I was excited to return to the Caribbean this week by cooking some food from the Bahamas!
The Bahamas is an island country in the Caribbean, consisting of more than 3,000 islands, cays, and islets in the Atlantic Ocean.
Christopher Columbus discovered the islands in 1492. The Spanish did not seem interested in settling there, but they were interested in the native people, the Lucayans. They took many of them as slaves to Hispaniola, which is the island now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. After this, very few native people were left in the Bahamas; many of those who were not taken as slaves died from European diseases.
In 1718, the Bahamas became a British colony. After the American Revolutionary War, thousands of Americans who had remained loyal to the British Crown were resettled in the Bahamas. They brought with them their slaves and established plantations. From this point on, the majority of the population was made up of enslaved Africans and their descendants.
When slavery was abolished in Britain and in the Bahamas, the islands became a haven for freed African slaves. Today, 90% of the population is made up of Black-Bahamians.
In 1973, the Bahamas gained governmental independence, though they remain part of the Commonwealth. It is one of the richest countries in the Americas, with a strong economy based on tourism and offshore finance.
What Do People Eat in The Bahamas?
The national food of the Bahamas is conch (pronounced ‘konk’), and it is consumed in many ways, including in salads, fritters, and stews. Conch is a kind of large sea snail, which I guess doesn’t sound too appetizing, but the meals made from it look pretty good. This isn’t something I was able to obtain, though it looks like I could have bought it for some ridiculous price if I lived in Florida. Sadly, it seems conch may become a rarity soon enough as they are facing threats from climate change and overfishing.
Other kinds of seafood are popular too, and there are also chicken, pork, and goat dishes.
Common side dishes include rice, grits, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, potato salad, and johnny cakes. A popular condiment is Old Sour, which is a mixture of key lime juice, salt, and bird peppers. It goes with lots of things, but is particularly good with fish.
A lot of tropical fruits are incorporated into Bahamian cuisine. There are coconut and pineapple tarts, fruity cocktails which often feature rum, and guava duff.
What I Made
- Bahama Mama (Rum and Fruit Juice Cocktail)
- ‘Pigeon Peas’ and Rice
- Bahamian Hot Patties (Meat Pastries)
- Johnny Cakes
- Stew Fish
- Bahamian Macaroni and Cheese
- Fire Engine (Corned Beef and Grits)
- Chicken Souse (Chicken Stew)
Scroll down to read about other popular Bahamian dishes I didn’t make!
Bahama Mama (Rum and Fruit Juice Cocktail)
I started the week with a fruity cocktail! The Bahama Mama was supposedly invented at a hotel in the Bahamas and named after a Calypso singer. It’s a mix of orange and pineapple juice, with dark rum, coconut rum, lime juice, and grenadine. For some reason, I couldn’t find an orange/pineapple juice mix, and I didn’t want to get both separately because I don’t drink much juice. So I settled on a tropical fruit juice and I think that worked pretty well. This was delicious, of course! I followed the recipe from Baking Beauty.
‘Pigeon Peas’ and Rice
Pigeon peas and rice is a really popular dish in the Bahamas. Unfortunately, although I thought I had seen pigeon peas at my supermarket before, it turns out they don’t have them. Apparently, black-eyed peas are a good substitute, so that’s what I used. The rice and peas are mixed with tomato, onion, bacon, thyme, and tomato paste. I couldn’t say I loved this; it was reminiscent of the seasoned rice I made for Antigua and Barbuda. I think I just don’t like thyme and tomato with rice for some reason. I’m not sure about the black-eyed peas either (it was my first time trying them). Still, I don’t think the recipe is bad; this just wasn’t for me. You can find the recipe at Tru Bahamian Food Tours.
Bahamian Hot Patties (Meat Pastries)
These hot patties are made by filling flaky pastry with a mix of ground beef, vegetables, and spices. The recipe I used, from Spicy Southern Kitchen, also included a sour cream sauce and apple-mango salsa. I’m not sure how authentic these additions are, but the seasoned sour cream looked really good so I made it anyway.
These were supposed to be deep-fried, but I baked them in the oven at 375°F for about 25 minutes. This was the baking method for the empanadas I made for Argentina, and it worked well for these hot patties. They came out flaky and delicious, and the seasoned sour cream was excellent too.
This is a quick bread that comes out like a big, sweet biscuit (the American kind). It also reminds me of sweet cornbread, but with wheat flour instead of cornmeal. It’s easy and quick to put together and bakes for an hour in a cake tin (although I suspect a cast-iron skillet would work well too). There are many different versions of johnny cakes, and although they are popular in the Caribbean, they can also be found in other countries. Often, cornmeal is included in these variations.
This was delicious, but I think it’s too sweet to eat as a side with a main meal, as it commonly is in the Bahamas. Maybe the version I made was sweeter than is typical. I ended up eating my leftover johnny cakes with jam, and I liked that much better. The recipe I used is from The Foreign Fork.
Stew fish is made by lightly pan-frying a piece of fish and then finishing cooking in a stew built on a dark roux. Traditionally, turbot would be used, but since that’s really expensive here I used cod because I already had it.
This is actually a classic breakfast in the Bahamas, but I ate it for dinner instead with some of my johnny cakes. The recipe included grits as well as suggesting a johnny cake on the side, so there are grits under my stew. You just can’t see them. For those who don’t know, grits are a porridge made from boiled cornmeal, which can be yellow or white.
This was really delicious, and just a little spicy from the habanero rubbed on the fish. The stew is simple, but it has a lot of flavor. Maybe it’s the dark roux, or perhaps the dash of sherry added at the end! I’d make this again since it was easy too. The recipe is from Tru Bahamian Food Tours.
Bahamian Macaroni and Cheese
As it turns out, macaroni and cheese is pretty popular in the Caribbean. There are a few different versions, but they all seem to be baked, cut into squares, and served cold or at room temperature. This is different from the macaroni and cheese you find in the United States, which is usually saucier.
The recipe I followed is from Tru Bahamian Food Tours, which incorporates bell pepper, onion, and habanero. I used a whole habanero for half the recipe but I could have added more as there wasn’t much spice. I reduced the amount of cheese, because although I love cheese, I felt there was going to be too much. So instead of using a whole pound for half the recipe, I used around 12 ounces.
This was great, and although I didn’t really like the idea of eating cold macaroni and cheese, it was delicious at room temperature.
Fire Engine (Corned Beef and Grits)
I was a little wary of this, but I decided to try it anyway, and I’m glad I did. In the Bahamas, a fire engine consists of corned beef mixed with onions and peppers, served atop grits or rice.
The recipe, from The Bitchin’ Kitchin, calls for canned corned beef, which I had never tried. I think it tasted pretty good, but to me, it wasn’t anything like the ‘real’ corned beef I’ve eaten before. Overall, this dish was good. It would have been even better with an egg on top! I was able to taste the grits more here than when I ate them with the stew fish. They are something I hadn’t tried before this week, though I had always wanted to. I can confirm they are pretty good and make a nice base for whatever flavors you want to add.
Chicken Souse (Chicken Stew)
Chicken souse is a popular Bahamian stew, made with chicken pieces and seasoned with lime juice, allspice, bay leaves, and scotch bonnet peppers (or habaneros in my case). I used the recipe from International Cuisine, which was mostly easy to follow. I just think the author should stipulate ‘allspice berries’ in the ingredients list. It says ‘1 tablespoon allspice’, which I interpreted as ‘ground allspice’ until I read you’re meant to remove the allspice berries later. It’s a good thing I generally read a recipe in full before starting! I think a whole tablespoon of ground allspice might be overpowering if someone were to actually put that in.
This turned out pretty good, but I’m not sure I really loved it, not like the stew fish. I served it with leftover johnny cakes.
Other Popular Bahamian Dishes
- Conch – like in many Caribbean countries, Bahamian cuisine involves using conch in a variety of dishes. There are conch fritters, salads, and chowders.
- Grits with tuna salad – grits can have a variety of toppings in the Bahamas, but tuna salad is one of the more unusual ones. The tuna salad can be a simple mix of tuna and mayonnaise, or it may contain other ingredients such as habaneros.
- Chicken in da bag – this is a fast food favorite, consisting of fried chicken, fries, ketchup, hot sauce, and a dinner roll, all served in a paper bag.
- Guava duff – a steamed or boiled cake made by wrapping sweet dough around guava. It looks similar to a Swiss roll. Guava duff is usually served drizzled with a rum or brandy butter sauce.
- Benny cake – candy made from sugar and sesame seeds. It’s similar to peanut brittle but with sesame seeds instead of peanuts.
The Bahamas was a great start to the ‘B’ countries. I really enjoyed the macaroni and cheese, stew fish, and johnny cakes, even though I think they’re a little too sweet.
Next week, I will be cooking food from Bahrain.