Six weeks have passed since the start of my food exploring in Belize. I have just melted the tip of the iceberg, scratched the surface, and digested my appetizer course. I have found that three things weave themselves through the collective eating vocabulary of this country: the types of ingredients, the source of kitchen skills, and the ripe enthusiasm for food that bursts in any conversation that starts with, “So what do you like to eat?”
1.) Belize is is a wholefood nation.
Before the surge in popularity of organic foods and the accompanying camps of the health conscious, the self-righteous, and the diet bewildered who are just trying to do their best, Belizeans had the farm-to-table phenomenon down pat.
Fresh, seasonal produce, meats and pantry staples are available everywhere in grocery stores, open air markets, and road-side stands. Due to the year-round growing season, choices are widely varied, and the recipes reflect the abundance.
Belizeans are not as beleaguered by parental school-yard woes that their children aren’t getting enough pesticide free, local produce, nor are they as concerned that if they stick a bag of corn chips into their kid’s lunch, that they will get a call from the principal requesting a diet intervention conference.
“We have to make food with what we have. Duties on imported food are high so we work from scratch. Since this is the truth, we have foods without preservatives that are natural. It is so expensive to import processed food and we don’t have the big facilities to make it here. We eat what is seasonal and fresh and people here know to ask for it. ” said Chef Sheridan of the Hamanasi Resort.
“As a result, we can control what’s in our food and don’t need extra chemicals or salt.”
2.) Lots of folks know how to cook well, thanks to their grandmothers.
With from-scratch cooking, you need to learn how to put it all together. Countless Belizean cooks and chefs, and even people who would not claim a formal title, prepare food well. I have asked them all the same question, ” Who taught you how to cook? Many have told me that a family member was their teacher, and most have replied, “It was my Grannie who showed me the ropes.” Multi-generational homes are the standard and time spent with cooking instruction and demonstration is and everyday affair.
“I make them (the grand kids) come around and do the work.” said Venencia Palacio of Seine Bight. “All kids in Belize have knuckle scrapes from grating coconuts and cassava. Learning how to cook is learning how to grow up here. “
3.) Throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air excitement! Belizeans love their food.
Stand in a crowded Belizean office and ask, “What do you like to eat?” The query will go off like a fire alarm.
“I love my barbeque…rice-and-beans…cowfoot soup…boil-up….” and on and on. I have seen rapid hand gesturing and listened to strained voice fluctuations when I have heard Belizeans talk about food. The most common sentence starts with, “Oh you gotta try…” and “You would not believe how good it is.” Food is more than nourishment; its passion, connection and a way to get-together.
With restaurants with names the likes of “So Good Food” and “Kick Down”, as in kick-down-the-door the food is so tasty, you know people are excited to eat.
“Belizeans love their food. They really get serious about it and love to cook and talk about cooking and cook some more.” said Tiziana De Col, a gelato maker from Placencia.
Venecia Palacio went on, “People are attached to food the way they are attached to life. Its part of good living here and we are lucky.”