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Lifting The Lid on the Bahamian Pot

Food throughout The Bahamas isn’t simply about sustenance. Families and communities often bond over a hot meal. Many beach outings, backyard parties, or just about every joyous, momentous, celebratory or even somber gathering, held throughout the country, sees persons coming together to share a bit of themselves through their cooking. For many Bahamians, sharing a meal is showing that they care, and ensuring that those around them are well taken care of. Serving up a plate of food and presenting it to someone else can denote anything from respect, admiration or appreciation.

Bahamian cuisine is known for being bold, flavour packed and not overly complicated. Fresh and unassuming ingredients are often meshed together to create rich, hearty, and aromatic dishes. And, while each Bahamian home cook has a few tricks and culinary secrets, the basics of the country’s cuisine are surprisingly simple.

Onions, sweet peppers, celery, thyme, bay leaves, limes, peas, tomatoes, and hot peppers build the foundation of the Bahamian pot, adding intensity to kitchen staples like potatoes, rice, grits, plantains, cassava, sweet potatoes, and flour. Other items such as tomato paste, mustard, baking powder, mayonnaise, browning (usually referred to by the brand name ‘Kitchen Bouquet’), vegetable oil, and canned items such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, corned beef (affectionately called ‘Fire Engine’) and evaporated milk (simply called cream), usually round out a traditional kitchen throughout the Bahamian islands.

The beauty of the country’s dishes is their simplicity, passed down from one generation to the next. There is no carefully guarded secret to the recipes or complex cooking methods. Most meals often start with a hot pot, coated with oil and a generous amount of aromatic vegetables and herbs, that are fried down to create robust flavour - this can be the start of anything from peas and rice to steamed chicken. Browned flour and oil are used to create a deep rich roux for dishes like stew conch, stew fish or soups. And flour, baking powder, and salt can be the start of anything from “panny cakes”, conch fritters, or fluffy johnny cake.

Seasoning and tasting at each step are also important. For example, salt, onions and sweet peppers are often added to the water that macaroni is boiled in to add an extra bit of flavour before the pasta is mixed with “cream,” butter, shredded cheese (usually mild or sharp cheddar) and an egg to create a pan of traditional macaroni and cheese. And, most cooks add a bit more thyme, or salt, or this or that, to each dish, as they go along until the flavour is just right.

For those who have ever tasted Bahamian food, the warmth and heartiness are evident, and are a reflection of the country’s vibe, energy, and culture. If you are looking to bring a bit of The Bahamas to your kitchen, check out a few recipes from these Bahamian chefs, below.