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food, family & travel : Savoring all that life has to offer

Cue the French accordion music and early morning sun.  Add the fragrance of sweetly cooking batter, a sculpted boat that serves as a vending stand, complete with a stand-beside awning, fresh flowers and a long line of customers, and you have Dory Dogs. Dory Dogs is the home of the Kennebunks only French hot dog stand and creperie.  Owners Trish Kinkade and Eric Young brought their love to French food to their home state, and make a weekly circuit of the Kennebunk Farmer’s Market and the Fort George Park in Portland.

The menu is simple: hot dogs or crepes, made with sweet and savory ingredients.  Crepes have a long history in Maine, with our connection to Quebec and the Franco-Americans who live throughout the state.  Crepes were originally a food of the Bretons. brought to America from France via Canada. Made originally from buckwheat, crepes are a thin, pancake-like quick bread – its close cousin is the much beloved ploye of the Saint John’s River Valley.

A marvel of precision and speed, Kinkade and Young have developed an assembly-line sophistication that allows customers to watch their food prepared fresh. Customers interact with the cooks, and select their fillings, standing up front and close to the food. The aromas are intoxicating and it can be hard to choose which items to order.

The French hot dog is equally as easy to love as the crepes. Made with Standard Baking’s baguettes, the Dory duo cut six inch sections of bread and ram the pieces down onto a custom-made, metal heating rod toaster unit.  “These are everywhere in France.” stated Kinkade with a smile.  The all meat natural dogs are served with a variety of  mustards. The crust of the bread and snap of the dog make a great pair.

For the crepes, a thin batter is poured on the round griddle that has been greased with a light coating of oil by Young  A t-shaped trowel spreader is then used to deftly maneuver the batter in a thin, round shape, the size of and large plate.  The crepe cooks quickly – a long thin spatula is used to turn it over.  As few seconds more and the crepe is finished and laid to be stuffed with savory or sweet fillings.

Dorry Dogs offers a homemade confit of seasonal fruits, (strawberry and rhubarb are my favorite), spread with a thin egg-based custard that is spiced with nutmeg.  Trish uses the spatula to mark the crepe into thirds, folding the filled crepe first in half and then into a pocket shape.  This makes for the perfect package and a crown of powdered sugar is added before it is placed into the stand’s signature paper hat-shaped cones. The tender cake gives way to the sweet and tart berries, and the custard and whipped cream finish the bite with a cloud of flavor.

Dory Dogs opens at the Kennebunk Farmer’s Market at 8am and is open through the midday at 1pm, May to October.

Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons

Calbert and Emma Santiago

Calbert and Emma Santiago

Calbert Santiago is a winner.

Yes, he has won the Taste of Belize two times, showcasing his inventiveness with Mayan/Belizean-meets-haute-cuisine technique.  Yes, he has worked at Belize’s top resorts and now has his own restaurant, Mr. C’s Cusina.

He is more than that.

He is dedicated to turning the Michael Finnegan Market in Belize City from an overlooked open- air market, to the shopping center of choice.

The market is on the West Canal, next to the City Bus Terminal.  The competition from chain grocery stores and the economic disparities of the neighboring community has tarnished the market’s luster.  What remains are booths that cater to restaurants and home cooks that live in the close vicinity.

Santiago is hopes to broaden that reach.

“I want to show people how good it is to shop here. “  His restaurant, Mr. C’s Cusina, is the anchor of the food court on the west side of the market. Santiago and his wife Emma run the show; their son works doing delivery and runs for ingredient pick-ups around the market.

When I arrive, he offers to take me on a tour.  Our first stop: the bathrooms.  “I know it seems funny but it proves my point.  You can come here and be comfortable.”  We moved down each aisle, taking in tours of the butcher shops and stepping into the slaughter rooms and storage space.  “Everything is very clean and done well.”  We moved past the fruit and veg stands, (Belizeans call vegetables, veg with a soft ‘g’ sound) and spice vendors.  Each was piled high with fresh produce and vendors came out to greet and help us.

I bought a pineapple for $2 BZ, the equivalnet of $1 US. The size was a reminiscent of a rugby ball. The flavor made a lover-of-pineapple into a full-blown devotee.

Santiago started cooking at the age of 17 in his hometown of Punta Gorda. He began as the dishwasher and the cooks showed him how to work the line and mix ingredients.  “I came to Belize City in 2001 with hopes of making my cooking a career. I worked under Chef Rob Pronk who told me, ‘I think you could do well.’  He encouraged me to take classes and I absorbed and cooked, and absorbed and cooked more.”

Santiago explained as we walked towards his main supplier, “I trust these vendors to deliver really good food to me.  I want people to see if I  can use this food, they will come here too.”

We made our way back to his restaurant and he prepared a Belizean style chowder.  The restaurant was packed with customers and two of Santiago’s best patrons: Don Jesus and Rosita Rivero.  Their commentary  of “This is the best!” and “I eat here every day!” didn’t go unnoticed.  The soup starts with coconut milk.  The base was accented by culantro leaves, cut in a chifonnade. Culantro is a close cousin to cilantro with a more salad-leaf appeal.

I drank it down, chewing the perfectly cooked potatoes, shrimp and lobster.  The green onion and black pepper were the perfect compliment. It was an invitation to taste the best the market had to offer.

Santiago offered me a sampler plate: curried lamb, seasoned conch and lobster, and stewed beef.  The trio was matched with traditional rice-and-beans and a salad. His experience in resort kitchens was evident: the presentation was clean and eye-appealing and the flavors were both deep and rich, and light and fresh.

I finished with an order of bananas foster.  It is my favorite use of Belize’s bananas and rum. As I sat scraping the plate, Santiago said, “We are glad to be our own bosses and to have people come here to see what we ALL can do at the market.”

Mr. C’s Cusina is open Mon-Fri and is located at the Michael Finnegan Market, West Canal Booth #6 Belize City, BZ tel #501-600-5445.

Sour sapra.  Say it again!

Enjoying sapra - a whole bag full

I missed out on two things in my childhood: sour candy and game systems.

I was 17 when the Nintendo  game console and the candy ‘Sour Patch Kids‘, surged to popularity.  Instead of embracing the dexterity of button pushing and mouth puckering sugar rushes, I was captivated by boys and the depths of pseudo-maturity that a copy of e.e. cummings and a Bob Marley bumper sticker could provide.

I could take or leave the gaming,  Its the pleasure that people take in sour flavors that I envy.

Sour sapra. Say it again!

Belize is home to sour lovers.

Native fruits from limes and grapefruits, to sour oranges and tangerines have the citric acid punch that is prized in rounding out the flavor of dishes like ceviche, rice-and-beans, and tacos.  Sour juices are an essential step in the flavor layers that cooks create, macerating meats and seafood before they are seasoned, cooked and served.

Does eating extremely sours flavor, change the shape of the tongue the way that your first language shapes the muscles of your throat and face? Probably not;  however there is a definite acclimation that occurs.   Belizeans start young. “We eat them as babies.” referring to sour limes. “I loved it when I was  kid.” and “We put it in baby bottles.” referring to  grapefruit and orange juice.

I have taught myself to enjoy sour flavor, naturally through fermented foods that are part of my everyday diet like sour cream and cabbage. I have also forced myself to try everything in the spirit of gourmet adventure.   I  get smiles and pokes when I eat something that is overpowering; the words, “Couldn’t handle it!” and “Too much for you!” ring in my head.

My office mates in Belize City had a good laugh when they handed me a bag of their much-loved sapra.

Sapra are a small, green round fruit, the size the half of grape with the firmness of a fresh cranberry.  They are in season during Christmas holiday through February. Streetside vendors sell them in large or small bags, complete with a side seasoning bag of chiles and salt.

They will turn an inexperienced eater into  a vacuum, puckering and sucking for breath.

I couldn’t concentrate on anything but relief.  The  hard seed inside was an oasis from the overpowering flesh.  On the first try, I had to spit it politely into a napkin, The next time, I let it sit under my tongue and then gently bit into the fruit.  It was sour, but also flavorful and bitter. The texture of the flesh was  chewy and mildly thirst quenching.

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Sapra  are in season now and can be found all over the city.  Make sure you add the chile and salt for the extra bite.

Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons

Belize 2012 032

She pulled a mini bottle of hot sauce, with a bottle of hand sanitizer, from her purse.

Very resourceful.

“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.

Dario's is a hot spot for pie

Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons

Miss Angie makes her everyday masterpieces

Small but mighty: Angie's in Belize City

Part 2: Tacos

Breakfast at 8am was fry jacks. 9 am, it was tacos. Double the pleasure, double the fun, and more than you should eat on any morning.

A native Mexican street food, tacos have navigated their way across Belize. Stands street-side sell them, starting at the breakfast hour. They are sold through the day, into the afternoon for lunch, at snacktime, and nightly, as a post-party remedy. When you ask a Belizean what ‘Fast food’ is, they will tell you, “Tacos!” -not a global chain brand; there are none in Belize.

Every manifestation of taco can be found in the city, from deep fried tacos at El Paso filled with chicken, to handmade flour tortilla tacos found at the popular stand called Angie’s.

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want to taste what real sweetened coconut should be like?  Get a job in Belize city and pray that Omar comes to your office at coffee hour.

“I have this lady and she makes  these tarts with the real shortening and shredded coconut.” said Omar Canto, a driver for S & L tours in Belize City.  I moved forward in my seat so I could hear him more clearly on the ride to the hotel. Canto had overheard me talking about Belizean food with my colleague and shared, “She makes sure to take off all the husks and adds the fluffy coconut to the dough and condensed milk filling. I also sell jelly rolls.” That was all I needed.  My interest was piqued.

‘What do you do?  Are you a cook? Do you have a shop?” My salivation-turned-question-firing garnered me a smile and invitation.”Why don’t I bring you some of the sweets I sell and you can try some for yourself.” It was set. I would get my 1st taste of Belizean snack food.

Omar Canto with one of the made-fresh-daily sample trays of pastries

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