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4 Bahamian Dishes You Can Definitely Make at Home

We’d love to share all our delicious dishes with you in person, but sometimes plans get cancelled unexpectedly – like right now, when the coronavirus has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. Although you might have had to postpone your vacation, we see no reason why you can’t still eat like you’re in The Bahamas. Here’s a list of four classic Bahamian dishes, made with budget and pantry friendly ingredients, that you can try at home. Then, when you’re able to visit us as planned, you can compare how your homemade version stands up to what you’ll try on the islands!

Photo by Gabrielle Misiewicz

Peas n’ rice

Peas n’ rice is the go-to side for practically every meat or fish main. It’s one of those dishes where the sum is greater than its parts, as just a few ingredients – tomatoes, onions, thyme, rice and pigeon peas – come together to create a complex flavour profile.

No doubt, you’re familiar with the concept of rice cooked with peas, since countries across our region also combine beans and rice. However, peas n’ rice has a tomato base, making it entirely different from versions that rely on coconut milk. It’s also spiced simply with thyme, instead of the bay leaves, cumin, paprika and other seasonings you might find in Latin versions.

Once you’ve got the basics down, you can customise the dish to your liking. Some Bahamians swear by fresh tomatoes, others add salt beef or salt pork when they’re cooking the onions, and you can make your rice with a little more or a little less peas. Speaking of peas, they really are key to flavouring the pot. Pigeon peas are small, firm and have a slightly earthy, grassy note that isn’t easily substituted. If you can’t find them in your local store, kidney beans are a good option instead, although with kidney beans we call the dish bean n’ rice. 

Baked macaroni

Photo by Tru Bahamian Food Tour

Who doesn’t love cheesy pasta? Macaroni is always a crowd pleaser at get-togethers, and every Bahamian has an opinion about who does it the best. Unlike a lot of American macaronis, which are made on the stovetop, Bahamian macaroni is always, always, baked. We’ll say it once more for the people in the back: if it ain’t baked, it ain’t macaroni!

At its heart, Bahamian macaroni is a simple combination of pasta, cheese, onions, eggs and evaporated milk. The pasta of choice is large elbow or tube noodles, the cheese is a mild orange cheddar and the onions are yellow. Bell pepper is often included in macaroni – some might say it’s non-negotiable – and it’s not unheard of to give macaroni a tiny kick with some local goat pepper. Macaroni is great for casual lunch parties, as an after-school snack and is a must have at any Bahamian feast.

Tuna and grits

Photo by Gabrielle Misiewicz

Tuna and grits is a classic combination most often enjoyed for breakfast, although diehard fans or those pressed for time will also whip it up for lunch or dinner. First, you need the tuna, which is prepared as a salad with mayonnaise, lime juice and finely diced onions. You could also add finely diced bell peppers and a pinch of goat pepper. Some Bahamians like a very mayo-forward tuna salad, others like it less creamy and more limey. Whenever we say ‘tuna’ we always mean tuna salad, and it varies from mild and a little sweet to spicy-I’ve-got-sass.

The grits is just as important in the tuna and grits combo. It needs to be smooth and creamy, and although butter is optional, the saying ‘mo butta mo betta’ doesn’t exist for nothing right? If you’ve ever made polenta it helps if you baby your grits in the same way, never straying far from the pot so you can regularly give it a stir. Otherwise you risk the grains on the bottom burning, or crisping up, and also lumps forming as grains clump together. If you can’t get your hand on any grits – the yellow variety are universally acknowledged as the best – then polenta will do you just fine.

Johnny cake

Photo by Gabrielle Misiewicz

Johnny cake, or johnny bread, is the classic accompaniment for souses and stews, and as with all the other dishes on this list, has a few variations based on taste. Some Bahamians like their johnny cake just the way it sounds – on the soft, sweet, crumbly side, more like a cake. Other Bahamians prefer a johnny cake that’s crunchy on the outside, firmer and less sweet on the inside. Either way it’s easy to throw together in a few minutes, just like any quick bread. All you need is flour, milk or water, baking powder and butter or shortening. Make a big pan to feed your family or a little dish just for you. And even if you’re not making a pot of souse or stew fish, johnny cake is delicious with cheese and makes a great quick breakfast or lunch.

We hope this list has your mouth watering for some Bahamian delights. A quick search will turn up lots of different recipes for you to try. Don’t sweat the decision, choose one based on your tastes and what you have handy in your cupboard. Whether you make just one or try them all, we know you won’t be disappointed! And if you’re more into drinks and wondering – can I get a cocktail? – Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Stay tuned for our list of Bahamian drinks you can recreate at home for your own island-themed happy hour!