I got this question earlier this week from a slightly exasperated fellow. “Where do you shop…I mean…how do you eat?”.
The family was visiting for two weeks, had been out and about in town and found grocery stores…with no produce and expired products, fruit and vegetable stands…with a scant selection in comparison to what they were used to and products that were up to 5x what they would pay for them at home.
There’s no Starbucks, no McDonalds’, no Whole Foods, no recognizable chain grocery store…
What gives? How, they asked me, do I shop for my food on Ambergris Caye.
The answer is: very differently than I did in the US. But then, that makes sense. I am not in the US. And that being said, it did take me a while to adjust and learn how to make it work for me.
But let’s start by being straight up. I am not much of a cook, so intensive, pantry-stocking shopping is not my thing. But my very first job on the island was doing provisioning for a now-defunct resort way up north so I know it can most certainly can be done if you follow a few rules and you know where to look.
1. Fruits and Vegetables: Eat local. Vegetables and fruits grown in Belize are fresher, generally and much cheaper in price. You can find apples, pears, imported lettuces…but you are going to pay for them. The year round fruits are usually: pineapple, bananas/plantains, papaya and watermelon. And then we get all sorts of fun seasonal stuff from mangoes to custard apples. Buy what looks and smells good. And try new stuff!
Vegetables that you can count on year-round are: cabbage, onions, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, small local pumpkins, cucumbers, sweet and hot peppers and potatoes. Often cauliflower is available.
If you are craving brussel sprouts (and I do!) or bok choy or baby carrots in a bag or grapes, they are going to be pricey…sometimes shockingly so. A bag of cranberries, $20bzd!
They have been imported and a heavy duty was paid.
The Greenhouse (on Middle Street) is a fabulous store for both produce and specialty food items. If you are looking to prepare food in San Pedro, I’d put it first on my list.
2. Dairy Products: Fresh diary products – from milk to yogurt to ice cream – are a relatively new thing in supermarkets. We live on an island and the temperature is generally quite warm. Not ideal for diary transportation.
For years, San Pedranos used powdered milk and butter was EXPENSIVE and actually came in a can.
So while many products are now sold in stores, we are even getting greek yogurt in some places, they are pricey to import and pricey to buy. ALWAYS check the expiration date. Often these items are left on the refrigerated shelves for quite a while in hopes that they will be sold.
3. If you want to “eat American”, it’s going to be cost ya. I’ve seen it so many times. A group of visitors going around a store, filling their cart with Doritos and Fruit Loops, frozen pizzas and Stoli Vodka. They get to the register, see the total and pale. These things are imported and cost up to five times what they cost in the states.
Consider tortilla chips, eggs, toast and gorgeous local bacon, rice and beans and go for local rum.
4. Meat Since we are on an island, you’d think it would be fish, all fish. But Belize really is a chicken eating country. (Herbert Hoover would be pleased.) And you can find it in many grocery stores. Definitely pick one that seems busy or specializes in meat/chicken (like Quality Poultry or Lino’s Meats) to make sure you get the fresh stuff.
Pork is delicious and the Sausage Factory south of town (their products are carried in the Greenhouse) has some delicious cuts. Beef, unless you buy something at a specialty shop that is wildly expensive, is just not a typical local meat. It is getting MUCH better…but if I were you, I’d enjoy it at a nice restaurant.
Or wait until you get home. Eat local!
FISH! You’ll ask where to buy it…can you get it fresh? You’ll ask around and find all sorts of answers like “well, I have this guy who rides around on his bike on the Back Street” or “try to meet the fishing boat at the Central Park pier on Tuesdays or sometimes Fridays” – it’s almost like a game or buying crack (I imagine). A game I don’t like to play. Fish? I eat out.
5. Imported Alcohol is Crazy Expensive. If you don’t like rum at all or local beer, you are going to pay for it. Literally. A bottle of Barefoot brand wine in the states is anywhere from $6.99 to $10.99, in Belize, they start at $30bzd. Hard alcohols are the same…or worse.
My advice? Embrace rum. Belize makes some lovely ones for $15-25bzd a liter. Or pick up a few bottles of what you do like at the Duty Free Shop where you pick up your luggage at the international airport.
6. There are lots of good grocery stores on the island like Caye Mart (shown above) or Mermaid Store south of town. I like these stores because the owners are behind the registers – and they are great guys. And willing to negotiate on pricier items. SERIOUSLY! No need to be shy…a quizzical “is this really the price?” can get you a discount.
And don’t always grab for the brand you are used to. Often there is a local substitute that works just fine.
Superbuy (a HUGE one on Back Street and one South of town) has a great selection. At all places, just check your dates and all should be fine.
7. LASTLY, if you are single or a couple, consider eating out for most, if not all, meals. As a single gal, I found it cheaper to eat out for lunch. A giant plate of DELICIOUS chicken, rice & beans at a deli like Briana’s is $9bzd (or $4.50US). There are so many yummy cheap eats that I wrote a whole blog on them.
A huge lunch has me (usually) eating something lighter, more snacky for dinner. Street food is both safe and delicious in San Pedro.
8. Lastly plus One. Coffee – one of my favorite things. Many Belizeans are used to drinking the instant stuff with powdered creamer and sugar – years ago, that was all there was. Now there is a greater selection but again, it’s mostly imported and a bit pricey. But one MUST have coffee.
My favorite is Caye Coffee which is roasted and bagged here on the island. A pound will run you anywhere from $12 to $14USD. It’s great stuff.
Or try Maxwell House. It’s not only good to the last drop, it’s as good as it gets here in Belize.
If all else fails – there are provisioning companies on the island. So that you can just check some boxes and have things delivered right to your hotel or rental home.
Make shopping part of your Belize experience…a bit of hunting and gathering is a great way to meet people.