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.
Farmers’ markets are not only a great way to sample a community’s natural bounty, they’re also a unique setting to experience its culture. While each farmers’ market is different, a really good farmers’ market brings a sense of community to the cities and municipalities where they operate. Wondering where you can experience some of the freshest produce, tastiest snacks and friendliest people across the country? Check out our picks for 16 of our favorites below.
Saint Louis – Soulard Farmer’s Market
The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers market west of the Mississippi. In addition to the fresh fruit, produce, baked goods and flowers, the market includes a craft and flea market in the two wings of an old train terminal. A bit “Old World” in atmosphere, shoppers can buy live chickens, barter with vendors and enjoy a festive, energetic atmosphere all year round.
Indianapolis – Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market was built in 1886 and today includes an arts market on Saturday, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, cooking classes and ethnic theme events that may focus on the foods of Asia one week or the spices of the Middle East the next. The common thread through it all is that homegrown goodness of corn, tomatoes and other produce from the soil of Indiana.
The Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market fills the grounds of the state capitol building and draws a huge crowd to the pedestrian-only mall and shops nearby. Fresh produce is only part of the fun. One Saturday, Wisconsin’s famous dairy cows may be on display; at other times there might be an iron man competition underway. Since it’s the state capitol, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a petition or happen to see an up-and-coming politician working the crowd.
Kansas City – City Market
Kansas City’s City Market overflows with activity weekend mornings all year when as many as 10,000 people have been known to shop for produce and bedding plants one more, artwork on another and bargains from the community garage sale another weekend morning. Valet service is available for big purchases. Some of the city’s most prosperous farm-to-table restaurants have found a naturally successful home here.
Des Moines, Iowa
All products sold at the Des Moines Farmers Market must be grown within the state of Iowa and that means 160 or more booths carrying the freshest produce grown in some of the world’s best farmland. There are also hand-made items, such as dried flower arrangements, seed murals and wheat weaving. A miniature train for children is a standard fixture and most Saturday mornings, you’ll find musicians, clowns or dance troupes performing.
Voted the best farmers market in the state of Illinois in 2008, the Woodstock Farmers Market could easily be called a “producers market” because everything must be grown, raised or made by the seller. Located on the town square of this historic community, shoppers are accompanied by folk music performed live from a nearby gazebo on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.
The Holland Michigan Farmers Market literally overflows with blueberries, cherries, strawberries and other fresh fruit from the fields of western Michigan. The market also carries farm fresh cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. In the craft area, handmade furniture is an unexpected treat. But just wandering the aisles, munching on freshly baked Danish and feeling the breeze from Lake Michigan is a treat in itself.
Columbus, Ohio – North Market
Columbus Ohio’s North Market comes with its own kitchen and James Beard-award winning chef to prepare meals right on the spot from items bought at the market. In addition to fresh dairy products, including ice cream, and prepared foods from international vendors, the North Market sells just the right utensils and cookware to bring any meal together.
Lincoln, Nebraska – Historic Haymarket
The Historic Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska was originally a place where livestock and produce were sold in the state capitol, but now it is the site of the trendiest restaurants and retail outlets in the city. Every Saturday morning from May to October, the activity jumps another notch when more than 200 of the Midwest’s best farmers bring their produce. It’s also the best place in the city for Kolaches and coffee.
Little Rock, Arkansas – River Market
As polished as any supermarket, the Little Rock Arkansas River Market, located in the historic Quapaw Quarter, is a year-round destination for ethnic cuisine, entertainment and in the summer months, some of Arkansas’ famous tomatoes and watermelons. Something is always happening at the adjacent park overlooking the Arkansas River, and just a few blocks from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.
Washington D.C. – Eastern Market
Casualty of a fire that ripped through the stalls in April of 2007, the historical Eastern Market has made a comeback and continues to serve meats, poultry, breads and gourmet goodies throughout the week in the South Hall, where many employees of nearby Capitol Hill migrate for lunch. On the weekends, stalls extend to the surrounding outdoor areas and offer antiques, crafts, photography, handmade jewelry and other collectibles. On our last visit, we purchased some vintage fruit labels and stocked up on distinctive greeting cards for less than a dollar apiece.
Santa Monica, California – Virginia Avenue Park
There are several markets that sprout up over the course of the week in this beach city. The best is the Saturday one in Virginia Avenue Park where weekly appearances are made by local restaurateurs featuring the best of their menus.
New York, NY – Union Square Greenmarket
One of the best markets in New York City is the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which extends the length of the west side of the square. Stalls are filled with local fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, spices… just about anything you can imagine. At the tail end, you’ll find tables with artists selling their wares. We picked up some local goat cheese and wine, plus a hilarious comic-book version of the Grimm brother tales, handed to us directly by the author.
Chicago, IL – French Market
Inspired by European markets, the French Market was recently developed as an effort to promote community in the city. It’s located adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The vendors sell delicious pastries and prepared foods as well as produce, meats, cheese and seafood. Grab some mussels and delicious Sicilian sandwiches before hopping on a train to the Chicago suburbs. Make sure to stop by Chicago’s world-renowned Green City Market while you’re in town.
Portland, OR – Portland State University
Portland has long relished in its status as one of the country’s most eco-conscious, sophisticated food cities, and the town’s wealth of farmer’s markets certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each Saturday the shoppers of Portland flock to the grounds of Portland State University, home to Portland’s biggest and most famous of the city’s six recognized downtown markets.
San Francisco, CA – Ferry Building and Plaza
No list of farmers markets could be complete without mentioning this titan of the food world. Ground zero for the birth of slow food and much of the current revolution in local, organic eating sweeping the nation, San Francisco and the Bay Area is king and its historic Ferry Building and nearby Plaza Farmer’s Market is the capital building. Stop by for delicious favorites like locally produced cheeses, more mushrooms than you’ve ever seen and some tasty gelato.