Meridian Writers' Group
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados-Barbados has a history of being one of the more high-end destinations in the Caribbean so it's perhaps not surprising that, despite having a population of only 280,000, the island has more than 100 restaurants deemed worthy of inclusion in the Zagat Best of Barbados guidebook.
According to Zagat, it's homegrown creations that visitors most savour. Special favourites are cou cou, an African dish made of cornmeal, and the always delicious flying fish, which can be steamed or fried. But Italian cooking is also very popular, as well as French, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and, of course, North American.
Barbados has kitchens that do them all and in 2006 some clever Barbadians began a new festival to take advantage of this culinary cornucopia. Taste of Barbados runs for nine days in early October and is meant to give both locals and visitors the chance to see some of the island as well as experience the best of local produce and chef wizardry.
It's a good idea, although still a work in progress. Each year it gains in sophistication, but at many events a visitor may feel that he or she has come to what's almost entirely a local celebration, with all the social gossip and in-jokes that implies. That could make it a tad uncomfortable, but on the other hand, if you let down your hair it can be a great way to meet some of the posher island folk. Either way, at least there'll be lots of good food to occupy yourself with.
Three events that should be at the top of any festival-goer's list are the 18th-century feast at George Washington House, the evening at Holder's and the grand finale, Dining by Design, at the Lion Castle Polo Club.
The 18th-century feast is held in a pavilion on the lawn of the newly restored George Washington House, so-called because Washington stayed in this elegant mansion for seven weeks in 1751, when he was 19. It was the only place outside America he ever went. Delightful jugglers and food, but beware the speeches and poetry.
The evening at Holder's is a bit like crashing a Hollywood party. Holder's is a well-known estate whose pool is half-covered for this event to make a band stage, while the area surrounding the pool becomes a carnival of tents and stalls offering a smorgasbord of Barbadian delicacies, including spices and rum. Steam tables set up on the grounds let you graze at will.
Dining by Design takes the prize hands down for polish and presentation. A street of intimate restaurants is created in front of the polo club viewing stand, each with an exotic menu and matching décor. The island's best restaurants are here and they go all out. For the 2008 event, for example, Chef Mitchell Husbands of the Coral Reef Club concocted "A Tropical Spendour" menu that included pickled lobster, a pumpkin, coconut and lemongrass soup and main dishes featuring red snapper, shrimp and black belly lamb.