imported limes. I wanted to make Pad Thai. I had found both rice noodles and fresh cilantro (coriander) on the weekend, so thought that was a sign. I’d considered substitutes for fish sauce (Worcestershire sauce and reduced sugar in the recipe) and bean sprouts (lentil sprouts have the same neutral crunch and are less watery). All I needed was limes.

Golden apples, plantains, soursop and big bags of fresh bay leaves.

Like any other imported product, in a country where it all comes in by ship or air, it can suddenly disappear. Maybe there was a run on rum sours or margaritas, or a missed shipment. There have been days when there were no mushrooms, sweet peppers, yogurt, soda water or even milk. Today there were no canned tomatoes at all, although most other days there have been 6 varieties, including organic chopped Romas with garlic and herbs. The week I arrived I was impressed to see there were three types of halloumi. The next week, it disappeared and I didn’t see it again for three months.

To avoid empty spaces on the shelf, stores remove the shelf tags and put other products in that place. This led me to wonder if I was going crazy— I swore I bought almond butter in this store, on this shelf, last month!

When there were suddenly no fresh mushrooms, I thought I could use canned ones, for the first time in 20 years. Apparently I was not the first to think of that.

There is no lack of food products or produce, however. I’m surprised by how many familiar Canadian products I see on the shelves, and at the variety of British foodstuffs. We have been happily exploring Bajan sauces, vegetables and recipes. We’ve tried cassava and many other different root vegetables, exotic fruit I’d never even heard of before, let alone seen. Scott’s green papaya soup has become a favourite, and we prefer the less-sweet, local sweet potatoes, as well as the true African yams.

Trying it all at the local produce stalls.

I’ve learned not to go shopping with my heart set on a particular recipe. I’ll have a few ideas, but I’m flexible, ready to recalculate depending on what is in stock. And sometimes I will see something that inspires me, and dinner goes in a totally different direction. Because there were no limes, we discovered the tiny local grapefruit.

The Pad Thai tonight was delicious.

That’s the key to travel, or living in a new place— letting go of expectations, of what your old normal was. That leaves you free to discover all the wonderful, unique things about where you are.

You can travel the world, and always be looking for it to be the same as home. Or you can have brave travels.

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