Expat writer Gary Peterson talks about some of the lesser known Belizean food you should try out when you visit this tiny Central American country. This article contains a link (or links) to Amazon, from which, as an Amazon Associate, this website will earn a small commission if you make any purchases.
The term “Belizean cuisine” is not something you hear every day. After all, how many Belizean restaurants exist where you live?
None, I’m sure, which means you’re missing out. Belizean food is special. Like other Central American cuisines, it derives from the many cultures and immigrants that make up this country. When you visit Belize you’ll feast your way through history, and around the world. Belize is a melting pot of flavors and tastes. Let’s take a look at some of the culinary delights you can sample in Belize.
Cow Foot Soup
Cow foot soup is a prominent signature dish in Belize, and although the name sounds odd, it is, in fact, delicious. This soup comprises meat from, well, a cow’s foot (or sometimes a pig’s tail) so don’t expect a hoof to be sticking out of the bowl. With the meat comes potatoes, okra, onions, carrots, pepper, and cilantro.
Like almost all dishes in Belize, expect to get rice and tortillas on the side, with a bottle of Marie Sharp’s hot sauce. If, by the way, you’re outside Belize and want to flavor your food with a local flair, you can buy Marie Sharp’s on Amazon.
Boil Up & Tamales
Another Belize staple is the boil up – always a surprise dish, as you spoon your way through the various layers of flavor. Boil Up is a hodgepodge of whatever is available, tossed into a pot, marrying flavors together. That blend of veggies, dumplings, eggs, and seafood will provide a lasting impression.
Tamales originated in Central America many centuries ago and are eaten across the region. The Mayans served tamales, created from the cochinita pibil and an entire skinned pig. To make this, you marinate the pig whole in citrus juices and flavor with annatto seeds. This gives the meat a vivid orange/red color. Then you wrap the pig in plantain leaves and slow-cook it in the ground like a Hawaiian barbecue.
You can also create tamales from chicken – this is also popular in Belize.
The Garifuna people create many of their dishes with not only a Spanish influence, but also with a shade of piracy thrown in. The word “barbecue” comes from the days of the pirates. They used to smoke their meats on the beach to store in the holds of their ships.
The Garifuna are descendants of West African, Arawak, and Caribe people. Today you can find their spices and smoked meats all over Belize. Some of the finest chicken I enjoy comes from roadside Garifuna shacks.
The Garifuna also make another classic dish in Belize called hudut. This is a stew made up of coconuts, garlic, onion, thyme, onions, and whatever fish is available. Hudut comes with mashed plantains on the side. I’ve tried to make this myself, but it never tastes as good as the hudut from the old lady in the thatched roof hut.
Conch Fritter & Lobster
The most sought-after appetizer in Belize is the conch fritter, dipped in flour batter and fried. Every local restaurant has its own special dipping sauce to go with this dish. A great pastime for people is diving for conches and a local restaurant will fry them up for you.
Staying in the sea, another Belizean food staple is lobster. The lobster fishing season runs from mid-June to mid-February each year, and begins with celebrations around the country. Placencia, Caye Caulker, and San Pedro all host festivals – Lobster fests – to highlight the return to work of their fishermen and, of course, the tasty treat that is lobster. There could be nothing more Belizean than barbecued lobster straight off a roadside stand.
The Royal Rat
And then you have gibnut. It’s not the easiest to find, but asking around will put you in the right direction of a local cook shack that serves it. They call gibnut the “royal rat” or “queen’s rat” because Queen Elizabeth II tried it when she visited Belize. The gibnut (better known as “paca” throughout the region) is a large rodent that tastes like rabbit.
Belizean Food Foot Fetish
I would like to leave you with a grocery shopping experience of mine. I try to buy my chicken at a store in Dangriga that specializes in poultry and is – for me – the best local chicken source. Looking through the many freezers in the store, I noticed a large stack of packaged chicken feet. What on earth would you do with chicken feet? I asked the assistant, and she told me many restaurants buy them for the freezer.
As everybody knows, the best Belize ceviche includes fresh conch or spiny lobster. But when the lobster is out of season and the conch supply is low, many restaurants will use cooked chicken feet instead. Who knew?
I suppose one could say Belize, with its cow foot soup and chicken feet ceviche, might have a foot fetish? Fetish or not, Belizean food is one of the highlights of life in, or travel to The Jewel.