Nacho’s Kitchen: Stuffing Face in Belize
Sheena here! Well, while I originally intended on blogging right from the get go of our trip, time seriously does fly when you are having fun. For any of you who have been near me for extended periods of time know that the most likely thing I’d choose to blog about would be food. I love cooking, baking, experimenting with new flavors, and finding healthy, wholesome ingredients.
To say the least, food preparation has become quite the challenge on the road. How I miss the oven and a fridge large enough to pack five children inside. Not that I would ever do that. Luckily, something I find equal enjoyment in is tasting the local foods while traveling. Brad and I are up for trying just about anything anywhere; road side stands, comedors, markets, they are all game. Given my slight stomach issues, some of you may be thinking I should be a little more selective. Good news though, my weak tummy has been doing crunches lately and building strength for the next round of countries we are approaching.
With every new country, we have become familiarized with a new set of flavors and sensations. I often forget how different the food truly is from home. Not so much the basic ingredients per se, but the arrangement of them into meal time staples. I’ve become quite accustomed to the deliciousness of the mashed plantain, the dirt cheap bowls of fruit topped with yogurt, your choice of cereal toppings and honey, freshly squeezed lemonade, non-refrigerated boxed milk, eggs sold in bags, water sold in bags, mangoes topped with chili powder, tortillerias on every street corner, taco stands.
The same goes for the general way of life in Central America. It is no longer a surprise to see mangoes littering yards like garbage, truck drivers taking a midday siesta under their vehicle; hammock strewn up to the underside of the vehicle frame. It is no longer strange to see livestock walking down a busy city street, 25+ people in the back of a pickup truck, red tuk tuks, baskets being balanced on top of heads, and people taking baths in the river and drying their washed clothes on river rocks and barbed wire fences. It’s rare not to see a hammock outside of every home, often inside as well. A few weeks ago we rented a room in a well off family’s home, and interestingly enough, a hammock was strung up between two beams instead of a couch. Many sites have become common place from day to day, and we often forget how spectacular they are.
Anyway, I’d like to share those experiences with you, and better late then never (I think), I’m going to back up and start with Belize.
Our first food stop in Belize was at a road side stand worked by cousins – two chocolate skinned younger girls, shy in demeanor, but unable to conceal their bright smiles. We sat down under a strung up blue tarp and filled up on rice and beans, barbecued chicken, and coleslaw. Every lunch from here on out was a similar concoction of fare: paper plate in hand and food doused in Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce and pickled hot peppers and onions. There were of course varieties; potato salad instead of coleslaw, pork instead of chicken, but every meal included a tall bottle of Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce. She was one smart entrepreneur as I’ve never seen a product in so many back alley restaurants and mom-and-pop grocery stores. I can only compare its popularity to a bottle of Heinz ketchup on the table in all American burger joints. Marie Sharp also made some fabulous chutneys and jams, my favorite being the mango and guava jam.
Breakfast was a delicious encounter. After talking with Taiowa, a native of Belize, he insisted we must try the fry jacks for breakfast. A fried dough that puffs up and is eaten with other morning staples: beans, eggs, meat, and fruit. Given that they are fried into a hollow plumpness, they are of course perfect for stuffing with other treats. From experience, I can tell you fry jacks do not disappoint. They reminded us of Indian fry bread from the Native Americans in Arizona. And while I didn’t see the Belizeans eating their fry jacks with honey or jam, I know this would be an undeniably perfect replacement to stuffing them with protein. Besides the fry jacks, there are also Johnny cakes, a fluffy local biscuit, sometimes made with coconut.
With every heaping mass of rice and beans consumed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there are equal portions of seafood devoured. No surprise here as the country’s coast bumps up against turquoise waters laced with coral and schools of fish. A taste of lobster is a must here, however if you come during the non-harvesting season, those critters are illegal to cook up and dip in butter. Due to past overharvesting, they are left to play and make more lobster babies. So it goes, no lobster for us, however we did get our fair share of snapper, shrimp, and conch fritters (deep-fried balls of battered conch meat).
As for something really authentic, we got a taste of few Garifuna dishes which made their appearance in Belize 300 years earlier. Hudut, Bundiga, and Cassava bread were all brought over when escaped and shipwrecked slaves settled along the coast of the region. They mixed with the native Caribs, forming the Garifunas. Hopkins was one of their primary settlements, and where we tried them all. Hudut is a coconut broth fish stew, accompanied by mashed plantains and cassava bread (hard flat biscuit made from the cassava root). Bundiga is made of clumped grated banana cooked in a coconut milk and served with snapper. Both were unique, with the bundiga being the most original and the hudut being something we would consider cooking in the future.