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Cheese on Bread: A Bajan Foodie Story

When we are away from home, our comfort foods really help define our spaces and make them our own.

A few years ago, I worked in a popular supermarket here in Barbados. At key times in the year, the Bajan (Barbadian) diaspora would come in and order or purchase their: blocks of Anchor cheese, frozen fishcake batter, pickled seasonings; varying brands of rum, mauby syrup or bitters and pepper sauce (mostly S-Bend); boxes of Sodabix and Eclipse biscuits; and the list continues.

It was enjoyable hearing the stories of how grandmothers, mothers, sisters or aunts prepared coconut (sweet) bread, salt bread, comfort, tamarind balls, sugar cakes and the like, just for the individual to take back to their country of residence. It was a pleasure checking out the purchases for them, as many would not be returning home for another year or so, so the amounts were quite large. When we are away from home, our comfort foods really help define our spaces and make them our own. There was always a scarcity of flying fish as well, as many would tell of how many fried or frozen fish they were taking back with them.

I love to cook and I cannot imagine going into a supermarket to buy ingredients for a favourite dish, only to find that I do not recognise any of the brands there or that they do not stock the item I would like to get. Through the years, I heard this sentiment expressed by many who have resided “over in away” for a long time. They usually have to wait until a relative or friend visits from home, or until their annual pilgrimage in order to replenish the reserves. There have been events televised of Bajans in faraway places preparing traditional meals for family get-togethers and the tables are usually filled to overflowing (because you know we West Indians cannot cook a small meal).

Now I am hearing of places in the USA, Canada and the UK which import some of these comfort foods in order to help West Indians access their favourite ingredients more readily. What a wonderful idea! It means that not only do they get their favourite ingredients to create the smells and taste of home abroad, but it is a great source of income and foreign exchange for the local business and economy. We probably never consider this happening until we are the ones living in a foreign country, away from our family and familiar ingredients. No doubt food items are more reasonable in other countries, but the taste is never quite the same as that from home. The flavours of our culinary delights are defined by the brands found in the Caribbean.