The Central American country of Belize, still identified on many maps and globes as British Honduras, will not officially turn 30 until next year. However, in less than three decades as a nation, Belize has developed a cuisine all its own based on influences from the Spanish, the Caribbean and the British.
While much of the country’s food source comes from the Caribbean Sea, many native and traditional dishes have little to do with the ocean and more with abundant fruits, vegetables and seasonings of the region.
Just as Americans need their ketchup, Belizeans need their habanero sauce. A bottle of Marie Sharp’s Habanero Sauce is found on every table, and a few dashes make it into every dish. Real cooks, however, make their own, but watch out. Homemade habanero sauce usually comes with a serious kick.
Next time you’re touring this Central America hotspot, make sure to taste these top 10 items:
1. Rice, beans and boiled chicken are to Belize what fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob are to America. The chicken is boiled for several hours with garlic, local seasonings and recado, a root that gives the dish its red coloring. The Mayans used recado for tattoo ink, but it is more commonly used today as coloring in lipstick.
2. Cashew wine does not come from the cashew nut but instead a cashew apple, the fruit that surrounds the nut. It produces a very sweet wine, and the best advice is to sip in small doses (the hangover it produces is a doozie).
3. After recovering from that hangover, try some 1 Barrel Rum. It’s a dark rum and the nation’s official drink.4. Journey cakes, also known as Johnny cakes, are a bread like treat made with coconut milk and flour. The cakes pack and travel well and are standard fare for fishermen to take out for days or weeks at a time, thus the name “journey cake.”
5. Don’t let the word “chicken” in the dish “bamboo chicken” fool you into thinking you’re eating poultry. It’s really local iguana, best served around Easter.
6. Intrigued by rodent dishes? Have a bit of the gibnut (also known as rat). At one point it was known as the Royal Rat, because it was served to Queen Elizabeth when she visited.
7. Cheesy cho cho is just a lot of fun to say and it tastes somewhat like cauliflower with cheese sauce on it. Instead, the vegetable is called christophine or chayote, a member of the squash family.
8. Escabeche is basically a chicken soup, seasoned heavily with onion, black pepper, jalapenos and vinegar.
9. For dessert, try either craboo ice cream or soursop ice cream. The craboo fruit is about the size of a blueberry, but either yellow or red and quite sweet. The ice cream is about the same color. The soursop fruit is bigger and more citrusy. Both are delightful treats on a hot, humid day in Belize.
10. Rainforest Rum Cake, a traditional Caribbean rum cake, is baked in Belize and a portion of the sales support the reforestation of the rainforests in this beautiful country. The charitable side of this dessert means offsets its calories.