Cou Cou – A Story of Comfort and Family

As a child I used to sit at the table, with my fork in hand, and nostrils flaring from the sweet aroma coming from the kitchen. This is a Saturday ritual at Grandma’s: waiting to be served the same dish that is the national dish of Barbados. Watching my grandmother turn the cou cou (cornmeal and okra) with a wooden paddle that looks like a miniature cricket bat, made me feel as if at that moment nothing come between me and what was being made in the pot. We were one, me and the soon-to-be-ball of cou cou. The turning of the yellow cornmeal with the cou cou stick – which may also double as a discipline tool in some homes – in the aluminum pot always made me feel warm and protected.

Being taken in as a step-granddaughter, cou cou gave me and my newfound grandmother a bonding moment. It was the glue in building our relationship, as we approached the starting of a new family. Cou cou became a family thing and unified our likeness for this one plate of food. My Southern background and my step-grandmother’s West Indian heritage combined on one plate with something we could both relate to: cornmeal and okra.

Flying fish, a flaky white fish that can be steamed, fried or broiled, is usually served on top of the cou cou and can be found in the West Indies and parts of Asia. The ingredients for cou cou are not expensive, which promoted its popularity as a comfort food dish traditionally served on Fridays and Saturdays.

Cou cou is deeply rooted in the country’s African heritage. Because of easy access to cornmeal, okra and other ingredients that are vital in making cou cou, it became a primary food source for African slaves brought to Barbados.

Cou cou looks like a sphere of yellow dough with white and green specks, because of the okra skin and seeds. There are two types of cou cou, stiff or mellow. The stiffer the cou cou, the easier it is to shape and mold it the way you want.  When a cou cou is mellow, it’s loose.

My grandmother’s grandmother was known throughout her parish, Saint Michael’s, Barbados, for being a good cou cou maker. She would ask her neighbors, “Do you want a stiff or mellow cou cou?” and then prepare according to their preference.

My grandmother has always made a mellow cou cou, and it was smooth, soft, you may find a lump or two, but it went down with ease.


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Archive for College Now Journalism class.