I have lots of friends and readers ask me about Belizean food because well…as a global cuisine, it is not especially well known. Sure, a Garifuna restaurant (Garifuna Flava in Chicago) was once featured on (the OH so irritating) Guy Fieri’s “Dinners, Drive-In and Dives” and Andrew Zimmern of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” did visit Belize looking for the…bizarre.
But if you ask the average Joe outside of this country to describe Belizean cuisine, you are going to get a confused look. Because either Joe has no idea where Belize is (though that is changing quickly) or he just doesn’t know what we eat down here.
So here is a my take on a Belize Food Primer. I will surely leave things out since Belize is REALLY a melting pot of cultures from the colonizing British to Garifuna, Mestizo, Chinese, Creole and more…and things vary a bit as you move through the country.
A drive from north to south in Belize can be like visiting 3 or 8 different countries in a few hours – you’ll probably pass through at least Creole, Mayan, Mennonite and Central American populated villages.
Breakfast and lunch are the two main meals of the day.
Easy to identify since there is no rice and at the local delis, all the best stuff is generally sold out at about 9am.
The protein is coming to you by way of ham and beans or last night’s stewed chicken. The starch takes lots of different forms.
Fresh, thick flour tortillas are either rolled with beans and ham or beans and chicken or two are layered with it like a large, thin breakfast sandwich. The result is always tasty and filling.
Deep fry flour tortilla dough and get one of Belize’s greatest delights – the fry jack. You can eat it sweet – with jam or honey – or use it to sop up your eggs – or order it stuffed with beans and ham. No matter which you choose, EAT IT.
My favorites: Estel’s Dine by the Sea in San Pedro and Pop’s Diner in San Ignacio.
Gorgeous crusts filled with a bit of meat stew. Boogie’s Belly in San Pedro makes my favorite like these lobster meat pies.
Delicious almost biscuits, made with baking soda and often coconut milk. They were made for journeys and supposedly “johnny cake” is a variation of that word. They are great for a few days I find…but only if you have a microwave.
My favorites: above, the jalapeno Johnny Cake at Le Petit Cafe at the Radisson Hotel in Belize City. The DELICIOUS ham and cheese johnny cake at Celi’s Deli in San Pedro. Both sell out early.
Tacos, for the most part, are a breakfast food. And the city of Orange Walk in Northern Belize is renowned for their breakfast tacos. Across the country, they are the same price…3 for $1bzd, chicken, 2 for $1bzd, pork…and they are delicious. Fresh corn tortillas rolled around a bit of meat.
My favorites are (as seen above) take-away tacos at Neri’s with a $1bzd bag of watermelon juice. And La Hora Taco on Back Street – GREAT pork tacos.
The biggest meal of the day. And the national dish and favorite for lunch is – Stewed Chicken with Rice & Beans.
Chicken pieces cooked with recado and other spices and served, with the gravy, over rice and beans. (In Belize, it’s almost one word – ricenbeans – and it is a mixture of cooked rice & stewed kidney beans.) Do NOT confuse “Rice and beans” with “Beans and rice”.
For the second, the stewed kidney beans, usually with a bit of onion, green pepper and cilantro, are served on the side of white rice.
The dish is almost always served with cole slaw or potato salad and a generous helping of gravy (the pan drippings from the stew chicken.)
My favorite: Stew Chicken, Dark Meat, at Briana’s Deli (Back Street, San Pedro)
Fried chicken with rice & beans or a GENEROUS serving a french fries. This is sold at many places, often the special of the day at local delis, but a favorite is from the “Chiney Shop” or the local Chinese restaurant.
Some places in Belize City serve hundreds of pounds of chicken a day – like Li Chee, one of the cities most famous.
This is then SMOTHERED in cheap ketchup. (Ketchup where sugar rather than tomatoes is the main ingredient.)
My FAVORITE in all of Belize is Fry Chicken Fridays at Syd’s on Caye Caulker. My favorite in Belize City? Friendship Chinese Restaurant. My favorite in San Pedro. Lily’s Treasure Chest.
Again, served with rice and beans, this is a delicious way to eat fish. A good frying makes pretty much the entire thing edible. Usually the fish is snapper – but if you can get a hogfish, jump at the chance. It’s delicious.
Despite the day time temperature (not often below 80 degrees), soup is extremely popular. Beef, chicken, cow foot, escabeche (onion & chicken soup) are all popular. My two favorites are:
Black Soup or Chilmole – a chicken soup colored and flavored with black recado and served with a whole egg, corn tortillas and rice.
Conch Soup – it is made with conch and coconut milk. Some places thicken it so that it can be almost a chowder. With lots of rice on the side, it is ALWAYS delicious.
My favorite conch soup: Estel’s Dine by the Sea, San Pedro, Belize
Basic ceviche is a fresh chopped mix of tomato, onion, cilantro and lime and seafood. The seafood, whether shrimp, fish, conch, lobster, is “cooked” in the acid of the lime. Eaten with corn tortilla chips, it is a MUST try. Note: good conch in ceviche should have a small amount of chew but it is still tender. If your conch tastes like rubber…it’s been cooked or soaked in the lime way too long.
My favorite ceviche: Lily’s Treasure Chest in San Pedro.
This is one strange dish in my estimation but served and LOVED at many parties. I’m hoping for some help on the description. Because right now all I can come up with is: chicken parts and knuckles served in grease.
But I asked on facebook for other descriptions and got some help:
- Maria from Orange Walk: A local poultry sensation – a chicken innards delicacy.
- Alexis (a chef) from San Pedro: Chicken cooked in a lime vinagrette?
- Jamal from the mainland: “raw chicken in lime juice! oh, and there’s some other stuff casually thrown in, too.” mmm,mmm, good!
- Finn from San Pedro: Chicken ceviche is basically made with chicken parts like neck and back, gizzard, feet and cooked in lime, salt and a whole lotta pepper. Yum.
Apparently, you can buy the back, necks, feet at Lino’s Meats in town for $1.20bzd a lb. and the best can be found at the Lion’s Den in San Pedro for Friday night BINGO. Who knew?
Enough said about chicken ceviche.
Almost like hush puppies, these are delicious glunks of batter with onion, pepper and hopefully generous chunks of conch.
My favorite: El Fogon in San Pedro, Belize
THE GO TO DISH at all parties I’ve been to in Belize – cheese dip. A runny DELICIOUS dip of local “Dutch cheese” blended with evaporated milk and often a can of salsa. Eaten at each and every party – and also available by the single serving at Annie’s Pastries just north of town.
Always eaten with corn tortilla chips.
If you are in San Pedro between 3 and 8pm and hear a bike horn honking, it just may be the Annie’s Cart. Go out and do yourself a HUGE favor. Buy the chicken dip or the lobster dip (in season) or just the cheese dip. It’s DELICIOUS.
I am sure I have forgotten many things, so please comment and help! Until then, I suggest that you try each and every item on this list during your visit to Belize.
And if you like it, can you stick a PIN in it and share or save for later? Muchos Gracias.