Food and Drink in Belize
Only recently has Belize begun to establish its national cuisine. Some of the most distinctly “Belizean” foods have been a part of Creole cuisine for quite some time. There’s also a pronounced British and Latin American influence in Belizean food, evident in some of the country’s most popular dishes.
The vibrant and diverse nature of the Belizean people and their culture is infused in the nation's cuisine. Food in Belize has a homey quality. Almost all of it is very affordable, including the seafood. Casual dining establishments will have some of the best food you’ll find in Belize, as well as the best atmosphere: beneath a palm tree, near a beach, under the sun.
Breakfast in Belize
Breakfast in Belize is hearty, and often includes some type of bread. Fry jack and johnnycakes are some of the most popular breakfast carbohydrates. Fry jack is a puffy, fried bread with a hollow inside — it’s common to fill the cavity with cheese, jam, or whatever else is on your plate. Johnnycakes have a texture more like a biscuit, and are best served hot from the oven. Both johnnycakes and fry jack are usually served alongside eggs and refried beans.
Gourmet coffee is still a niche market in Belize. Most coffee you find in restaurants is of the instant variety. But you have other options – Belize shows its British roots with readily available hot tea.
Caribbean Creole Staples
Belize City is the epicenter of Creole cuisine. While you’re there, sample a few Caribbean favorites.
Rice and beans are one of the most popular side dishes in Caribbean countries. In this dish, rice and kidney beans are cooked in coconut milk and seasoned with pepper. Rice and beans is not to be confused with beans and rice, which is a side dish of beans and rice cooked separately.
Rice and beans usually accompanies some type of stewed meat. Meats are usually fresh and local; many chickens come from bustling Mennonite farms in Belize’s western Orange Walk district. Typical preparations include marinating and grilling, or stewing for many hours over a low heat for a fall-off-the-bone texture.
Throughout the Caribbean, you’ll find a variety of soups that combine scraps of meat with vegetables and potent spices. In a traditional Creole “boil-up,” you’ll find fish, hard-boiled eggs, yams, plantains, and sweet potatoes, with the occasional pigtail, or other leftover cuts of pork or beef.
Cow foot soup is so well loved in Belize it may as well be a native dish. In it, a cow foot gets boiled along with root vegetables, coconut, cilantro, a variety of peppers, and savory seasoning. Locals claim it does wonders for a hangover.
Don’t leave Creole food behind before you get dessert. They offer confections like coconut pie and bread pudding. Baked goods are often prepared with coconut oil, which imparts a rich texture and a delicate flavor.
Locally Grown in Belize
With its tropical climate, Belize is a good environment for growing fruit. Belize City, San Ignacio, Orange Walk, Dangriga, and Punta Gorda all have outdoor fruit markets. Visit one of these markets while you’re in town, and try the locally grown watermelon, papaya, and orange. You can also find more exotic offerings like star fruit, dragon fruit, soursop, and breadfruit.
There are a few native spices you might not recognize in Belizean cooking. Achiote, also called annatto, is a peppery spice used since the time of the Maya. Its seeds are used to make a paste called recado. Cooks use annatto for its flavor as well as its color, which comes in bright hues of yellow and orange. You may see an herb called culantro sprinkled on your dishes — it’s similar to cilantro but a little bit stronger in flavor. This herb goes well with tacos and soups.
Marie Sharp is Belize’s most famous entrepreneur. She developed a reputation for potent hot sauces (as well as savory jams) decades ago, and her condiments have become one of Belize’s most well-known exports. You’ll find bottles of her sauce on most tables in Belize. Belizeans typically favor the spicier version of the sauce, but she also sells mild and medium versions in her shop in Dangriga, and in grocery stores all over Belize.
Try panades as a lunch or snack on the go. These meat pies demonstrate the culinary influence of the British. The British first arrived to harvest lumber in Belize during the 17th century, and made Belize a colony in the 19th century. Meat pies contain either beef or fish, and sometimes beans. These ingredients fill a fried, corn tortilla, for a protein-rich treat that will keep you full throughout the day.
Since the 19th century, Belize has served as a refuge for Mexican and Guatemalans fleeing violent civil wars. Their culinary influence has had a far-reaching effect, especially on Belize’s convenience food. Mexican taco stands line many of the roads. The tacos they serve are usually tasty, quick, and very cheap. Salbutes and granaches are a widely available snack. They resemble an open-faced taco, and are made with a fried tortilla topped with vegetables, cheese, and hot sauce or peppers. Salbutes usually also come with pulled chicken.
Visitors from the U.S. have created a market for American fast food. You can find hamburgers in some restaurants, which are locally referred to as “beefburgers.” Fried chicken has become quite popular as well, which Belizeans call “fry chicken.”
Escabeche is a Latin dish that has traveled quite a distance to get to Belize. It came to Latin America by way of Spanish conquistadors. Originally, the European recipe consisted of fish marinated in vinegar. Belize’s version has fish, lots of onions, with a vinegary kick added at the end.
Shrimp has become an important industry in Belize, although most of the shrimp in Belize comes from farms. Red snapper is readily available off the Belizean coast, and it is highly prized among seafood lovers for its firm meat and sweet flavor.
Lobster season is a big deal in certain parts of Belize, especially in the coastal town of Placencia. Meat harvested from conch shellfish is served grilled, fried, or marinated in citrus juice as part of a ceviche. Keep in mind that lobster and conch are subject to seasonal availability. Fishermen are only allowed to catch lobster from June 15 to February 15. Conch is in season every month except July, August, and September. These seasons can end early, depending on how much fishermen have caught that year.
A few seafood warnings:
Some fish served in Belize are endangered, and visitors should avoid them to keep fish populations sustainable.
Many species of grouper have become endangered, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Grouper has also been discovered to contain high levels of mercury.
Barracuda has been a Belizean favorite for many years. The barracuda’s intimidating mouthful of jagged, sharp teeth have not been able to save this reef fish from overfishing.
Shark is also endangered and illegal to catch, although it’s not unheard of to see it on restaurant menus.
The Belizean Cocktail Hour
Belizean festivals typically involve a fair amount of alcohol. But it’s not all about partying – Belizeans are also content with a frosty beer on the beach. Beer and cocktails are the local adult beverages of choice.
Belize’s national cocktail is called the “panty ripper.” Ignore the aggressive name — this drink is sweet and smooth. It is made from a mix of coconut rum (we didn't miss a comma, that's coconut flavoured rum, not coconut and rum) and pineapple juice. Traveller’s “One Barrel” Rum is also a popular component of Belizean cocktails.
Bowen and Bowen Limited is a major bottling company in Belize, and one of Belize’s largest employers. Both Coca-Cola and the Belize Brewing Company have all of their products bottled by Bowen and Bowen Limited. Barry Bowen was one of the wealthiest citizens of Belize, before his untimely demise in a 2010 plane crash.
You’ll find the following selection of Belize Brewing Company beers in almost every restaurant and bar.
Belikin lager has lots of malt. This is the classic brew, and the most widespread of all the Belikins.
Belikin Stout is less bitter than Guinness, but still a robust dark beer.
Belikin Premium is brewed with the most hops, and is probably the best choice for IPA fans.
For a light beer, try Belikin’s Lighthouse Lager.
If you are a fan of wine, keep in mind that the price of wine in Belize is twice as expensive as wine in the United States. Unless, that is, you’re willing to branch out from grapes. In some of the smaller towns in the Belize River Valley you can find wines made from local ingredients, like blackberries, rice, and cashews. Try cashew wine in the Belizean town of Crooked Tree.
Bitters became popular in Belize as a fertility potion. To make bitters, you simply add herbs to 80-proof rum or gin. Some Belizeans will take bitter as a shot, although they are typically used in very small amounts as a finishing touch to a cocktail.