I learned the hard way that Belize is not where you go if you want to practice your Spanish. This was the first of many revelations about the small, Caribbean-adjacent country, about which I embarrassingly knew next to nothing prior to visiting – including the fact that the national language is English. It turns out Belize is rich with a diverse cultural identity (Caribbean, Latin American, Mayan, etc), much of which comes through the food. Local ingredients are used ubiquitously, and almost nothing goes through any kind of processing, characterizing Belizean cuisine as fresh, local, and undeniably appetizing.
Here’s a collection of my favorite dishes from a recent three-week exploration through Belize, a country that is so much more than its beaches.
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Marie Sharp's hot sauce is the best way to kick off this list because it can go on almost any Belizean dish. Habaneros are the key ingredient, grown directly outside the factory where the hot sauce is made and bottled. It's sweet while tart, has a unique carrot flavor, and packs a deeply satisfying heat.
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I can't overstate how much I enjoyed eating Fry Jacks. These beignet-like breakfast items are light, almost sweet, and the perfect vessel for either a savory combo of eggs, bacon, refried beans, and hot sauce, or sweet jams, butter, and honey. Move over, breakfast burrito!
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You'll be hard-pressed as a tourist to go anywhere in Belize without being offered a gratuitous amount of rum punch. It's fruity, floral, and pumped full of genuine Belizean rum, which is inexpensive, potent, and dare I say - delicious.
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The Belizean coastline is on the Caribbean Sea, and like most other coastal areas on Earth, it's being overfished. Fortunately Belize is small, so it's common to find fisherman using the old ways to secure their catches, leading to delicious, fresh fish like red snapper, grouper, and barracuda for dinner.
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Whether fried, mashed or baked into chips, plantains are the underdog fruit that should be intimidating the U.S. banana industry due to their versatility in cooking and overall tastiness. Like most of the food in Belize, plantains can be found everywhere in a fresh, unprocessed format. Pro-tip: just don't eat them raw.
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The legacy of Belize's Mayan roots are found well beyond the borders of the many stone temples that continue to stand tall in the jungles of this Central American country. At the San Antonio Women's Co-op you can try your hand at hand rolling corn, turning it into dough, then frying it up into a savory tortilla.
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Citrus comprises the most significant agro-industry in Belize, which is why drinking a glass of orange juice at the source is a must. Hailing from the land of California oranges did nothing to prepare me for the sweet, fresh oranges of Belize - probably because like most of the other food there, it didn't have to go a million steps to get to me.
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The Mayans were right about a lot of things, and passing down their tradition of steaming tamales in banana and plantain leaves was one of them. Tricking gringos into believing the world is about to end is another.
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Like many Latin American cuisines, rice and beans are a staple of Belizean plates. They can be prepared two ways: served mixed together, or served separately to be combined at your leisure (this is usually the case with coconut rice), but either way the outcome is a whole protein that you'll come to crave.