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This little sandwich went to the beach

In Barbados, the cutter is the perfect on-the-go snack

A basic Barbados cutter consists of a salt bread bun filled with cheese, flying fish (pictured), pork, or, most often, ham. A basic Barbados cutter consists of a salt bread bun filled with cheese, flying fish (pictured), pork, or, most often, ham. (Roger Goddard)
By Patricia Borns
Globe Correspondent / March 30, 2011

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — Some say cutter is short for “cut your hunger.’’ Others think it’s a cutter because you “cut ’er’’ — cut the bun in half and stuff it with good things. Everyone has an opinion because this little sandwich is everywhere on the island.

Barbadians, also called Bajans, enjoy debating the fine points of their local lore. And in this instance, New Englanders may feel right at home here. Many locals pronounce the word “cuttah.’’

A basic Barbados cutter consists of a salt bread bun sliced and filled with cheese, flying fish (caught off the coast here), pork, or, most often, ham. The cushy white yeast bread is baked fresh or sold in stores. Though most Bajan baked goods are sweet, a legacy of the island’s sugar industry days, this one is not. Lettuce and tomato often garnish a cutter; also required is the national hot sauce — either a spicy red version or a mustard-base golden sauce whose active ingredient is Scotch bonnet pepper.

A cutter with a bottle of locally brewed Banks beer should set you back no more than $7. The sandwiches have the added attraction of an on-the-go snack; the fillings are so variable, you never know what you’ll find between the bun. Locals know that cutters soak up many rounds of rum. To that end, over 1,000 rum shops on the island are the primary dispensers of cutters.

Beach excursions invariably place you near rum shops and, of course, cutters. In the east coast surf capital of Bathsheba, the bus stops near friendly Gagg’s Hill Rum Shop, where the fried flying fish cutter is first-rate. At the coast’s opposite end is beautiful Crane Beach in St. Philip. For $5 you can access the pink sands through the redeveloped 1887 hotel whose pool formed the backdrop for early Chanel perfume commercials.

Alternatively, follow the road north to an access path where coral stone steps lead to a free, even better, beach next door. Opposite the 1887 hotel, Roger and Kim Goddard’s rum shop, Cutters of Barbados, takes the idea to new levels. You can order traditional cutter fillers, roast beef, or eggplant mozzarella while you listen to live music and sip a cup of signature VSRP (Very Special Rum Punch). This is the place to go to provision your own beach picnic.

If you’d rather be driven, hop an Island Safari Barbados jeep for a rum shop crawl. The half-day tour hits out of the way spots like windswept, Atlantic-facing Martin’s Bay, and the obscure village of Bellplaine, where Nigel Benn Auntie Bar is exactly what its name claims: the bar of Nigel Benn’s aunt Lucille, wallpapered with news clips of the former super middleweight world champion and his friends.

Hike Barbados offers another outing to explore cutter pit stops. Operated by the Barbados National Trust, the free hikes give you a three-hour Sunday morning workout, as you scramble briskly over cliffs, gullies, and historic ruins on one of 45 routes. Invariably, you will end up in the vicinity of a rum shop, where you can duck inside for a cold drink and a cutter made with what’s on hand. This could mean a huge hunk of Anchor brand New Zealand cheddar and wedge of tomato grown in rural St. John parish. Or you might be told, “We’re out of everything’’ and have to trudge up a steep rise to the village of Indian Ground. Alas, rum shop proprietors serving out of the way areas aren’t always well stocked for visitors.

The best part about these shops is meeting the people who own them. Barbadians may appear formal and cool at first, but as you get to talking, the proprietor who announced he was out of everything may well cut you a piece of sugar cane from his own garden and peel and slice it for you. A little something to tide you over until you find a cutter.

Cutters of Barbados, 51A Belair, St. Philip, 246-423-0611, www.oms.bb

Hike Barbados, 246-436-9033 or 246-426-2421, trust.funbarbados.com

Island Safari Barbados, Rum Shop Tour, 246-429-5337, www.islandsafari.bb , $65 per person

Patricia Borns can be reached at patriciaborns@comcast.net.