Visitors to Barbados who miss the weekly fish fry Friday nights (and Saturday nights too, but Friday is generally better) in Oistins are missing what has become the best weekly, open air parties on the island. But don’t be so quick to dismiss Oistins as a one trick pony. For Uncommon Caribbean travelers, a visit to Oistins any day of the week during the day offers a special, more authentic cultural experience… And as a bonus, better prices.
Before the weekly parties came along, Oistins was already a major fishing community in Barbados’ Christ Church parish. On any given day for a couple hundred years, an armada of small, traditional fishing vessels have bobbed in Oistin Bay, fishermen have weaved nets on the shore, and stands have provided fresh fish for lucky patrons.
Your best bet to reconnect with this tradition, is to hit the Berinda Cox Fish Market (just west of the colorful shops that host the fish fry festivities) early. Sheltered from the hot Bajan sun beneath some simple roofs, you’ll find a bustle of activity. A couple of men in bright blue aprons will be efficiently cleaning all manner of sea life with rapid knife cuts, quick scrapes to remove entrails, and blasts of water from hoses hanging from the ceiling. Around them, patrons will alternate between hailing up friends, idle chatter, eyeing the cleaner’s actions closely and offering staccato shouts of instruction.
“Save dem bones.”
“Yeah, yeah, mus have de head fo soup.”
“Das my fish!”
While hanging a little further back on the edges of the shade, hungry cats and opportunistic egrets await their own moment to sample the market’s catch of the day.
Your first inclination might be to approach a fish cleaner to inquire about a tasty morsel for yourself, but that’s not their job. Instead, look on the perimeter for someone near a bag full of bags with a handful of cash. He’s the man who handles inquiries, manages pricing and doles out fish for the cleaners to prepare to your specs. Just don’t forget to tip the cleaner when he’s done.
On a recent visit, we got a large dolphin fish (or mahi-mahi) cleaned, de-boned and sliced into perfect steaks for $56 Barbados dollars. That’s just $25 US! Think how much just one of those mahi-mahi cutters costs at restaurants across the island and now do the math.
If frying or grilling up some fish for yourself isn’t your thing, Oistins during the day still offers much to the Uncommon Caribbean traveler.
A walk along the shore offers an endless amount of photographic opportunities. Chicken lounge in the shade, dozens of picturesque fishing boats innocently sporting women’s names float restlessly in the bay, children splash in the surf, some fishermen catch a few Z’s atop counters in the relative shade of their closed fish stands, while others make (or lose, as the case may be) a few extra dollars at card tables.
Smack in the middle of it all, is Lexie’s bar which proudly proclaims on its uncharacteristically unpatriotic Heineken sign to be open 24 hours! Here, you can snag a Banks (or Heineken if you want to be swayed by advertising) bright and early — first thing in the morning just like the other fishermen propping up the bar. To accompany your beverage, try the fried fish for breakfast with a healthy dose of pepper sauce.
Close your eyes with these tastes lingering in your mouth and you just might feel like Oistins is throwing you a private fish fry!