She pulled a mini bottle of hot sauce, with a bottle of hand sanitizer, from her purse.
“Is this what I should carry in my bag if I want to blend in?” I asked.
“You never know when you might need to clean your hands and add a little hot sauce to a meat pie.” Azalia said. She smiled and pulled out our morning’s purchases: 6 meat pies from Belize City‘s best pie shops.
A remnant of British culinary influence, meat pies are a handy, self-contained pastry. In the 1600’s British Baymen brought easy-to make recipes to the New World. It was important that foods were sustaining and satisfying. The pies cook quickly, and can be made from varying cuts of meat. The meat is chopped with seasonings and mixed with a simple gravy. Its easy on the fuel bill and fills the hunger hole.
Pies are complete repast, enjoyed by Belizeans from breakfast to lunch. Like other Belizean quick breads, such as journey cakes and powder buns, meat pies are meant for on-the-go meals, eaten hot or cold. It is especially popular with the school-age crowd.
“I grew up eating these everyday.” said Azalia Gongora. “We would go out on our breaks and get them from the vendors in front of school. I sometimes had them for lunch too.”
Customers can go to pie shops and buy a few for seventy-five cents BZE each – about thirty-seven cents US. Vendors also come and buy in bulk; 100-200 to box and distribute on the street, or at schools around the city.
Gongora, like many Belizeans, developed a taste for the pies that has lingered into adulthood. Shops like Pous, Dario’s and Belizean Meat Pies have die-hard fans. Each shop’s recipes vary slightly: a little extra spice, a shorter, flakier crust – they all have their devotees.
Meat pies are formed in cupcake- shaped tins. A hot water, wheat flour crust if pressed into a round to make a container shape. Spicy beef or chicken, minced with gravy, is poured into the shell and a cap of crust is placed on top. The edges are crimped and the pies are baked to a golden brown.
The steam from the meat and gravy puffs the cap, making a dome shape at the top of the pie.
“Don’t just bite into the pie. The filling will go all over. If you want to eat it the way Belizeans do, let me show you.” said Gongora. She showed me how to pinch the edges of the pie to break off the top. A few drops of hot sauce mixed in the gravy with the cap-turned-spoon, and then dig away.
The fillings were rich and savory with a beefy, iron flavor. The crust was at times light, sometimes filling. One pie made for a perfect snack. Two to three, a perfect meal.
Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons