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Bahamian breakfasts

The makings of a traditional Bahamian breakfast, including recipes


Eat a traditional Bahamian breakfast, and you bite into the country’s history.

“It’s what we grew up with,” says Felicia Rolle, a Bahamian student standing in a breakfast line-up in Nassau, ready to buy breakfast, which may include chicken, fresh fish, mutton, sardines or corned beef. These foods represent the diversity of cultures that have helped to shape The Bahamas.

Grits, grits, grits
If there is a foundation to the Bahamian breakfast, it’s grits. Anything else on the plate is a bonus. Grits are dried ground hominy, or corn. Mixed with boiling water, grits become a porridge ranging from a thin gruel to a stiff paste as thick as mashed potatoes. During slavery, Bahamian owners gave each slave a weekly corn or grits ration, which slaves reconstituted with boiling water.

While hominy and grits are an American-Indian food, cooking ground grain in hot water is also a connection back to Africa. Throughout the continent, subsistence farmers make a similar dish only out of millet instead of hominy. In South Africa it’s mealie meal or mielie pap. People in Zimbabwe and Namibia call it sudza. In other countries, citizens call it different names, but it’s the same food. Often it’s the entire meal, or most of the meal, supplemented with some meat or vegetables.

For breakfast, Bahamians like to add a serving of corned beef, tuna or sardines to round out the plate. Corned beef reflects the British era. In the colonial period Great Britain dominated Bahamian trade, sending its products to the colony. Large quantities of corned beef – low quality beef preserved in salt brine – were exported to The Bahamas. It was a cheap food that kept in the days before refrigeration. Corned beef became a dietary staple for slaves and the poor, but it was frequently spoiled or semi-spoiled so cooks mixed spices, peppers and vegetables to mask the flavour. They also added vegetables to stretch the meat. Today’s Bahamas-style corned beef resulted.

Fish for breakfast?
Serving sardines, mackerel or tuna with a plate of grits is as natural as bacon and eggs in North America. Even first thing in the morning, Bahamians, like the indigenous Arawak before them, have looked to the sea for their protein.

Stew’ fish, stew’ conch and boil’ fish jump start many Bahamians every morning. Boil’ fish is a fish broth with onions and potatoes. Stew’ fish is cooked in a flour-based gravy, prepared from a roux of flour and oil with tomato paste. And like stew, no two cooks use the same recipe.

Most season the fish with lime, salt and pepper before cooking. Lime juice and goat pepper are the only seasonings added during cooking. Additional pepper is added at the table with slices of lime.

Souse (rhymes with house) is another universal breakfast soup. Instead of fish, souses use chicken or meat. Sheep tongue souse, a classic favourite, dates back to the times of slavery.

Described as “too thick for soup and too thin for stew,” souse combines vegetables – often what the cook has on hand – and meat together. Salt, goat pepper and lime season the meal. When the cook is generous with lime and pepper, souse packs a punch, which is probably why Bahamians consider souse the perfect meal after a festive night. Some claim it cures hangovers.

Johnny cake
Whatever the choice, no true island breakfast is complete without Johnny cake (also called journey cake).

Johnny cake is a cross between British wheat-flour soda bread and the cornbread of the American Deep South. When people travelled they carried it, hence the name.

Johnny cake has evolved and today some recipes are sweet. Almost every restaurant offers its version of the bread as a choice replacing toast.

Bahamians still enjoy their traditional breakfasts at home and on the go. Increasingly, when they don’t have time to eat at home they grab something quick and easy on their way to work. Patties, originally a Jamaican snack, are sold at convenience stores, filling stations and small cafés, and many eat the meat-filled pastries during their morning commute.

Whatever their breakfast choice, Bahamians wash it down with tea or coffee fortified with gargantuan servings of sugar and cream.

Throughout the archipelago, restaurants offer Bahamian breakfasts. Some dishes, such as sheep tongue souse, may require a bit of searching or a special request. But the search is worth it.

Bahamian breakfasts are a great way to start the day.

Stew’ fish
(serves four)
Adapted from Gourmet Bahamian Cooking, 46th edition

2-1⁄2 lbs grouper fillet or fish of choice, cut into serving portions
1⁄3 cup oil
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1⁄4 tsp thyme (fresh is best)
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp tomato sauce
6 cups hot or boiling water
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in heavy skillet. Blend in flour and brown over low to medium heat stirring constantly. Editor’s note: this will take several minutes.

Add onion, thyme, tomato paste and tomato sauce. Mix well.

Slowly add hot water to the flour mixture while constantly stirring to blend. Editor’s note: do not dump the hot water into the flour mixture all at once or lumps will form.

Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 mins.

Add fish, salt and pepper. Cook until fish is tender – 15 to 20 mins.

Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

Serve with grits or Johnny cake.

Corned beef and grits for breakfast is as Bahamian as it gets. As with barbecue sauce or the right amount of vermouth in a martini, every cook has his or her own special “secret” recipe for preparing corned beef.

Corned beef sauté
(serves four)
From Many Tastes Of The Bahamas & Culinary Influences of the Caribbean

1 can (12 oz) corned beef
1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chopped onion
1⁄2 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 tsp tomato paste
Hot pepper to taste
A few tbsp of water

Place the corned beef into a medium-sized bowl and break up with a fork in preparation for cooking. Sprinkle with lime juice.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the corned beef with the onion and thyme for five to six mins. Stir in the tomato paste and crushed hot peppers to taste.

Add one to three tbsp of water for desired consistency and continue to cook, stirring.

Cover, reduce heat and cook for about 10 min.

Serve with grits or toast.

Follow the instructions on the package. Bahamians prefer white grits over yellow grits. For the best grits, do not use the instant variety.

Disclaimer: The information in this article/release was accurate at press time; however, we suggest you confirm all details and prices directly with vendors.
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