I hope you had a splendid Memorial Day weekend. As for myself? Well. When it comes to long weekends I over-book and under-accomplish. After creating a ten-item honey-do list, I typically only manage to “check off” half of one item. The reason I didn’t get anything done? We went out and had fun splashing at the water park, romancing on a dinner date, rummaging at yard-sales, swimming with a friend, and more! There’s worse things than undone chores, let me tell you.
All that running around did get me a bit frazzled. I needed something familiar, yet a little exotic, to soothe my brain after a hectic holiday weekend … which is why I’m happy to dive into the cuisine of Belize. For those of you who have been following along, you’ll see that their food is somewhat similar to the Caribbean food we’ve explored in past weeks, with the common overlapping of flavors from Europe, Spain, South America, India, and Africa. However, Belize is unique in the number of Mexican inspired dishes they enjoy.
So, for starters, pour yourself a glass of rum and coke, Belizean style. Now, read on.
In Belize you’ll be able to find all the region’s typical grains and starches including rice, sweet potatoes, corn, and cassava. Rice is so popular it accompanies most dishes, often cooked in coconut milk for added richness and flavor.
By far the most common application of rice is Belizean Rice and Beans (a cousin to Peas n’ Rice). This hearty dish is found on nearly all the menus around the country, and is often served up as a combo with any spiced or stewed meat, fried plantains, coleslaw, and potato salad. The rice is cooked with coconut milk and red beans. The seasoning is rather plain, maybe a little thyme, onion, and pepper. The spice in their food (and boy do they have some) usually comes in with the meat. An important cultural note: locals are quick to tell you that Rice and Beans is completely different from Beans and Rice, as Beans and Rice cooks the beans separate from the rice and the resulting flavor is quite different. So, don’t make the mistake of mixing these two up
Thanks to Belize’s beautiful coastline (with one of the largest coral reefs in the world), they have an abundance of fish and shellfish. They often have conch on the menu, as well as any number of fish cooked in coconut milk (sere), grilled, stewed, or made into a chowder.
Tamales, corn tortillas with with beans and cheese, and panadas (corn pastries filled with fish, beans, or meat) all betray the Mexican influence on Belize. Vegetables are a bit more of a geographical jumble, including cabbage, peas, squashes, okra, and all kinds of beans but especially red kidney beans. You can even eat your veggies in a dukunu, an African style steamed corn parcel that may or may not have meat. Dukunus were brought over by the slaves and are popular throughout the Caribbean.
Sunday dinner might include the much-loved Chimole (Black Dinner), which is literally a black-brothed chicken stew that uses Mayan spice pastes, black and red recado, along with a hard-boiled egg and a plethora of vegetables (common include potato, squash, and chayote).
For breakfast, Johnny Cakes are ever popular, slathered with butter and a thick slice of cheese. Eat plain or with eggs and sausage on the side. Sounds good to me!
The desserts are varied and range from familiar to exotic: lemon meringue pies, coconut and ginger sweets like tablayta or cut-o-brute, cassava pudding, and sweet potato pone (baked sweet potatoes cooked in brown sugar, coconut milk - or evaporated, ginger, nutmeg, and raisins). And, if you don’t feel like cooking, you can always sample the fresh fruit they enjoy like bananas, mangoes, papayas and citrus.