The radio's blasting Gregory Isaacs as I walk into Bajan Spice on a Saturday afternoon, suddenly the DJ pulls up the record, rudely interrupting the 'Cool Ruler', and shouts - 'This one's for Bajan Spice, Clive get my steam fish ready, I'm coming'...show finished and order placed. He arrives excitedly about ten minutes later, leaving his car outside with the doors open and the stereo cranked as he chows down.
For the half hour or so I'm in there the takeaway/restaurant in Nunhead Green Peckham is buzzing with West Indians popping in to collect lunch. The question on everyone's lips 'Is there any souse left?' On Saturday's Bajan Spice offers specials of 'Pudding and Souse' and 'Cou Cou', both lay claim to the title of Barbados's 'national dish'.
'Souse', a Caribbean variation on the Northern European fish preparation, is a fiery concoction of pork (usually trotters, snout, belly and tail) boiled then pickled in lime juice with cucumber, sweet peppers and copious amounts of scotch bonnet. It's served with 'pudding', baked grated sweet potato. Sadly there had been a bit of a run on souse that day so I didn't get to try it, the woman in front of me got the last portion and did a little victory dance. Thankfully there was still some 'Cou Cou' left (pronounced like the nest thieving, clock popping bird).
'Cou Cou' is a thick cornmeal paste with okra which exists in various guises across the islands, I've already encountered, in fact made it, as Antiguan Fungee and Pepperpot. For Bajans I can imagine it's real comfort food but for me it was a bit too stodgy. The accompanying 'Steam Fish' was incredible though, the name's a bit misleading as it's more of a stew. Traditionally made with flying fish I was told, this version had a delicious big tranche of firm, meaty red snapper, bathed in a rich, fishy broth with a hint of coconut milk. It was all washed down with a luminous yellow banana soda, part of a vast selection of Bajan beverages and biscuits under the counter. All in all the meal cost a very reasonable £6.50.
If you're down South East way and interested in trying authentic West Indian cooking that's a bit different from your usual Jamaican standards (they do Jerk chicken etc. too) it's well worth a visit and is supposedly the only Bajan restaurant in London. Oh and if you fancy Souse on a Saturday, make sure you get down there early or call ahead.
28 Nunhead Green, Peckham
London, SE15 3QF
Tel: 020 7358 0090