You probably did. But I had no idea. Here’s how I found out…
Before I took my flight back to San Pedro, I caught a taxi from downtown Dangriga to the Marie Sharp factory. The taxi driver first tried to charge me $60bzd (he waits while you tour), I got him down to $50bzd. But I still think it should probably be a bit cheaper. Anyway…some quick pictures of Dangriga. It’s a town that has seen much better days but I think it’s secretly kinda beautiful.
As we headed out of town, we passed a few old railroad bridges over creeks and rivers that had long been abandoned. My taxi driver remembered daring friends to walk across the bridges as a kid 35 years ago. Even then they had been long abandoned. A railroad in Belize? What? When? For people? Oranges? Hard to imagine.
It turns out Belize had a couple railways. This one ran about 26 miles from the Middlesex Estate (a huge fruit farm owned by US company United Fruit in Stann Creek Valley) to the old deep water port of Dangriga from 1907 to 1937. It seems like it was mostly used for hauling bananas, logs and freight but also passengers. In 1937, it was scraped and replaced eventually by the Hummingbird Highway. Cool. You learn something new everyday.
I digress..back to the subject of this post: If you have been to Belize, you know Marie Sharp’s hot sauce. It’s on practically every table in the country. Kids and adults alike pour it on just about everything. It’s also the only Belizean product that I know of that is widely distributed in the US.
The actual Marie Sharp’s factory sits 4 or 5 miles outside of Dangriga on 400 acres of really pretty farmland. Off the main road, you drive about a mile with orange trees on one side and grapefruit on the other to the factory. Oranges need to be picked by hand, grapefruits can be shaken off the trees. Either way, this looks like a ton of hard work.
My Marie Sharp guide met me at the front door and brought me into the gift shop/office. All the products are for sale: the hot sauces, chutneys, jams and jellies and t-shirts. (And my very favorite, The Sweet Habanero Sauce. Crack open a bottle of this stuff, dump it on cream cheese and eat with crackers. It is so good. And I don’t want to start a bidding war here, but there is some available on Ebay) I bought a bunch of different products…and a new one for me. Coconut Spread. I tried a free sample on a cracker and I was sold.
I got a free and very fetching paper shower cap for a tour of the factory. They were bottling my favorite pepper flavor, the Green Habanero. It’s green from it’s main ingredient, the Nopal cactus. I’m not sure how these guys do it…my eyes and throat were burning and the green sauce isn’t even close to the hottest. Gas masks must come out for the BEWARE flavor.
The habanero grinding room was in the back along with huge vats of the mash. The peppers are only ground, not cooked. Thank god they weren’t grinding at the moment…I would imagine lots of protective gear would be needed. Really pretty red ones were being ground for one of the many red sauces. (These peppers come in lots of colors…green, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple depending on ripeness. Apparently, the darker, the hotter.)
Here are the giant vats of habanero mash in the giant refrigerator.
Back in the office, I met Marie herself. (I will spare you the picture we took together. I can’t decide who was less flattered by this shot, me or Ms. Sharp). She described first making and bottling the hot sauce in her kitchen for 3 years. An American man, in the mid 1980s, liked the sauce so much that he brought it home and marketed it. It must have worked because you can now buy Marie Sharp’s at Walmart and a bunch of the big chain supermarkets. Impressive.
She also said that her family is from San Pedro (she mentioned the Alamilla family) but she never goes back since it has “changed too much” for her liking. Oh well…I guess shipping us your sauces will have to be enough.
In Hopkins and Dangriga, I saw Marie Sharp’s snacks available everywhere. The cassava chips, salted or spicy, are totally addicting. I think I’m going to try to bring this stuff to San Pedro. What a cute, tasty and cheap bar food.
Hmmmm…maybe my new racket will be “import/export”. Makes me sound kinda like a snack food gangster.