Spotlight on Bahamian Food

December 12, 2016

“Mama, bake your johnny cake

Christmas comin’

Mama, bake your johnny cake

Christmas comin’…”

This excerpt comes from the popular Bahamian folk song, “Bake Your Johnny Cake,” which illustrates the pivotal role that food plays in the makeup of what my grandmother would call a “tru’ tru’ Bahamian society.” As in nearly every country, food brings individuals in the Bahamas together. People who you have not seen in years crawl out of their “dark caves” to get a taste of that delicious Bahamian food.

In the Bahamas, the art of cooking is often passed down to individuals during early childhood. Parents and grandparents teach their children and grandchildren how to manipulate flavors, creating a unique burst of flavor on the palate of all those that enjoy any Bahamian meal. When cooking in the Bahamas, individuals learn that they must make use of their gut feeling; those who master their gut may be a culinary force to reckon with. If you take a closer look at “tru’ tru’ Bahamian cuisine,” it becomes obvious that Bahamians ignore modern culinary knowledge in favor of the centuries-old knowledge passed down from their ancestors.

In order to understand the uniqueness of Bahamian foods, you must understand the 700 islands that make up the archipelagic nation. On every major island, the country’s national dish may differ drastically as its natives make use of their diverse range of resources. A dish that is common to all the islands is conch. Aside from its amazing flavor in the popular conch salad, conch can be eaten in thousands of ways: steamed, cracked, raw, grilled- the list goes on.

The use of fresh and locally grown ingredients is highly recommended in Bahamian culture. When it comes to spicy, tangy, zesty, sweet, and savory flavors, Bahamian cooks have a distinctive talent for transforming a dish into something “only a sorcerer could create”, as many would say. Some of the most important ingredients in Bahamian cooking are herbs and spices. By far, the number one herb in the Bahamas is thyme, which is mainly used to flavor rice dishes such as peas ‘n rice. Bay leaves and whole allspice are also popular, as they are key ingredients in most Bahamian soups, especially chicken soup.

New Providence, the island that houses the nation’s capital city of Nassau, has become a melting pot for all the dishes native to the Bahamas. On any typical Sunday, it wouldn’t be strange to have the smell of baked macaroni and cheese, peas ‘n rice, steamed conch, fried fish, and cole slaw fill your nostrils, while during the week a large pot of the ever-craved chicken or sheep tongue souse is stretched to feed a busy family. Though these dishes can vary from island to island, the essential flavor and the culture that goes into creating them makes them uniquely and unmistakably Bahamian.