Know Belize - Food & Drink
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Throughout this book (and throughout Belize), you will find references to "Belizean" food, often preceded by words like "simple" and "cheap." It should be noted that the very idea of a national cuisine is as new as every other part of Belizean identity. Since the times of the Baymen, Belize has been an import economy, surviving mostly on canned meats like "bully beef" and imported grains and packaged goods. With independence, however, came renewed national pride, and with the arrival of tourists seeking "local" food, the word "Belizean" was increasingly applied to the varied diet of so many cultures. Anthropologist Richard Wilk writes, "The crucible of Belizean national cooking has been the transnational arena; the flow of migrants, sojourners, tourists and media which increasingly links the Caribbean with the United States."

True to their unique heritage, the Garinagu have a variety of dishes that are distinctly theirs, although you'll have to search hard to find an actual Garinagu-themed restaurant. More commonly, you'll find their dishes at local cafés in Dangriga, Hopkins, Seine Bight, and Punta Gorda. Fish in coconut milk, cooked with local spices, is called sere. In many dishes, plantains or green bananas are grated into various recipes, and seaweed is used now and then.

Traditionally, and continuing today, the Garinagu raise cassava to make eriba, a flat bread made from the meal of the cassava root. The large bulbous roots of the shrubby spurge plant are peeled and grated (today mostly by electric graters, but formerly by hand-a long, tedious job on a stone-studded board). The grated cassava is packed into a six-foot-long leaf-woven tube that is hung from a hefty tree limb, then weighted and pulled at the bottom, squeezing and forcing out the poisonous juices and starch from the pulp. The coarse meal that remains is dried and used to make the flat bread that has been an important part of the Garinagu culture for centuries.

Here are a few dishes to try:
. hudut: fish simmered in thick coconut milk with herbs and cooked over an open fire-served with fu-fu (beaten plantain)
. tapow: green banana cut in wedges and simmered in coconut milk with fish, herbs, and seasonings-served with white rice or ereba (cassava bread)
. seafood gumbo: a combination of conch, lobster, shrimp, fish, and vegetables, cooked in coconut milk, herbs, and grated green banana or plantain-served with rice or ereba and also called "boil-up."

To wash it down, how 'bout a seaweed shake, or a shot of bitters?

Nobody will argue about the common denominator of Belizean food: rice and beans. The starchy staple is pronounced altogether with a heavy accent on the first syllable: "RICE-n-beans!" Belizeans speak of the dish with pride, as if they invented the concoction, and you can expect a massive mound of it with most midday meals. Actually, Belizean rice and beans is a bit unique: they use red beans, black pepper, and grated coconut, instead of the black beans and cilantro common in neighboring Latin countries. The rest of your plate will be occupied by something like stew beef or fry chicken (or some other meat), plus a small mound of either potato or cabbage salad. Be sure to take advantage of so much fresh fruit: oranges, watermelon, starfruit, mangoes, and papaya, to name a few.

The omnipresent Chinese restaurants are, in addition to being providers of authentic Chinese cuisine of varying quality, also famous for their cheap "fry chicken" and are just as Belizean as anyone else on the block. These are often your only meal options on Sundays and holidays and we've done our best to ask locals and expats in each town which one is the best.

For breakfast, try some fry jacks (fluffy fried-dough crescents) or johnnycakes (flattened biscuits) with your eggs, beans, and bacon. Unfortunately, most coffee served in the country is still instant or, if brewed, just plain horrible. This is changing, however, mostly because of demanding tourists like yourself who insist on a real mug o' Joe-or a soymilk, double-decaf latte, for that matter, which you'll find in the finer restaurants and cafés.

One of the cheapest and quickest meal options, found nearly everywhere in Belize, is Mexican "fast-food" snacks, especially taco stands, which are everywhere you look, serving as many as five or six soft-shell chicken tacos for US$1. Also widely available are salbutes, a kind of hot, soggy taco dripping in oil; panades, little meat pies; and garnaches, which are crispy tortillas under a small mound of tomato, cabbage, cheese, and hot sauce.

Speaking of hot sauce, you'll definitely want to try and to take home Marie Sharp's famous habanero sauces, jams, and other creative products. Marie Sharp is a classic independent Belizean success story and many travelers visit her factory and store in Dangriga (her products are available on every single restaurant table and gift shop in the country). Her sauce is good on pretty much everything.

Then, of course, there's the international cuisine, in the form of many excellent (and many not-so-excellent) foreign-themed restaurants. San Pedro and Placencia, in particular, have burgeoning fine dining scenes, and Cayo has excellent Indian and vegetarian fare.

Many restaurants in Belize have flexible hours of operation, and often close for a few hours between lunch and dinner.

One of the favorite Belize specialties is fresh fish, especially along the coast and on the islands, but even inland Belize is never more than 60 miles from the ocean. There's lobster, shrimp, red snapper, sea bass, halibut, barracuda, conch, and lots more prepared in a variety of ways.

Conch (pronounced KAHNK) has been a staple in the diet of the Maya and Central American communities along the Caribbean coast for centuries. There are conch fritters, conch steak, and conch stew; it's also often used in ceviche-uncooked seafood marinated in lime juice with onions, peppers, tomatoes, and a host of spices. In another favorite, conch is pounded, dipped in egg and cracker crumbs, and sautéed quickly (like abalone steak in California) with a squirt of fresh lime. Caution: If it's cooked too long, it becomes tough and rubbery. Conch fritters are minced pieces of conch mixed into a flour batter and fried-delicious. On many boat trips, the crew will catch a fish and prepare it for lunch, either as ceviche; cooked over an open beach fire; or in a "boil up," seasoned with onions, peppers, and achiote, a fragrant red spice grown locally since the time of the early Maya.

Know Your Seasons
Don't order seafood out of season: Closed season for lobster is February 15-June 15, and conch season is closed July 1-September 30. The ocean is being over-fished, due in large part to increasing demand from tourists. The once-prolific lobster is becoming scarce in Belizean waters. And conch is not nearly as easy to find as it once was. Most reputable restaurateurs follow the law and don't buy undersized or out of season seafood; however, a few have no scruples.

NON-ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES Although U.S. corporate soft drink companies will undoubtedly continue trying to push their brown sugar-water down your throat as they do back home (and as they have successfully done with most locals), there are wonderful natural fruit drinks to be had throughout Belize. Take advantage of fresh lime, papaya, watermelon, orange, and other healthy juices during your travels-just be sure the drinks are made with purified water.

Perhaps the most important-or at least best-tasting-legacy left by nearly three centuries of British imperialism is a national affinity for dark beer. Nowhere else in Central America will you find swill as hearty and morena as you will in any bar, restaurant, or corner store in Belize, where beer is often advertised separately from stout, a good sign indeed for those who prefer more bite and body to their brew.

At the top of the heap are the slender, undersized (280 ml) bottles of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, known affectionately by Belizeans as "short, dark, and lovelies." Yes, that's right, Guinness-brewed in Belize under license from behind the famous St. James's Gate in Dublin, Ireland, and packing a pleasant 7.5 percent punch. No, this is not the same sweet nectar you'll find flowing from your favorite Irish pub's draught handle at home, but c'mon, you're in Central America, enjoy.

Next up is Belikin Stout, weighing in with a slightly larger bottle (342 ml) and distinguishable from regular beer only by its blue bottle cap. Stouts run 6.5 percent alcohol and are a bit less bitter than Guinness, but still a delicious, meaty meal that goes down much quicker than its caloric equivalent-a loaf of bread. Belikin Premium (4.8 percent) boasts a well-balanced body and is brewed with four different types of foreign hops; demand often exceeds supply in many establishments, so order early.

Asking for a simple "beer" will get you a basic Belikin, which, when served cold, is no better or worse than any other regional draft. Lastly, the tiny green bottles belong to Lighthouse Lager, a healthy alternative to the heavies, but packing a lot less bang for the buck with only 4.2 percent alcohol and several ounces less beer (often for the same price).

All beer in Belize is brewed and distributed by the same company in Ladyville, just north of Belize City (Bowen and Bowen Ltd. also has the soft drink market cornered). Some batches are occasionally inconsistent in quality-if you get skunked, send back your mug and try again. You'll see most Belizeans vigorously wipe the rust and crud from the open bottle mouths with the napkin that comes wrapped around the top-you'd be smart to do the same. Beers in Belize cost anywhere from US$1.50 to US$3 a bottle, depending on where you are and what size bottle you're getting.

Of all the national rums, One Barrel stands proudly above the rest. Smooth enough to enjoy on the rocks (add a bit of Coca Cola for coloring if you need to), One Barrel has a sweet, butterscotchy aftertaste and costs about US$7 for a liter bottle, or US$3 per shot (or rum drink). Locals often stick to their favorite Caribbean Rum, fine if you're mixing it with punch, cola, or better yet, coconut water, in the coconut. Everything else is standard, white-rum gut rot.

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