Okay, call us name droppers, but we do like seeing Belize in the overseas press. And even better when it’s a mention in the majors.
And, as our faithful readers know, we’re foodies with a capital F.
Okay – make that Foodies, then....
So when we saw an article in the UK’s The Telegraph headlined “Ten Unmissable Belizean Food Experiences” we began polishing our eyeglasses and smacking our lips.
The 18 September 2019 piece had such familiar images and names that we were heading to the kitchen as soon as we finished reading.
Under a picture of that Belize staple, rice and beans, with potato salad and nicely fried snapper and plantain was:
“Belize’s hotchpotch of culinary influences – Garifuna, Creole, Indian, Maya, European – makes for a fabulously varied menu.”
Followed by recommending “ten experiences not to be missed.”
First stop was the San Pedro Food Tour, which offers fry jacks, salbutes, and, of course, rice and beans.
For the uninitiated, fry jacks are basically thick flour tortillas folded and pressed into half moons and fried. Like much Belizean cooking, it sounds simple, yet the taste is anything but. Salbutes, a snack from the ancient Maya, are rounds of masa – or corn flour, flavoured and coloured with an achiote and corn flour paste known as recados, fried and topped with cabbage, onion, chicken and what have you.
We would have added garnaches to the list but, hey, it’s not our article. (however, these and other recipes are available at https://www.chaacreek.com/belize-recipes and/or https://belize-travel-blog.chaacreek.com/2013/06/six-of-the-best-some-classic-dishes-from-belize/)
Next came an experience near and dear to our hearts – The San Ignacio Saturday Market.
When Mick and Lucy Fleming were working Chaa Creek as a farm, the Saturday markets were the highlight of the week for everyone in Cayo, as the San Ignacio area was collectively called. They’d take eggs, Lucy’s homemade yoghurt and what produce they harvested and canoe down to town in their faithful dugout, sell what they could and return with the week’s groceries.
Since then, the San Ignacio Saturday Markets have become a multicultural attraction for locals and visitors alike, a noisy, colourful affair filled with fresh produce and a symphony of languages that would put Babel to shame. It’s a rare and wonderful opportunity to take part in the “real” Belize, and a favourite tour for Chaa Creek’s guests.
Another experience featured in the Telegraph article is a Maya chocolate factory. The article mentions the Cotton Tree Chocolate Factory, while Chaa Creek offers a delicious cultural tour to another, closer Maya chocolate factory near San Ignacio. Belize’s local Maya have been cultivating cacao and producing chocolate for thousands of years, so each bite you take is steeped in history and culture – as if we need another reason to indulge in that yummy treat.
Thank you, ancient Maya.
Other experiences include shrimp ceviche (just ask at Chaa Creek’s onsite Mariposa Restaurant or the Guava Limb Cafe in town) rum punch (ditto) tacos and other culinary offerings including a Maya cookery class at Eden Valley in Santa Elena.
While we haven’t ourselves experienced the Eden Valley eatery or the cooking classes, we’re sure they’re very good, as Maya cuisine is wont to be.
What we have experienced, and recommend to anyone and everyone, are the culture-meets-cooking classes offered at Chaa Creek’s Open Hearth representational Belize bush kitchen.
Created by Chaa Creek managing director Bryony Fleming Bradley, who was born right here and is no slouch in the kitchen herself, The Open Hearth is a unique concept that teaches guests both the cultural heritage as well as the culinary styles of Belize’s various ethnic groups.
For example, Mestizo Mondays offer a glimpse into Mestizo culture before launching into a cooking class conducted by a local Mestizo chef. Guests come away with a new appreciation of this fascinating culture along with a swag of recipes and the knowledge of how to prepare and present them.
East Indian Tuesdays, Creole Wednesdays, Garifuna Thursdays and Maya Fridays all follow suit. Whether guests take one or all of the daily classes, they’ll leave with a deeper appreciation of Belize’s cultures and ready to wow the folks back home with some exotic meals.
For years we’ve been predicting that Belizean cuisine, like Belize itself, would become the next big thing. But you don’t need a crystal ball to predict that something so delicious, healthy, relatively simple and with such universal appeal would catch on.
Why not come on down – or up, depending on where you are, and see, taste and savour for yourself? Stunning scenery, warm friendly people, exciting activities and much, much more are all included in the menu.
And then, with Chaa Creek’s Open Hearth, you don’t need to wait to go back to Belize, you can create these majestic meals in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Speaking of which...