Things I Never Knew I Needed: My Life In San Pedro, Belize
My Necessities When Shopping on Ambergris Caye
Thirteen years ago, I moved to Ambergris Caye, Belize from Manhattan, NYC, the “Big Apple”. My life has changed in so many ways over that time period…
Things that I never knew I needed and now I wonder…how did I live without this stuff?
The answer is simple – and don’t judge me too harshly for this – I didn’t really cook (or clean for that matter) in my prior life. I HONESTLY did not have time. I left for work before 5am – returning home at about 6:30pm if I was lucky.
My NYC-life was takeaway sushi, eating out most nights, delivered Italian food at 11pm and once or twice daily trips to Whole Foods Supermarket aka My Favorite Place on Earth. So ridiculously, over-the-top convenient.
Don’t want to peel your own garlic? They sell peeled cloves in bulk. Heck…you can buy every one of your meals pre-made.
Belize, shopping-wise, took a WHILE for me to get accustomed to. Making a shopping list for more than one day’s food is still out of my reach, but I am getting better. I love certain fruits and vegetables when they are in season or available like cassava, mamey and mangoes.
My Guide to Grocery Shopping on Ambergris Caye
But here are my new everyday household necessities. I’m glad that a bit of cooking, time in the kitchen and Belize have forced me to find them. Though…Whole Foods, I miss you every day.
Mahler chicken consomme: The top five ingredients are: Salt, wheat flour, MSG, sugar and margarine. Ground dehydrated chicken meat appears lower on the list. But I love this stuff. It makes great chicken soup (with lots of things added) and just tastes great cooked in white rice. Any recipe that calls from chicken broth? Mahlers. I must use it 3-4x a week. (Sorry gourmet cooks…I can see you all cringing.)
I like to see a happy chicken dancing himself right into the meat grinder.
Lisette’s Secret Sauce: A delicious mango-y, spicy sauce that tastes great on everything. Chicken, fish, cream cheese, sandwiches and rice & beans. I just dipped my perfect grilled cheese sandwich in it…something I was quite nervous about doing…and it made it even better.
Zote Soap: The perfect soap for hand washing all of your garments. I find it gets out almost every stain. Just soften it up, scrub some on and soak. Gone. And your musty bathing suit smells good for a long time. It comes in GIANT bars for super cheap. Pink or white. (Pick pink)
And only $1.50-3bzd max. This stuff is the WD-40 of the cleaning world. Other uses? It’s contains citronella which can repel mosquitos. In a pinch, it washes dishes. I use it to wash my hands. You can grate it and use it in the washing machine. It is even sold on Ebay at catfish bait. CATFISH BAIT! A truly magical soap.
A Crock Pot: Always something I associated with old ladies, pot roast, and potpourri. It was something you might receive as a wedding gift from a distant relative and then return for cash. But most households here have them and, who knew? They are incredibly useful. Softening beans, lentils, soups, stewed chicken…it’s super handy. My next purchase? A rice cooker. Look at me! Quickly becoming little Suzy Home-maker.
Downy Fabric Softener: I was always a dryer sheet gal. I knew the liquid existed but never tried it, I never even noticed it in the stores. In San Pedro, the sheets are harder to find and are prohibitively expensive. I’ve become quite a connoisseur of the liquids…and this one is the best. (The picture below is classic Superbuy. Often the same products on the shelves have different prices.)
I thought Libra Enjuague meant something fancy like summer breeze…but translates only to “rinse free”. Boring.
Coconut Oil: I am not a believer that coconut oil is the answer to all problems – from heart disease to cancer – but I DO LOVE IT. I started buying it for my skin and my hair – it’s a great moisturizer. But then I realized how DELICIOUS it is when used for cooking. Delicious for certain things that I NEVER would have thought. Vegetables…SO GOOD. Roasted and a spritz of my next item. Meat. Salad. Eggs.
Seriously…eggs. It’s divine. And even better? A little goes a long way.
Look for it at local shops – like honey, it’s almost always packaged in a used rum bottle.
Fun note: It also makes for a good thermometer – it turns solid under 76 degrees. It’s ONLY solid a few times a year – generally in January or February.
Limes: Not just a wedge on the side of your diet coke, here, lime is in everything. Squeezed on chicken, fish, beef, in soup, on rice, in beer with salt, on tacos…it is a condiment, not a fruit. I can think of few meals that it is not served with. (I do miss lemons in Belize though…on some things, lime is just not the same).
I asked the Citrus Growers why we don’t have lemons a few years back.
Fanta: In the states, most people know Fanta only by the loud colorful commercials with Latin dancing girls. I don’t think I’d ever tried it. In Belize, along with Coke, it is the universal soda. Not only do they do the candy flavored orange, fruit punch, grape and pineapple but Fanta/Bowen & Bowen bottles the soda water, tonic, gingerale and root beer too. Some find that an orange Fanta is a most effective hangover cure.
Left to right: Root beer, Ginger Ale, Grape, Orange, Pineapple, Tonic, Fruit Punch
Fun Belize Fanta Fact: To differentiate the clear tonic from the clear soda water (all are packaged in identical bottles), pink coloring is added to the tonic. It makes for a lovely blush colored rum & tonic…your old, clear gin and tonics seem a total bore. But drink quickly, the coloring fades when exposed to air or sunlight.
Cilantro: My love affair with this flavor has already been well documented in a previous post: I’m Confused…I Thought Everyone Loved Cilantro. It continues on a daily basis.
Marie Sharp’s Green Habanero Sauce: Medium hot and green from cactus paddles, this is far and away my favorite of the hot sauces. It’s great on everything. Particularly eggs.
Fish Insect Spray: No idea why it is called Fish. It would probably easily kill a fish. But I find this stuff very useful. Have a mosquito in your bathroom…give a spray of this and close the door. Consider her dead. Sugar ants will disappear. Sure it’s probably not good for the environment or good for me, but bugs? I hate them. Plus, it’s made in Trinidad and Tobago…what could go wrong?
Complete Seasoning: Apparently, I am hooked on MSG because I sprinkle this stuff on everything. Along with some other spices (garlic, onion and others), mono-sodium glutamate is one of the keys in this spice blend. Baked chicken legs are a staple of my diet. Wash and dry, sprinkle with this seasoning and bake at 425 for 40-45 minutes. Delicious.
Habanero Pepper: This is no chili pepper for wimps. It is one of the hottest on earth. But add one un-punctured to anything that you are going to slow cook…stew, soup or meat. It adds a tiny bit of heat and delicious flavor. Just make sure you don’t accidentally eat it. It hardly mellows with cooking. It will be a moment you won’t soon forget.
Habaneros being cleaned at the Marie Sharp plant. Gloves and goggles required.
Honorable Mention Goes to: Coconut Milk. In small quantities, I’m using this non-sweetened Belizean go-to ingredient more and more. Rice, curries, and soups, this makes things creamy and delicious.
Feel free to leave me a comment if you have anything I should be adding to my list.
Oh…and PIN IT for reference 🙂
One last thing! Our San Pedro Tourist Guide Association is raising money to feed guides in need! Please consider a donation of any size to help these guys who are supporting families and have no income stream in sight.