Barbados Hot Sauce

BY AMANDA CUMMINS

There are those for whom hot sauce is a never-to-be-repeated experience. In the same way that I, ever the child of the Caribbean, shriek at putting even one toe into the waters surrounding the UK (“you’re trying to kill me”, I said to Granny, circa 1973, Aberdovey), hot sauce is not necessarily something for everyone.

Before I go any further: the correct term is hot sauce. Not hot pepper sauce.

I was introduced to hot sauce way, way back. And developed quite a taste for it. With everything. This continues. On trips to Barbados I bring back bottles of proper hot sauce, which is quite different to the either feeble or revolting hot sauce one can find in supermarkets in England.

There is something about hot sauce which lifts the spirits. The worst sort clears the sinuses. A good hot sauce has subtlety: a simultaneous blast of heat and herbs.

It’s a standing joke with my friends in Barbados that I forage in cupboards for a jar of hot sauce. And ask for hot sauce when we go out, wherever we go. The exception to this was going to Daphne’s – grown-up, grand, fearfully expensive – and having one course after watching the majesty of sunset over the Caribbean Sea which lapped at our feet.

A few years ago, I had a day on my own in Barbados. I had the use of a car (another Dinky toy, with foibles and character: windscreen wipers coming on for no reason, with the nearest rain about 1,000 miles away, and an engine which roared at the drop of a hat). I decided to venture to the hotel where my parents and I had stayed quite often when I was a child.

The Dinky toy hidden behind recycling bins at the side of the hotel (I kid you not: no way was I going to drive beneath the portico at the entrance to hand over the keys to the parking valet) I went into reception, not knowing if a non-resident could have a drink, lunch or a combination of the two.

It all looked familiar but different. I was intercepted by a charming member of staff. Explaining that I’d spent some very happy weeks there with my parents a long time ago when we came to Barbados from Trinidad, and that I was doing Memory Lane, the welcome could not have been greater.

“Did you know that the beach was taken away in the last big storm? But why not have a lounger in the garden overlooking the beach? You can use the pool. And, please, have lunch.”

I was shown to a perfect spot in the garden, with the sea within inches beyond the white coral balustrade which had survived the big storm. As lovely as it would have been to have been to stroll on the beach I remembered, coconut umbrellas with tables beneath dotting the shoreline in front of the hotel, it was pretty much still heaven.

I read for a while. I wandered to the pool and swam. Back to my chaise longue and a small snooze, dreaming and doing virtual knitting like Miss Marple when one episode was filmed in this very place.

Suddenly, a presence. A waiter, asking if I should like a drink and perhaps order lunch. I gave no thought to the cost of this Memory Lane experience, and just said “yes” to both.

A drink arrived. I ordered lunch, which would be served on the terrace outside the dining room, in searing heat and beneath a cloudless sky.

One course for lunch. Flying fish and salad.

Lunch arrived. It looked lovely. But I could see it lacked something.

“May I have some hot sauce, please?”

The waiter looked a bit startled, collected himself and said he would bring some.

A tiny dish arrived, more a thimble than a dish. Ketchup. I looked at it, and looked at the waiter. What followed next was in my never-forgotten, broadest Trini accent…”armmhhh, I think the ketchup is a mistake?”

Another small dish arrived. Hot sauce. Proper hot sauce. Plus three additional waiters hovering to see if the crazed English creature expired at the merest whiff of the hotel’s hot sauce which no visitors ever asked for.

A dollop on the side of my plate. The first mouthful of wondrous flying fish. With hot sauce. Which was hot-for-so. But the perfect accompaniment to the sweet, deliciousness of the flying fish encased in Bajan seasoning.

The waiters retired from grandstanding. I ate my lunch. Paid the (slightly alarming) bill. Had a snooze and swim afterwards. A drink appeared at my side with “compliments of the hotel” for coming back after so many years. As I left this avenue of Memory Lane, the person on reception said she hoped I’d not leave it so long before coming back.

When I got back to HQ late in the afternoon, sun-kissed and glowing, I was asked if I’d enjoyed my day on my own. Really, there was only one answer I could give…

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