On the Hunt: Searching for Thanksgiving Ingredients on Ambergris Caye

If you celebrate American Thanksgiving or if you just really love the food, you know that planning and shopping and cooking and baking for the big (or small) turkey dinner can be ALOT of work.

I love the idea of eating out – or ordering a delicious meal from a restaurant to pick up. I spent the last week combing the local restaurants’ Thanksgiving menus – some went very American classic, others veered a bit more Belizean. Many were a delicious blend.

When I saw Estel’s post their lunch menu, I was tempted to pause our oven and run down there. Stewed Turkey sounds like perfection!

Estel's Thanksgiving lunch menu
Yum, yum and yum

But last year I learned the hard way that the day after Thanksgiving is a very sad one if you have no leftovers! Nothing to pick at straight out of the fridge before bed. No turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwiches the next day. Nada. It almost negates the holiday altogether.

Thanksgiving weather in Belize sunny and warm
Thanksgiving morning – 85 and sunny

SO this year we decided to cook. Our lil table top convection oven would be working overtime. The plan and menu were made and the most daunting part…the shopping.

Franny swimming in the clear water
Frannie loving the sargussum free beaches

In the US, most, if not all of your Thanksgiving ingredients, no matter how niche, can be found at your local grocery store. The turkey, the fresh cranberries, the herbs, the canned pumpkin, the cornbread, the pearl onions, all of it. But in Belize, in San Pedro, these items will be gathered in many shops.

The ones that are more specialty (from the north, not at all part of Belizean cuisine) – the fresh cranberries, the fresh sage and thyme, brussel sprouts – are usually ordered just for this season.

Ordered from the US and they may get here on time or…maybe they don’t. The Monday before Thanksgiving was a national holiday – Garifuna Settlement Day. And that knocked the supply chain even more out of whack.

Here is how my scavenger hunt – my “hunger games” went but first, the menu. We kept it pretty simple since originally it was just the 2 of us. And then Jeff offered to prepare plates for the guys we work with. Food for two became food for 7.

Starting to prep our to-go plates

The Menu

Turkey Legs and Thighs: Dry brined (salt & sugar) and done 2 ways. Two sets were done with basic roasting in the oven, two sets, the day before in the Instant Pot. (Delicious and gives you lots of great dripping/broth to make a very flavorful gravy)

Stuffing with 2 Breads: We halved this basic recipe and added apples. Really good.

Mashed Potatoes – just butter, evaporated milk and salt

Cranberry Sauce: I like the jelly, Jeff likes the chunky. Canned. Fresh cranberries can cost $25bzd or more for a bag.

Apple Crisp: Ina Garten’s recipe is my idea of heaven on earth. Halfed the recipe. I woke up early to make this. Dessert is the best part of Thanksgiving and so I didn’t “run out of room” for my favorite dish, we had it for breakfast

Ina's apple crisp

That’s it! This is going to be easy…right?

I think I visited about 15 shops to achieve my goal and then add in that this is the first BIG week for tourism of the season. Town is packed with visitors and golf carts and it added a new level of difficulty 🙂

For the turkey: Caribbean Chicken. When it comes to poultry, we only eat dark meat. The texture of white meat, I can’t stand it. Rough and dry.

Caribbean Chicken, located south of town at the turn toward La Divina Providencia, Hidden Treasure Restaurant, and the DFC neighborhood, is the best for poultry in all its cuts. They have boneless chicken thighs, they have turkey breast only or just turkey legs/thighs. It’s a large store with great prices. They also sell Reinland Beef – which makes some excellent stuff. (See my visit to GORGEOUS Blue Creek in the Orange Walk district to see the cattle here)

We go to CC once a week.

Stuffing: Two breads are required for the stuffing recipe I chose. I bought a fresh baguette at French Croissant Bakery in downtown San Pedro. I still can not get over the luxury of having a French bakery in this town. AND, I just saw an announcement from the owner of Frenchy’s Restaurant that he will be opening ANOTHER FRENCH BAKERY soon.

I had to look it up. A viennoiserie makes breakfast pastries in the style of Vienna.

If someone had told me, when I first visited San Pedro in 2006, that we’d have not just one but TWO French bakeries, I would have died laughing.

Cornbread – made a quick recipe (cutting sugar in half) using Goya Cornmeal. (You won’t find it pre-made) and I find that the Jiffy cornmeal muffin mix is pretty much guaranteed to have bugs in it. (It is packaged in a wax paper bag rather than plastic…easy for critter nibbling) I let it dry out for 2 days before making stuffing.

Cranberry Sauce in a can is now widely available for about $6bzd. Fresh cranberries, I spotted at my fruit stand (across from Tan’s Mart just north of town proper) THE DAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING. If fresh is a necessity for you…

The fruit stand also had 3 or 4 types of apples – $1bzd to $3bzd each depending on the size. Apples and grapes are traditional holiday gifts in Belize and we get really nice ones this time of year – especially closer to Christmas. You’ll see “Christmas apples” on display everywhere.

Just like oranges and walnuts were traditional stocking stuffers in the US decades ago. Apples, grown in the north, were a luxury in Belize. Oranges, grown in the tropics, were a luxury in the USA.

THE HARDEST THING TO GET: SAGE! It’s that once a year flavor that grows in cooler climates that I had my heart set on. I was looking for fresh sage and if not fresh sage, dried (flakes) sage. And if not that, poultry seasoning. But all I could find was powdered sage. And there is NO poultry seasoning in San Pedro – I checked at least 10 shops.

Also a lemon for my crisp. My fruit stand got them in on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. (The place was JAM PACKED)

The Greenhouse Market on Middle Street is ABSOLUTELY your best bet for all things specialty. I bought my celery there. They had ordered fresh sage and fresh thyme for the holiday but on Tuesday, it hadn’t arrived yet. At 10am on Wednesday, still not there.

Greenhouse on Middle Street

I did my last sweep of shops to find my 2nd place choices but nothing. We headed back to Greenhouse for the powdered sage. And HOOORAY! The fresh stuff had come in. I think it makes a big difference. I bought sage AND thyme.

Fresh thyme and sage at Greenhouse

Big shout-outs to Super Buy for the cranberry sauces. And Western Dairies for the $2bzd individual cups of vanilla ice cream so we could include them with our thanksgiving plates to-go. And Casa Pan Dulce for the big bag of delicious, soft little rolls that are making the best Black Friday turkey, mayo, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sliders.

Western Dairy in San Pedro
WD Shop in San Pedro behind the fire station – great vanilla soft serve!

I hope you all had the happiest happiest best Thanksgiving.

Was all this absolutely necessary? No! But there is just something about this traditional food that makes me feel…warm and fuzzy. And sharing it is even better.

Now…let’s get ready to board the freight train towards Christmas! If you are in Belize, you are most likely already on it. If you are ordering anything from the States, you’ll want to get your orders in soon! Enjoy 🙂

See: Can You Online Shop/Amazon Prime in Belize?

Next year I’m adding a new level of difficulty: Green Bean Casserole. I’d better start looking for French’s Fried Onions and Cream of Mushroom soup now!

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  1. Tia on November 24th, 2023 at 2:15 pm

    If you have mushroom, garlic and onions and any type of milk or cream you can make your own cream of mushroom soup for green bean casserole. Lots of recipes online. Add crispy fried shallots if you don’t have french fried onions. Fairly easy and really good!

    • San Pedro Scoop on November 25th, 2023 at 8:45 am

      Shallots are on this island maybe 2x a year…but I have a full year to search (or order!) the canned stuff. And the onions. Pre-planning here is probably best to start at least a month in advance…if not a few. But I like it – gonna start looking for recipes now 🙂

  2. M. Anderson on November 24th, 2023 at 3:52 pm

    After popping into 20+ different stores (starting at the bridge, heading to DFC, then coming back up to town), we finally found French’s Fried Onions at the main SuperBuy. Mortgaged the house and bought 2 for $19.50 BZ each. Ended up with bags of frozen green beans from WalkMart. Had a fantastic green bean casserole for all 35 guests! There’s nothing quite like a traditional homemade Thanksgiving dinner on the beach.

    • San Pedro Scoop on November 25th, 2023 at 8:43 am

      THIRTY FIVE GUESTS! You are the winner – holy moly. I am committed to making a few more servings for next year…but that is seriously impressive. You are right…so great to eat these comforting delicious foods on the beach!

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  5. tempmailbox.net on November 30th, 2023 at 7:38 am

    I hope that the second part will be no worse than the first


  6. Emily on December 3rd, 2023 at 2:34 pm

    I admire your persistence and completely get the desire for a traditional Thanksgiving meal! Dare I mention that a bag of fresh cranberries was 99 cents at Aldi this week? I paid a whopping $1.50 each for mine at Walmart, dang it! Fortunately, living in NC now, I am able to grow fresh herbs, so my parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (just like the song!) were essentially free. I love the leftovers too; makes all the trouble to make it all well worth it!

    • San Pedro Scoop on December 5th, 2023 at 8:04 am

      99 cents! That’s just…obscene. Hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving.

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    • San Pedro Scoop on December 8th, 2023 at 8:40 am

      Thanks so much for the kind words 🙂