Cou-Cou and Flying Fish, a dish that’s as intriguing as its name. This national dish of Barbados is a culinary delight, steeped in history and tradition. It’s more than just food—it’s a symbol of the island’s culture and heritage.
The dish is a combination of two main components: Cou-Cou, a cornmeal and okra pudding, and Flying Fish, which is seasoned and stewed to perfection. The blend of flavors creates an experience that is both unique and satisfying.
Our team at Remitly created this guide as part of our series that celebrates the traditional foods of our global customers.
The History of Barbados’ National Dish
Cou-Cou and Flying Fish has deep roots in Barbadian history. Its origins can be traced back to the early African settlers on the island. They brought with them their culinary traditions, including the method for making Cou-Cou—a technique similar to one used for preparing African fufu.
Flying fish became part of this traditional meal due to its abundance in local waters. Over time, these two elements combined to form what we now know as Cou-Cou and Flying Fish—the national dish of Barbados.
Ingredients in Cou-Cou and Flying Fish
The ingredients used in this dish are simple yet flavorful. For the Cou-Cou component, you’ll need cornmeal, okra, water, salt, butter—and patience. It requires constant stirring to achieve the right consistency.
As for the flying fish part of the meal—fresh flying fish fillets are marinated with lime juice, salt, pepper, onions, garlic cloves among other seasonings before being lightly fried then simmered in a rich tomato-based sauce until tender.
The Art of Preparing Cou-Cou and Flying Fish
Preparing this iconic dish is an art form that takes practice to perfect. The process begins with cleaning and seasoning the flying fish fillets before frying them lightly. They’re then simmered gently in a sauce made from tomatoes, onions, peppers—and various herbs until they’re tender and flavorful.
The Cou-Cou is prepared by cooking the okra until it’s soft, then adding cornmeal gradually while stirring constantly. This process requires patience and skill to prevent lumps from forming. The result is a smooth, creamy pudding that complements the rich flavors of the flying fish.
Variations of the Dish Across Barbados
While Cou-Cou and Flying Fish is a national dish, variations exist across Barbados. Some chefs add their own twist to the recipe—incorporating different spices or using alternative methods for preparing the fish.
In some parts of the island, you might find Cou-Cou served with saltfish instead of flying fish. Despite these variations, the essence of this traditional dish remains—the combination of hearty Cou-Cou paired with flavorful fish.
Serving Traditions for Cou-Cou and Flying Fish
Traditionally, Cou-Cou and Flying Fish is served on Fridays in Barbados—a practice that dates back generations. It’s often enjoyed as a family meal at home but can also be found at local restaurants and food stalls across the island.
The dish is typically presented with the Cou-Cou on one side and the flying fish on another—drizzled generously with sauce. A side salad or pickled cucumber may accompany it to balance out its rich flavors.
Personal Stories: Memories Tied to the Dish
For many Bajans (Barbadians), this dish holds personal memories—it’s tied to family gatherings, festive occasions, or simply a comforting meal after a long day. It’s not uncommon for older generations to pass down their unique recipes to younger ones—keeping traditions alive through food.
These stories add an emotional layer to this beloved dish—making it more than just sustenance but a symbol of community, heritage, and shared experiences.
Influence on Barbadian Cuisine
Cou-Cou and Flying Fish has had a significant influence on Barbadian cuisine—it’s a dish that showcases the island’s abundant seafood and local produce. It also reflects the culinary traditions brought by African settlers, which have shaped much of Barbados’ food culture.
This dish has paved the way for other popular Bajan dishes that combine local ingredients with traditional cooking methods—creating a cuisine that is distinctively Barbadian.
Exploring Other Popular Dishes in Barbados
While Cou-Cou and Flying Fish holds a special place in Bajan cuisine, there are many other dishes worth exploring. Pudding and Souse—a dish made from pickled pork served with steamed sweet potato pudding—is another well-known delicacy.
Rice and peas, macaroni pie, fish cakes—these are just some of the dishes that make up the rich tapestry of Barbadian cuisine. Each one tells a story about the island’s history, its people, and their love for good food.
Recipe: How to Make Cou-Cou and Flying Fish
This recipe will guide you through the process of making your own Cou-Cou and Flying Fish at home. It’s a labor of love, but the end result is worth every minute spent in the kitchen.
Ingredients for Cou-Cou
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 1 cup chopped okra
- 4 cups water
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter
Ingredients for Flying Fish
- 8 flying fish fillets
- Juice of one lime
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- A handful of fresh herbs (thyme, parsley)
- Oil for frying
- For the sauce: tomatoes, onions, peppers, herbs
Preparing the Flying Fish:
- Clean the flying fish fillets and marinate them with lime juice, salt, pepper, onions, garlic cloves and other seasonings.
- Let it sit for about an hour.
- Heat oil in a pan and lightly fry the fish on both sides.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
Preparing the Sauce:
- In the same pan used for frying fish, add tomatoes, onions and peppers.
- Cook until they’re soft then add your choice of herbs.
- Add fried fish into this sauce mixture.
- Simmer gently until fish is tender.
- In a separate pot, cook okra with water until it’s soft.
- Gradually add cornmeal while stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming.
- Continue stirring until you achieve a smooth consistency.
- Add butter and salt to taste.
Serve your Cou-Cou alongside your flavorful flying fish drizzled generously with sauce.
The Broader Cuisine of Barbados
Barbadian cuisine, also known as Bajan cuisine, is a unique blend of African, Indian, Irish, Creole and British influences. It’s characterized by hearty meals that make use of local ingredients—seafood being a prominent feature.
Seafood in Barbadian Cuisine
Given its location surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, it’s no surprise that seafood plays a significant role in Bajan cuisine. Apart from flying fish, you’ll find dishes featuring mahi-mahi (known locally as dolphin), kingfish, red snapper and shrimp.
Meat Dishes in Barbados
Meat also features heavily in Bajan cuisine. Popular dishes include pepperpot—a rich stew made with pork and flavored with cassareep (a special sauce made from cassava juice) and hot peppers. Pudding and Souse is another favorite—it’s a dish made from pickled pork served with steamed sweet potato pudding.
Vegetables and Fruits
Vegetables like okra, yams, sweet potatoes are often used in everyday cooking. Fruits such as guavas, mangoes, papayas are enjoyed fresh or used to make jams and desserts.
Desserts are an integral part of Bajan cuisine. Conkies—a cornmeal dessert cooked in banana leaves—is particularly popular during the Independence Day celebrations. Other favorites include coconut bread (also known as sweet bread) and cassava pone—a sweet treat made from grated cassava.
In conclusion, Barbadian cuisine offers a diverse array of flavors that reflect the island’s rich history and cultural influences. Whether you’re trying Cou-Cou and Flying Fish or exploring other traditional dishes—you’re sure to enjoy this culinary journey through Barbados.
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