Vegetable Stand Savvy: Have you Tried Pacaya in Belize?

One of the very best thing about experiencing a new place or just a new culture is eating.  I don’t know if there is a better way to strike up a conversation…often filled with information, memories and often family secrets/tips…than asking about food.   It’s a subject that everyone of us has knowledge, opinions and expertise on.

When I first visited Ambergris Caye, I knew nothing about Belizean food.

Written about 10 years after my first visit, you can read:  All About Belizean Food:  My Take

And it’s pretty easy to stay in your food and cultural-comfort zone while you are on Ambergris.  The language is the same.  There are plenty of restaurants that serve world wide favorites like hamburgers and french fries.  You don’t even have to drink Belizean beer or rum while you are here.

But to me, the real fun starts when you ask about different things…or order a flavor of ice cream that you’ve never seen before (sour sop is one of Belize’s favorite flavors!)…or just wander up to a fruit stand, ask a few questions and try something different.

Today I saw green mango with salt and pepper.  I passed a sign for Orange Walk tamales.  I spied a box of dusty brown sapodilla.

I saw some gorgeous flowers in town.  Not on topic but GOOD GRIEF so pretty.

And then I saw this vegetable stand…

…just coming into season custard apple (YOU MUST TRY THIS – it is on my list of five favorite fruits EVER), sour soup and long beans…

…and one almost completely strange to me…

I say almost because I DID buy it 6 or 7 years ago and prepared it all wrong…


Here is what I’ve learned.  Pacaya is considered a delicacy in Guatemala and El Salvador.  It is the young flower bunch of a male pacaya palm tree.  The pacaya palm is a member of the same family as the xate (sha-tay) – the plant illegally harvested from the Chiquibul Forest in Belize by xateros.

A smaller palm that grows below the jungle canopy (pic from Wikipedia)

When you open it, it almost looks like baby corn and is called “mountain maize” in an Aztec dialect.

The most popular preparation is dipping it in an egg batter and frying it.  A Palm Flower Fritter.

Here are some recipes for those who want to try.  The Urban Foodie.  The Hispanic Kitchen.

I need to try again.  My version was crunchy and bitter.

You can even buy pacaya packed in brine on Amazon.  It’s popular in cold salads in Guatemala.

Cool, right?   Okay, maybe not the jarred stuff but produce that we only see once a year is just so much more special.

The influx of different fruits should be coming in over the next few months…all leading up to the fruit of ALL fruits.  The summer mango.

I can’t wait.

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