Bajan Pop-Up Lunch | Toronto Global Eats Challenge #14

Holetown special with grilled steakfish, rice and peas, plantains, macaroni pie and coleslaw at the Bajan Kitchen pop up in Mississauga
Setup at the Bajan Kitchen popup in Mississauga

Country: Barbados

Restaurant: bajankitchen.ca

Neighbourhood: Mississauga

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The Cuisine

Barbados is a small but mighty country, churning out a surprising amount of dishes exclusive to this island. I guess that’s what happens when an island naturally abundant with fresh ingredients is influenced by countries from every continent. I actually have a longstanding debate with a former Bajan coworker about which mango is superior – the Julie, grown abundantly in Barbados, or the Alphonso, the pride of India. If anyone’s actually tried both and can offer a verdict, let me know. I will slip you a crate of mangoes if you say Alphonso.

Anyways, back to the cuisine, towns just a bike ride away from one another have become known for their own unique dishes and culinary traditions. For example, on an island of seafood fanatics, nobody does it quite like the fishing town of Oistins. Friday fish fry (love the alliteration) is a beloved tradition, where people gather for an evening of grilled seafood, rum and dance. Bridgetown, the capital, is more internationally influenced and has quite a few restaurants specializing in chicken. Nowhere on the island is McDonald’s, with local chain Chefette being the default option for faster food.

The Spot

When we covered Maltese food in the GTA, I was shocked at the number of options given the community is only about 20 000 strong here. With Barbados, the shock is due to the lack of representation. A community similar in size to the Maltese contingent resides in the GTA, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a single restaurant serving up the cuisine. Not to mention, I bet there’s thousands more that have visited Barbados as tourists and would be happy to reminisce over a meal. This is a ripe business opportunity, thank me later.

Luckily, Fabian started Bajan Kitchen to fill the gap from time to time. We signed up for the mailing list and were fortunate to jump on one of their pop ups in Mississauga, hosted at JC’s Grill House. They have their system down. Meals and drinks are made in batches, stored in a line of chafing dishes and packaged for curbside pickup. Given Fabian’s business background and practical personality, I wasn’t surprised at this level of organization. In addition to the Bajan dishes on the menu, they also carry several drinks, sauces and products from Barbados. With a lot to choose from, we leaned on a couple of our friends’ recommendations. Thanks Danny and Arlene!

Holetown special with grilled steakfish, rice and peas, plantains, macaroni pie and coleslaw at the Bajan Kitchen pop up in Mississauga

The Holetown Special

Bajan Kitchen’s menu is designed with the diversity of the island’s cuisine in mind. There are four specials on the menu, each named after a town in Barbados. We ordered the Holetown special, named after a scenic West Coast city that was the site of the first British settlement on the island. The meal came with many of the Bajan classics we were hoping to try. The star was grilled steak fish, choice of either kingfish or mahi mahi. We ordered the kingfish, perfectly grilled to lightly char the skin, while leaving flaky morsels on the inside. Even though there were some chopped herbs and a sprinkle of lemon on the fish, it was a bit light on flavour. For big fans of seafood, this would be one of the purest “tastes of the ocean” you could find in the GTA. I could have used more intense charring and another sprinkle of salt.

The meal is rounded out with Bajan rice and peas, macaroni pie, plantains, coleslaw and gravy. Delicious, plump grains of rice, savoury pigeon peas and gravy added substance and depth of flavour to the lighter fish. The macaroni pie was more mac & cheese like than the Haitian version we previously tried, with longer noodles. There was a distinct taste of mustard in the cheese sauce, which definitely surprised my palette! My favourite was the plantains, EXACTLY how I like them. A little overripe, perhaps sprinkled with a little sugar, caramelized and almost dessert-like.

Bajan fish cakes with sweet tartar sauce at Bajan Kitchen pop up in Mississauga

The Rest

The last bites of food we had were their fishcakes, which Bajan Kitchen makes with Canadian cod. The fish is enveloped in a thin, crispy shell that was reminiscent of beer batter, but less greasy. The inside was like a spongy dough, almost like a savoury apple fritter with little bits of fish scattered. Along with the sweet tartar sauce, I could eat dozens of these if somebody didn’t take the plate away.

The last two items we tried are drinks, some of the more unique ones during this challenge. The first is mauby, which should be the name of a ride at Wonderland, it’s a rollercoaster. Made from the bark of a tree, Bajan Kitchen imports the bark syrup and mixes the drink themselves rather than selling it pre-bottled. At first, there’s a lovely sweetness and the taste almost resembled a Coke gummy. Just as you’re savouring it in your mouth, a wave of bitterness attacks and leaves quite the lengthy aftertaste. Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but I started to quite like the experience seven or eight sips in.

Last was Banks Twist Shandy with sorrel, a bottled beverage produced by a brewery in Barbados. Sorrel, which in this case is roselle and not the lemon-y French sorrel, imparts a berry-like sweet tartness. With the lightest hint of beer, this is a great summer sip.

VERDICT: Bajan Kitchen doesn’t knock every dish out of the park (yet), but we would happily go back anytime we want a taste of the island.
UP NEXT: The first time we feature two restaurants for one cuisine. We couldn’t resist the dessert spot nearby!

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