|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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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