Winter is clearly in full swing (in most parts of the country). If it isn't snowing, it's sleeting, and all of this cold and ice has many of us (myself included) craving an empty beach chair perched on a warm, sandy beach where we can pass away a quiet afternoon with tropical drink in hand.
The good news is, this fantasy may not be as unreachable as you might think. The island of Barbados, with its pristine azure waters, 3,000 hours of annual sunshine, 1,500 rum shops, and amazing traditional Bajan cooking (think the freshest fish, macaroni pie, and Cou-Cou, a cornmeal and okra combo) is a brief three-hour flight from Miami.
So, why not treat yourself to a little taste of the islands, and while you're there, don't miss out on these five must-dos.
1. Eat a Flying-Fish Sandwich
Flying fish was recently declared the National Dish of Barbados along with Cou-Cou. This acrobatic fish earned its name because it can literally break out of the water and "fly" distances of up to 100 yards. Flying fish can be found on a variety of menus, from chalkboards outside the local roadside fish shack where traditional "cutters" (sandwiches made with salt bread) are sold for a few Bahamain dollars, to the fancy faux-leather fold-out menus found in many fine-dining establishments which dot the island.
Yet, it was the flying-fish sandwich that had me at first bite. Lightly battered, deep-fried, and topped with a knock-your-socks-off pepper sauce made of about 90 percent pureed habaneros with a splash of vinegar, this simply prepared delight is the perfect accompaniment to an icy cold, local Banks beer and a side of macaroni pie, which is akin to a traditional macaroni and cheese, but with more of a garlicky, chili pepper kick.
One of the best places to get your flying fish on is at the weekly Oistens Fish Fry that takes place each Friday night in the town of Oistens. Listen to a little reggae while you sip local rum and sample real-deal Bajan cooking. Whatever the fisherman catch that day is what will be grilled, steamed, or fried later that evening.
2. Quaff with the Locals at a Rum Shop
In a nutshell, you simply cannot visit Barbados without sampling the island's most famous product, rum. Known as the birthplace of rum, Barbados has been making this distilled spirit for over 370 years, so you're going to taste some really good stuff. Whether you prefer to sip your libation straight up or enjoy it over ice in the form of a rum punch (accented with some bitters and fresh nutmeg), one thing's for certain, there's lots of it. Everywhere.
Rum shops, which are essentially the social hubs of the island, can be found on almost every corner. You might find one on the beach or even attached to the proprietor's home, making it a quintessential locally-owned business. These unfussy wooden shack stopovers consist of a small counter where locals stop to have a Mount Gay rum with a chaser of water or Cola or perhaps a beer. Coconut bread, cutters, fish cakes, and savory puddings might be offered, but the real draw is the company. Bajans frequent rum shops for lively debates, to catch up on the latest cricket stats, or just to pass along some juicy gossip. For a true Barbadian experience, step up to the counter and join in the conversation.
3. Hit the Late-Night Street Party in Holetown
Like rum, there's no shortage of nightlife in Barbados, and in Holetown, found on the west coast of the island, is where it's at. Between First and Second streets, a plethora of bars and clubs can be found, but it's the weekends when the streets really light up, quite literally. During my last visit, even though it was pouring buckets of rain, locals and visitors set to the streets to dance the night away until the wee hours.
While DJs blasted everything from soca and calypso to Rihanna and Michael Jackson, partygoers hit the streets for a little "wukking up," which is a local-styled dance best described as a sort of sensual gyration. If street dancing isn't your thing, no worries, there are several nightspots not to be missed, including Lexy Piano Bar where you can not only get your groove on but participate in a little piano-styled singalong.
4. Dine Al Fresco on the Beach
While not actually on the beach, but rather hanging over the ocean and Accra Beach, Champers Wine Bar and Restaurant offers one of the most stunning waterfront views I've ever experienced. Let the sound of gently lapping waves be your dinner soundtrack as you sample Parmesan-crusted barracuda, chili coconut shrimp, and Champers' own King Fish ceviche, which is, simply, the best I've ever tasted.
5. Attend the Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival
For the ultimate Bajan food experience, be sure to check out the 2011 Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival, set to take place November 18-21, where celebrity chefs and attendees mingle freely at a variety of events including intimate cooking demonstrations, parties, multi-course dinners, spirits seminars, and unique culinary experiences such as a rum and food sailing excursion with celebrity chef Rob Feenie at the helm.
If the 2011 Food & Wine and Rum Fest is anything like its inaugural event in 2010, this is a must for any foodie looking for the ultimate Caribbean culinary experience. The 2010 event hosted cooking demonstrations and events featuring Chef Tom Colicchio, Chef Ming Tsai, Chef Marcus Sammuelsson along with the king of offal himself, Chef Fergus Henderson. Food-goers were further treated to a bevy of local delights prepared by some of the best Bajan restaurants on the island served up alongside celebrity chef creations at the Savor Barbados gala held at the Lion Castle Polo Estate, where plenty of sampling was to be had alongside generous pours of wine and local rum.
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