Among the first things visitors to Belize come to quickly realize is that there are no fasst food franchise restaurants in the country. Belize has no Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonalds. To get that you will have to mosey across the northern border to Chetumal City, Quintana Roo Mexico, or take a trip west or south to Flores or Puerto Barrios Guatemala.
It can be a culture shock for some but at the same time a welcome respite from the concrete jungle and rat race that visitors to our shores are escaping.
Fast food joints are common throughout Belize, perhaps due to the lack of the big franchise fast food chains. Some are well advertised by colorful and sometimes garish signs or just ask the nearest pedestrian or taxi driver. Belize fast food joints are small mom and pop establishments, or even as simple as a small table mounted on a sidewalk – sometimes with a little gas stove to keep the food hot.
Weekends and evenings see an upsurge of street side vendors as working Belizeans seeking extra income haul out the barbecue grill and hawk their fast food from almost every street corner in most population centers. This is the face of Belize Fast Food.
Fast food outlets have a small area where you can stand at a counter or sit at a bench or wood stool to eat. These are little shops without elaborate signage or glass doors. The foods described here are Belizean fare, cheap and filling. Try to ensure that everything you purchase in prepared in front of you and hot.
Typical Belize fast food that you will find on the menu includes the usual beef and cheese burger and fries, fried chicken and fries, rice and beans, barbecued chicken, beef, pork – or if you are lucky – game meat such as deer or gibnut. Other popular items include fish, chicken or beans panades, garnaches, tostadas, tacos, and salbutes.
A burrito is a flour tortilla stuffed with chicken or beef, cheese, beans, and pickled cabbage, and then rolled up on a hot griddle to heat up. Cost: US $1.00 each.
A taco is a corn tortilla rolled up and stuffed with chicken, beef or pork and chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and pepper to taste. A variation is fried tacos topped with grated hard cheese and chopped cabbage and onion sauce. Cost: US $.50 to U.S. $1.00 each depending on quality and popularity.
Garnaches are corn tortillas deep fried golden crispy, then covered with refried beans, grated Dutch Cheese (hard cheese), chopped onions, habanero pepper, and cilantro steeped in lime juice or vinegar. US $1.00 for six.
Panades (empanadas) are corn tortilla turnovers stuffed with meat, beans, or fish, deep fried and accompanied with a sauce consisting of chopped onions, pepper, cabbage and cilantro. Cost: US $1.00 for six.
Salbutes are corn meal tortillas lightly fried to make them soft and puffed up, topped with refried beans, shredded stewed chicken, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and cilantro. Cost: US $1.00 for four.
Another popular Belize dish are tamales which are corn meal stuffed with chicken or pork, onions, green peas, and tomatoes, wrapped in smoked plantain leaves, then steamed over an open hearth fire. Cost: US $1.00 to U.S. $1.50 depending on size and quality.
And an imported fast food from El Salvador is now common in Belize – the Pupusa. This is a thick corn meal tortilla stuffed with beans, cheese and chicharon (fried pork rind), topped with pickled cabbage and carrots, cooked over a hot griddle with oil or fat. Safe and very filling.
Cowfoot Soup is a delicacy mostly available on weekends. This is made from cowfeet and oxtail that is simmered and slow cooked to render a thick soup along with allspice, okra, coco, and potatoes served either with crisp fried corn tortillas or steamed rice and accompanied with onion and habanero pepper sauce. A hearty and filling food and very economical. Cost: US $2.50 to $4.00
And of course practically any Belize restaurant or diner, except Chinese, features the famous Belize rice and beans as the mainstay. The dish consists of red kidney or black beans cooked with rice and coconut milk and accompanied with stewed beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, lobster, fried fish, fish fillet, or game meat when available, potato salad and fried ripe plantain. Cost US $3.50 to US $6.00 Tip: Because rice and beans are cheap, some vendors will overload your dish with these grains and scrimp on the meat, potato salad and even the plantain which grows everywhere.
Belize Garnaches Recipe
Ingredients: 1 lb. corn tortilla, 4 oz. cabbage and onions, 1 habanero pepper chopped (optional) 1 cup red kidney or black beans mashed or blended, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp ground black pepper, ¼ lb. (1 cup) grated hard cheese (Dutch Cheese), 1 medium carrot grated, ½ cup vinegar, cooking oil for frying
Method: 1. Wash hands 2. Mash or blend cooked beans, season and fry (set aside) 3. Grate cheese (set aside) 4. Grate carrot 5. Shred cabbage and onion and put carrot and cabbage in small bowl with vinegar 6. Fry tortillas 7. Put beans on refried tortilla 8. Cover with cabbage, onions and carrots 9. Sprinkle top with grated cheese and chopped habanero pepper (optional). Serve and enjoy!
Tip: For quick preparation use canned refried red kidney or black beans.
Travel Channel Bizarre Foods Host Andrew Zimmern visits Belize