Edited by Karla Heusner
Yes, I admit it. I love food! But not just any food--Belizean food.
When I was away studying, I used to miss our local dishes so much I would call my mom for recipes. Since I was learning to cook at the time, she would have to walk me through the steps. The long distance calls became pretty costly and of course, my attempts never came out as good as hers at home, mostly because I lacked ingredients like recado, an essential seasoning, or coconut milk. And pepper, Belizeans just love peppers and hot (pepper) sauce: habanero's and jalapenos, the hotter the better!
But now that I am home, away from the cries of friends obsessed with their weight and starvation fads, I can leave denial behind and "nyam" my Belizean food.
How I used to miss those sizzling fry jacks smeared with beans for breakfast. Or hot Johnny cakes, those flat round fluffy biscuits cut open and covered with melted butter! Or maybe filled with ham and cheese slices.
I can make these myself now, but if I don't have time for breakfast at home, there are lots of choices on the streets. Taco vendors are at almost every corner offering corn or flour tortillas, with shredded chicken, onions, cabbage and cilantro.
In every Belizean town you can find people selling hot delicious meat pies from a basket on their bicycle, or walking through the streets with a bucket of conch fritters, a seasonal treat, or corn and chicken tamales or tamalitos, commonly called dukunu.
As noon approaches, our office starts buzzing with excitement. For in Belize you don't take a simple lunch break, its dinnertime. We eat our largest meal of the day at 12 o'clock and many schools and workplaces close for a least an hour or so, giving people a chance to go home and eat their meal as a family.
Rice is such an important food in Belize that some have renamed the dinner hour "rice hour" but it could just as easily be "bean hour." Belizeans love their beans--particularly red beans. And the rice? Twice as nice cooked with real grated coconut, (not the variety that comes in the can that I had to use abroad.)
You can't live in Belize, or spend a vacation here, without eating rice-and-beans. It is the national staple and some people eat it every single day! No kidding.
If you want a change of pace, you can always switch to beans-and-rice. There is a critical distinction and you must be clear when ordering in a restaurant because beans-and-rice is where the beans are cooked separately and spooned with their own gravy over white rice. Beans and rice is extra delicious if the cook throws a piece of pigtail into the mix. Another favorite is split peas and pigtail over rice.
Of course the real variety comes in the choice of meat or fish. A lot of items are stewed: stewed fish, oxtail, beef, chicken or pork. There is even stewed lobster, when the season is open. Game meats are popular too, with Belizeans enjoying deer, Hicatee, iguana or gibnut. Side dishes are generally potato salad made from real Heinz salad dressing, the key ingredient that makes Belizean potato salad Belijun, or coleslaw.
And while it may not be so easy to find plantains abroad, at home we grow them in abundance. Fried to a sweet golden brown, they make a tasty side addition to any meal.
Wash all this down with some fresh orange, lime, watermelon or cantaloupe juice and you've got the perfect dinner.
Unless of course you prefer a soup like escabeche (an onion broth with chicken), chirmole or relleno, both black soups. Then of course there is fish sere and hudut both of which are made from coconut milk, conch soup and the ever popular, thick cowfoot soup. (Try it before you dismiss it, you may become addicted or start craving it at 2 in the morning after an evening at a nightclub).
If you eat out, there is always fried chicken from Li Chee, curry from Serendib. And who could pass up Ms Martha's chaya tamales or Ms. Marva's boil up? What about that guy who comes around on his bicycle cart selling fish rolled up in a flour dough--what's the name of that thing again? Fish patties, yeah! Those are real good.
After lunch of course there is another food crisis. Where to get dessert? Most restaurants will have a lemon (merengue) pie, milk (caramel cake) and chocolate cake; but sometimes I want something different like bread pudding, sweet potato pound or cassava cake.
Or perhaps I'll just pretend that I'm on a diet and wait until Saturday when Miss Gwen makes powder buns, coconut tart, coconut pie or bread pudding.
But as I walk back to work, I find Miss Syl selling tableta (coconut candy), fudge, wangla (sesame seed candy) and cut-a-brute. Well, maybe I'll try some tableta. Afterall, it's just a little square thing.
Four hours later my tummy signals my next feeding time. My options are Roxy Club for some panades, cornmeal filled with fish or beans and fried; Mr. Ritchie for tasty Garnaches, flat fried corn circles with beans, cheese and onions; or Aunt Joyce for the best salbutes and enchiladas.
Naturally I have to get a little something to tide me over until I can get home and knead some dough to make bread and bun for supper.
But hey, I forgot, it's girls' night out! Forget the bread, we're going to eat in style tonight. As we enter Chon Saan restaurant the aroma of noodles and soy sauce greet us at the door, beckoning us to a corner table from which we can witness all the restaurant's activities. Well, well, well... Isn't that Mr. Jones sitting in the corner with a pretty young gial who doesn't resemble Mrs. Jones?
No time for gossip now, our platters of chow mein, veggie, shrimp, chicken, conch and lobster are here. It's time to dig in.
Next we're off to a club to burn off the calories consumed during the day. After dancing to several rounds of punta rock, reggae and soca music, I head out onto the verandah for some air.
Wow, look at all the fast food stands that have suddenly appeared: panades and tamales down the street; rice and beans below me and barbecue fish, chicken and ribs -- grill and all-- across the street.
In Belize a sturdy table, a popular street corner and a knack for cooking are all you need to become a culinary entrepreneur. Right now my watch is reading 2:45 am--definitely too late to tempt fate.
After all, I have to wake up early and get ready to make Sunday dinner. And what do people in Belize eat on Sunday? You guessed it: rice and beans. With chicken and potato salad and plantain of course.
Let me go home and start softening those beans...
Special Thanks to:
Ecumenical College - Tourism and Hospitality students
Faldi's Restaurant (Cristo Rey, Cayo)
Martha's Kitchen (San Ignacio, Cayo)
Marva's Restaurant (Belize City)
Petrona "Aunt Pet" Garcia
Ritchie's Dinette (Dangriga, Stann Creek)
Images Courtesy of: