Image source: Flickr - sierrams
With a number of ethnic influences at play, Belize's cuisine is a veritable melting pot. Understanding the local culinary scene requires a look back at the history and cultures that played an important role in establishing the Belize we experience today.
Belizean cuisine pays homage to culinary contributions from ethnicities like Maya and Mestizo, Creole, Garifuna, Mexican, and even East Indian and Chinese immigrants. Belize is quickly climbing the culinary ranks and gaining more notoriety as local chefs share Belizean cuisine with a wider audience at culinary events around the globe.
Expect to find an abundant array of tantalizing local dishes in every district of Belize. Doing a little research on some of the more popular specialties available can give you an edge in understanding the culinary influences at play in Belize. To get you started, here’s an introduction to Belize in five bites.
Rice and Beans
If you ask what the most popular dish in Belize is, the answer would likely be rice and beans. Pronounced more like “Rice 'n' Beans”, it is typically accompanied by stewed chicken, beef, or sometimes fish. When you see rice and beans on a menu, expect them to be cooked together whereas beans and rice on a menu may mean white rice with stewed beans poured over top.
Rice and beans with stew chicken literally follows its name when you are discussing portion size. Expect a huge helping of rice and beans, a small portion of chicken, and typically also some coleslaw. Stew chicken is tender and the Creole-based recipe includes a wide range of spices, most importantly red recado. Made from annatto seed, or achiote, the recado is what gives stew chicken its signature color and unmistakable flavor.
Fry Jacks and Johnny Cakes
The fry jack is akin to the tortilla in Mexico. It is a breakfast staple that can be eaten alone with butter or with local fruit jams and honey. Look for them in restaurants as a side option for egg and meat dishes. Some bakeries serve fry jacks stuffed with fillings such as eggs, ham, sausage, cheese, and beans, making them a hearty meal.
Another breakfast staple in Belize is the johnny cake. This dense bread is often utilized to make deli style breakfast sandwiches and has a long history in Native American and Caribbean culture. Sometimes referred to as “journey cakes” they were known for a long shelf life, making the johnny cake an ideal travel food.
Belize's cayes and coastal mainland regions are home to succulent lobster and conch, providing for some stellar seasonal seafood dishes. One of the most popular is undoubtedly ceviche. Served cold, ceviche includes various types of seafood, “cooked” in lime juice with onion, tomato and cilantro. Other additions may include carrots, cucumbers, and even green olives. The most popular types of ceviche include shrimp, octopus, conch and lobster. Belize adheres to strict fishing guidelines so lobsterand conch are subject to seasonal availability.
Hudut is one of the more popular Garifuna inspired dishes and is readily found in regions with Garifuna villages, like Hopkins and Dangriga. It's a labor-intensive dish featuring a very mild fish stew cooked in a coconut-milk broth. Hudut is typically served with mashed green plantains made using very traditional methods. If you see a Garifuna woman wielding a gigantic mortar and pestle, she’s likely mashing plantains for hudut.
Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce
Without a doubt, one of the most important elements in Belizean cuisine is Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce. Even those who claim not to handle spicy foods typically fall under Marie Sharp's spell. It’s nearly impossible to visit any Belizean restaurant without seeing a bottle of Marie Sharp’s on every table. Made from a blend of habanero peppers and vegetables, there is a whole line of hot sauces ranging from Mild to Beware. Today, the product line includes fruit jams and spreads as well.
Marie Sharp's is a true Belizean success story with Marie Sharp starting the business back in 1980 from a small kitchen where she experimented with creations made from peppers, vegetables and fruits grown on her farm. Today, it has grown into a full-scale international business with over 20 employees working in a factory just outside of Dangriga.
Which of these bites would you try first?