Get yah fresh fish! Barbados’ Oistins Fish Fry

The Oistins Fish Fry has become a Barbadian institution, a treat for locals and visitors alike. Roxan Kinas samples the fresh-grilled fish and friendly atmosphere at this seaside hotspot

George at the grill preparing a batch of freshly caught marlin, mahi mahi, and flying fish. Photograph by Eric YoungVisitors enjoy the Barbadian flavour and the atmosphere at Oistins. Photograph by Eric Young

For Barbadian cultural flavour, there’s nothing better than the Friday night Oistins fish fry, just off the beach in the heart of the island’s most active fishing village. By day, the public fish market keeps this southern village bustling, but by night the large adjacent open area jumps with action, people and the aroma of fresh fish frying in pots or sizzling on the grill.

The Oistins fish market has long been an important fishing depot. Tiny boats would return from fishing expeditions and offload their catch on the docks behind the market while vendors jostled for the choicest fish. Throughout the day market vendors would call out to passersby, advertising their wares: “Fish, fish, get yah fresh fish!”

Then eight years ago, someone began deep-frying fresh fish on Friday nights at a spot just beyond the docks. This ambitious idea evolved into the biggest social gathering on the island. The Oistins fish-fry became such a hit among locals and tourists that it was extended to the whole weekend. And nowadays, Oistins hops nightly, presenting an excellent taste of Barbadian culture, with every type of fish, cooked any way you like it.

Meander along the line of stalls towards the back, heading toward the actual market, and make a turn along the fence to find The Fish Net, nestled behind the bustle of the front fish-fry action. George, the proprietor, set up shop there about four years ago, and is one of the favourites at the “fry”. George marinates and grills all types of fresh fish, though he won’t reveal the ingredients of his marinade sauce. His grilled marlin and swordfish are big favourites and his tuna is even better. You’ll find flying fish, snapper, mahi mahi and many other large species on his grill, depending on what’s in season. He adds coleslaw, a secret-recipe tartar sauce and grilled potato, for a simple but unforgettable meal.

Behind George is something of a dance hall, where on Friday nights 1950s music blares, and locals, joined by adventurous tourists, engage in some serious old-time ballroom dancing.

Out front, the original vendors of the earliest fish-fry days still deep-fry their fish in the open air. Picnic tables pepper the landscape and more often than not on weekends DJs pounding reggae will compete heavily with the ballroom sounds. Here, you can sample the more traditional deep-fried fish, and watch the vendors prepare your fish on the spot. Each with his own recipe, you can be sure these seasoned vendors know how to make some of the best mahi mahi and flying fish anywhere.

Along the perimeter several shops sell drinks and food, including pork and chicken, along with curry and other dishes for those who prefer something other than fish.

This venue is the perfect blend of locals and visitors, all seated together at the tables, eating heartily and chatting the night away — it’s Barbadian fishing culture for all to enjoy.