A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES
Green Monkey Tales: God Bless Banks Beer, I Think
During our visit the average daily temperature in Barbados was 28 degrees Celsius. In such a hot and humid climate sustained and constant fluid intake is absolutely vital. The first thing I consumed upon arrival was a Banks lager. The last thing I consumed prior to departure was a Banks lager. In between, I consumed more Banks lagers and a dozen or so Deputy pilsners. Both beers contain less than five-per-cent alcohol and the bottles hold less than 10 ounces.
Most restaurants and bars feature the sister brands as specials, four for $10 Bajan, or $5 US. I soon began buying Banks by the case at the Massy grocery store, 24 delightful bottles for $53 Bajan. Beer and soda containers carry a recycling deposit. As far as I can tell everything else in the country once used, rum bottles, newspapers, cardboard packaging, anything, goes straight into the garbage. A quarter million people can create and discard an awful lot of trash. Barbados is a coral island; I don’t know how you landfill solid rock.
Saint Nicholas Abbey is nothing of the sort; it is a surviving sugar plantation mansion, erected over the course of a decade beginning in 1650, very colonial, very British, designed in the Jacobean or late Renaissance style. The Abbey is now home to a craft rum distillery. Jim and his friend Russell have brought their empty etched and numbered Saint Nicholas bottles from western Canada to be refilled direct from the cask. They insist that this artisan take on the devil’s drink, hand-processed in modest batches, is in fact heavenly to sip.
Neighbourhood rum shops proliferate like convenience stores in North America and because rum is seemingly synonymous with Barbados, the drink’s traditional companion is omnipresent. I’ve never overheard anybody ordering a rum and Pepsi. Coca-Cola is the most visible global brand on the tiny island, a sea of red. In store signage and transit shelter advertising encourages Bajans to OPEN HAPPINESS and CELEBRATE 100 YEARS OF THE COCA-COLA BOTTLE. The corporation works hard at being a good citizen. Coke signs on sadly underused public garbage bins remind locals and tourists alike to REDUCE, REUSE AND RECYCLE.
What I found truly refreshing was the lack of the other usual suspects. Mercifully, McDonald’s has yet to invade. In Bridgetown I noticed Burger King, Subway and KFC stores discreetly tucked around the shopping district, within easy sauntering distance of the cruise ship quays. The dominant quick service restaurant chain is homegrown. Chefette specializes in Caribbean fast food, chicken sandwiches and delicious, hefty rotis stuffed with curried meat and potato. The logo mascot with his cat whisker-long waxed moustache could use a refresh; he is a pizza box cliché. The eat in experience jars Canadian eyes acclimatized to muted lifestyle colours; the Chefette corporate palette is a raging hot yellow accented with deep purple. Even so, while sitting alone on our apartment’s porch later on after having opened another Banks and then politely refusing a passing woman’s holistic suggestion of an expertly executed massage, I pondered the possibility of a Chefette franchise opportunity in Edmonton. The nagging question was whether or not Albertans would flip over dolphin burgers.
Eating dolphin fish (not he mammal) when the natives have exotically dubbed it mahi mahi doesn’t quite seem like a First World foodie crime. I ate the firm and white mild meat caught that day, butchered and then marinated in herb-enhanced olive oil and barbecued with blasts of lemon juice as served up from Pat’s booth at the legendary Oistins Friday night fish fry, a weekly excuse for a punky reggae party. I ate it Cajun style on an upscale restaurant’s terrace perched on the edge of a rocky cliff above the crashing waves of the Caribbean Sea. We ate it fried, dredged in a mixture of flour and seasonings, at the apartment because Russell fancies himself a bit of a gourmet in the kitchen and he is not delusional in his belief.
Is macaroni and cheese an endangered species? I ate a lot of that too. Macaroni pie seems to be the only side dish available on the island. Barbadian cooks use the long and hollow pasta tubes, not elbows. Every meal you order comes with a great cube of it. I took to drenching my servings with red hot pepper sauce as I found the baked on cheese sauce a little dry and a little less sharp than I like. Actually, I poured or spread Bajan hot sauce on everything, even using it as a salt bun cutter (sandwich) condiment. Ann and I returned home with three different types. A first-time visitor to Barbados should note that a plain red squeeze bottle with a nozzle on a restaurant counter is not ketchup and nor is its yellow companion mustard. It’s important to note too that once mixed with a few Banks beers the various hot sauces will cleanse your internal nether regions with uncommon vengeance.