Few people come to The Bahamas expecting to get a taste of India, Australia and the Philippines, but thanks to the International Culture, Wine and Food Festival, they got a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world without having to leave the island.
The festival, which was created to recognize United Nations Day, has become a signature event on the tourism calendar. It’s one of the most highly anticipated fall festivals in Nassau that not only highlights the culture and heritage of The Bahamas, but also the many wonderful countries represented here.
The two-day event attracts 25,000 locals and residents to the Botanical Gardens grounds, which sits opposite the popular Arawak Cay (Fish Fry). The 18-acre tropical garden is split into national villages, which feature exotic foods stalls, dessert stalls and of course, drinks.
The best part about the festival is it’s not just about food and drinking. You truly get to experience the authentic culture of each participating country, many of whom take to the main stage for performances and to talk about their country.
After a long hiatus, I decided to return to the culture festival and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I decided to create a blog post for those of you who have never attended the event, so that you can know what to expect if you take part next year.
Perfect For Families, Yes, Even Angsty Teens
There are few events that I would recommend more for families than the International Culture Festival. It seemed like every child in The Bahamas was out to this event. And that’s because of the types of activities they have out there. The main stage featured cultural activities like pineapple and watermelon eating contests, native dances from countries around the world and even movies under the stars.
There were also henna tattoo artists and unique waffle ice cream and cotton candy stalls.
It was also good to see many children under 10 actually working the various booths.
I often saw teens splitting off from their families to enjoy the events and activities geared toward their age groups, but they always managed to make it back to their families to spend time together.
As a warning, I wouldn’t recommend parents bring newborns or children under three to the festival. It gets extremely hot, there’s a lot of walking and the only bathroom facilities are port-a-potties, not exactly appropriate for changing diapers. But, it’s your choice.
What To Wear?
Ladies, this is not the time to favor style over comfort. Sure, you want to look amazing at the festival because there are lots of cameras on site, but it’s not worth it to be uncomfortable.
The Botanical Gardens site is a garden, so there aren’t many paved areas. There’s a lot of grass, trails, soil and tree roots to navigate. So, the first thing to know is that you should wear flats and more specifically closed-in shoes, like sneakers. I can’t tell you how many women’s toes I stepped on while I was walking through the thick crowds. It’s not worth losing your toes, ladies.
Also, The Bahamas doesn’t know what fall is. It really doesn’t. It was extremely hot and humid outside. You will sweat. Make no mistake about it. So, don’t even think about wearing clothes that are going to make you feel like you’re in an oven. Light, flowy fabrics are best and shorts are good. The same thing goes for men.
Show Me The Money
One thing you will quickly learn once you get on the festival site is that your money is no good there. Well, sort of. The stalls only accept “festival bucks.” So, you have to go to one of the designated banks to exchange your money for this play money, except, it has real value. At least on the site.
The first day that I attended the festival, exchanging the money was relatively smooth. But, by the second day, it was a nightmare. Many of the banks started running out of money and directed festival-goers to other banks. That made the situation worse because the lines became ridiculously long and had no order.
It took half an hour for me to exchange my money. Hopefully, the organizers will resolve this issue for next year as it frustrates the festival-goer and it causes vendors to lose out on money. A few friends told me that a few vendors started accepting real currency due to the long lines.
Best Food Ever! Prepare To Put On Weight
For more than a year, I have heard people talking about Conch N’ Cone, a pop-up eatery that offers conch bites in an array of delicious flavours. The restaurant operates out of a retro-looking silver trailer that immediately draws foodies in.
I asked one of the workers which of the flavours was the most popular and she pointed me to the honey and siracha. Bay-bay! It did not disappoint. I love savoury foods more than sweet, but this struck the perfect balance. The conch bites were tender, well-seasoned and just dripping with delicious goodness. The best part? It’s served in a waffle cone. It sounds like an odd pairing, but it worked.
Over at the India booth, I sampled the vegetable samosas. I cannot begin to tell you how much I love samosas. I used to go to an Indian restaurant in Nassau called Clay Oven, but unfortunately, it closed down. They had the best samosas ever. The samosas at the Indian stall were on par.
When I arrived, they were making a fresh batch, which means I got them hot. They were tasty and the best part, they came dressed with a delicious tamarind sauce and some sort of pesto sauce. Yum.
I also had a specialty corn dog from a Bahamian company called, Corn Diggity Dogs. My sister got the pizza corn dog, and I got the regular flavor. I had been wanting to try it for some time. Honestly, it was ok. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t memorable either. The company doesn’t deep fry its corndogs, it uses some other apparatus to cook the dogs. So, that prolongs the cooking time and keeps customers waiting in line for a long time. I waited for nearly an hour.
I will have to try them again under better circumstances.
Purify Yourself In The Waters Of Lake Minnetonka
I’m not a drinker, but I couldn’t go out to the festival and not indulge in some of the amazing booze from around the world. One of the my first stops was at the Haiti booth.
My friend, Gerard Brown had me imbibing on Prestige beer, the legendary Barbancourt, Bakara and some other libations that came straight from the depths of Hell. They tasted so good, but immediately sent me on a downward spiral. My head started spinning. It was all delicious, but it took over my system in a way I wasn’t expecting.
Now, one would think that I would stop there, but nooo. I had to head on over to Australia and try out the Fosters beer. I don’t know what kind of dinosaur cans that beer comes in, but they were huge! After a couple of sips, I was down under. I had to stop. My poor system went into shock and I was forced to purify myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. I learned that day that one of the quickest ways to get out of your buzzed stupor is to dance. Now, I see why drunk people stay on the dancefloor. So, dance I did.
There’s A Brown Girl In The Ring
Anyone who grew up in The Bahamas, or the Caribbean for that matter, knows just what an important part of our culture ringplay plays. Long before cellphones, YouTube or video games, Bahamian children would form a circle (a ring) and sing traditional ringplay songs while dancing. During the ritual, one of the chosen dancers would make his or her way to the center of the circle and whine their waist, or as we say “show their motion.” One of my favorite ringplay songs was, “There’s a brown girl in the ring, sha-la-la-la-la.”
Until the food festival, I hadn’t played ringplay since I was a child. But, there, at the front of the main stage, organizers gathered participants, including yours truly, for a little ringplay. It was nostalgic.
It was the perfect showcase for our country. The visitors who were there loved it and some even took part.
Prepare To Reconnect
Another great thing about the festival is you will see people that you have not seen in years. I ran into so many old high school and college friends, old colleagues and even people who recognized me, but I didn’t remember them. Yikes.
It is a terrific way to reconnect and even forge new friendships.
Instagram In Overdrive
There are tons of Instagrammable spots on the festival site. It is a garden after all. It also sits next to the Bahamas Humane Society, so it wasn’t unusual to run into a few friendly animals.
There’s a terrific natural swing that hangs from a huge tree. All of the young people lined up to take photos on the swing.
Make sure your phone has plenty of memory for all the great photos and videos you will take.
The entry fee is $10 for adults and $3 for children under 12. Food prices inside the festival site start from $2.
See you next year!