I wasn’t familiar with food from Belize before this week and honestly, I wasn’t even sure where the country was! This challenge is providing me with more than just a culinary education.
Belize is a small country on the east coast of Central America, with the Caribbean to the east. It is often considered as belonging to both regions. It is the least populated country in Central America, but has the second-highest population growth in the region.
The Mayan people were the earliest known inhabitants of the area that is now Belize. Europeans began to explore the land in 1638, and both Spain and Britain claimed it. The British finally won and, in 1840, they established a colony known as British Honduras. (The country Honduras is located to the south-east of Belize).
Belize gained independence in 1892, though it is still a Commonwealth country. It is the only Central American country where English is the official language, though Spanish is the second most commonly spoken.
What Do People Eat in Belize?
Belizean cuisine is like a mix of Latin American and Caribbean foods. Bread and tortillas are popular components of most meals, as are cheese, refried beans, and eggs. Popular Caribbean staples such as potato salad, rice and beans, and Johnny cakes are also present, alongside Latin American favorites like tamales.
There still remains a heavy influence from the Mayan civilization that once dominated the area. This is evident in the use of foods such as maize, cassava, and recado, a seasoning paste made from annatto (also known as achiote) seeds.
When it comes to meat, chicken and fish are the most popular choices. Pork is probably more widely consumed than beef, and pig tails are common in a dish called ‘boil up‘.
What I Made
- Stew Chicken, Rice and Beans, and Potato Salad
- Hudut (Fish and Coconut Soup with Mashed Plantain)
- Garnaches (Crispy Tortillas with Topping)
- Chimole (‘The Black Dinner’)
- Fry Jacks (Fried Bread)
Scroll down to read about other popular Belizean dishes I didn’t make!
Stew Chicken, Rice and Beans, and Potato Salad
This is a common meal served for Sunday dinner (or ‘dinna’ in Belize). Chicken is cooked in a sauce based on red recado, a paste made primarily of ancho chile and annatto seeds. It’s usually served with rice and beans, which is rice cooked in coconut milk and mixed with red beans of some kind, in this case kidney beans. Other common side dishes include potato salad, Johnny cakes, and fried plantains. I’ve already made Johnny cakes, and I skipped the plantains because I was going to try them for another meal. I didn’t really need that much food anyway.
Variations of this meal are common all throughout the Caribbean, but I’m pretty sure the red recado makes this different as it’s a result of Central American influence.
This wasn’t a bad meal, but I’m not sure I like the taste of the annatto seeds, and I wasn’t really a fan of the coconut flavor in the rice. The potato salad was pretty good though! It includes peas and carrots. The dressing is meant to be a combination of mayonnaise, sour cream, and Heinz dressing. I know what Heinz dressing tastes like, and can’t get it easily here, so I just used extra mayonnaise and added a little sugar.
Stew chicken recipe: Global Table Adventure (I also used the red recado recipe linked in the ingredient list)
Rice and beans recipe: Caribbean Lifestyle
Potato salad recipe: African Bites (not sure this is really a Belizean recipe, rather just a standard Caribbean potato salad, but I’m including the recipe in case anyone is interested).
Hudut (Fish and Coconut Soup with Mashed Plantain)
This soup is made with fish that is fried briefly before finishing cooking in a coconut milk soup, with okra, onion, garlic, red capsicum, habaneros, and basil. It is apparently always served with mashed plantain. I’ve avoided plantains up until now, because I don’t like bananas and I always assumed plantains would taste like bananas. A Google search told me this was not the case, so I decided to try it.
Traditionally, the mashed plantain uses a mixture of green and ripe plantains, but the recipe I used only called for green. I didn’t want to make a lot of this in case I hated it, so I got a single plantain that was just a little green. What this recipe did not mention was how difficult it would be to mash the plantain after cooking. The recipe said to ‘mash until soft’ which should have given me a clue, because I would have thought the plantain would be soft after cooking. But it wasn’t. It took a lot of mashing to get it looking ‘mashed’, and I ended up adding some water to help it along.
I used the recipe from Coco Plum Island since it seemed authentic. I used cod fillets instead of whole fish, and coconut milk instead of coconut cream because I thought it would be far too rich otherwise. The soup was alright, but I’m not sure I’m sold on the mashed plantain. It didn’t really have much flavor; it kind of tasted a bit like a really mealy potato. I am willing to try plantains again, but I will probably fry them and see if I like them better that way.
Garnaches (Crispy Tortillas with Topping)
Garnaches are simple street food in Belize. They consist of corn tortillas which are fried until crispy and topped with refried beans, cheese, and onion. There are some variations on this topping. I used the recipe from Jamieson Diaries since it appeared authentic.
I topped these garnaches with a pickled onion, carrot, and red bell pepper mixture, as well as the refried beans and cheese. I used canned refried beans but didn’t season them as indicated in the recipe since they were already seasoned and tasted pretty good. I’ll make my own refried beans one day, but not this week. I used gouda cheese, despite asiago being called for in the recipe, since gouda or edam are also commonly used on garnaches and I like gouda a lot. This is an important thing to consider when I know I’ll have something left over from a recipe!
This was a combination that I thought worked really well. I hadn’t expected to like these as much as I did. They were so simple, yet super delicious.
Chimole (‘The Black Dinner’)
Chimole is also known as ‘The Black Dinner’ because it’s a stew or soup with a black sauce. The color comes from black recado, a seasoning that can be traced back to the Maya. Black recado is made by blending blackened ancho chiles with annatto seeds and a few other ingredients. Some recipes include blackened onion, garlic, and even tortillas! The recipe I used, from International Cuisine, included garlic, cloves, allspice, oregano, cumin, and vinegar in addition to the chiles and annatto.
My black recado was almost black when I made it, but it lightened up considerably once I combined it with the other ingredients to make the chimole. Maybe I needed to blacken the chilies more or add some of those extra blackened ingredients.
I used the chimole recipe from Charbil Mar Villas which combines chicken, black recado, tomato, onion, potato, garlic, and chicken stock. Chimole can also be made with pork.
To serve, I added some fresh cilantro and a boiled egg. I had some corn tortillas on the side. Despite not being the proper color, my chimole tasted pretty good, though not amazing. After tasting, I added some lime juice since I felt it needed some acidity. I don’t know how authentic that was but it did make my chimole taste better.
Fry Jacks (Fried Bread)
Fry jacks are made with a quick baking powder bread dough which is rolled out and fried. The dough puffs up a bit in the hot oil, and the end result is crispy and delicious. Serving suggestions vary, but it’s common to serve with refried beans, bacon, cheese, and eggs, or honey and butter. I went for refried beans since I had some left from my garnaches, and I made scrambled eggs with spinach. The latter is reminiscent of another dish that came up when I was looking at Belizean food, a scrambled egg dish that incorporates chaya, also known as Mayan spinach. This made for a great breakfast. I tried some of the leftover fry jacks the next day with honey, and they were also good that way. But I do have to say, these don’t reheat that well and are best eaten the day they are made.
I used the recipe from African Bites, which was super easy to follow. I only pan-fried my fry jacks and they probably would have puffed up more if I deep-fried them. I’m just trying to limit how much oil I go through with some of these recipes!
Other Popular Belizean Dishes
- Boil up – a stew that usually contains root vegetables, eggs, pig tails, and fish. The exact ingredients can vary. Boil up is considered the cultural dish of the Belizean Creole people, who are primarily mixed-rice descendants of enslaved Africans and the English/Scottish log cutters who trafficked them.
- Salbutes – a popular street food made from small puffed corn tortillas that can have a range of toppings. The base is similar to the one for garnaches but the tortilla is made from fresh masa rather than just frying a pre-made tortilla. A common topping combination is chicken, cabbage, and onion.
- Fish seré – closely related to hudut, fish seré is made from white fish cooked with coconut milk and root vegetables such as cassava, plantain, and carrot. Some recipes I found included bacon, but I don’t think that is a traditional ingredient.
This was a pretty good week filled with some delicious food from Belize. The garnaches were easily my favorite and I can see myself coming up with all kinds of variations!
Next week, I will cooking food from Benin.