A Taste of Belize
My mouth was watering just thinking about all of the succulent fresh seafood I’d be savoring when I arrived in Placencia, Belize. Spiny lobster, hogfish, grouper, lionfish and queen conch to name but a few.
For locals here, fishing is one of the oldest and most important means of earning a living and still plays a major role in the country’s economy and culture.
As I quickly came to realize, Belizean cuisine is a melting pot of many culinary influences and cooking techniques, including Mexican, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish, Mayan and British.
“A truly distinctive Belizean cuisine doesn’t really exist,” said Enrico Cordenons, food and beverage supervisor for Itz’ana Resort & Residences in Placencia.
Cordenons is a graduate of the University of Gastronomic Sciences from the Piedmont region of Italy. He is also a staunch supporter of the Slow Food Movement, which began there over 25 years ago in protest of a growing fast food culture. The movement’s goal is to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and to encourage farming of plants and livestock native to a country’s local ecosystem.
Because he believes passionately in the support and sustainability of the local food economy, Cordenons intends to make Itz’ana an active player in this movement by sourcing as many products as possible from within a 150-mile radius of Placencia. “Local is always better,” he emphasized, adding that the only direct way to understand a place is to eat the local food.
“For me, Belizean food consists of a delicate fish prepared in a coconut sauce with fresh local herbs,” said Cordenons. He seemed particularly fond of the lionfish, which he explained is very special and takes great skill to prepare.
It’s also expensive but provides a good income to local fishermen. While I was unable to hit all of Placencia’s eating hot spots, word on the street was that Rumfish y Vino was one of the better restaurants to feast on lionfish when it’s in season.
Most of the restaurants in Placencia are located at the southern end of the peninsula closer to the harbor. Changing seasonal menus focus on traditional and international seafood dishes, featuring locally sourced ingredients, such as vegetables from organic farms and fresh, line-caught fish.
A first for me during my delightful culinary adventure was the discovery of hogfish at the Mojo Lounge & Bartique. It was prepared in a traditional Mayan style, brushed with a light aioli sauce and then wrapped and baked to perfection in a banana leaf with sweet red peppers, tomato and onion. The hogfish was tender and flaky and just melted in my mouth.
Creole-style cooking has also had an important influence on Belizean cuisine. At Wendy’s Creole Restaurant & Bar, you can feast on conch soup or escabeche, a Belizean-style chicken soup made with lots of exotic spices, fresh chicken and lime.
I tried the Creole lobster, which was succulent and spiced to perfection with just a hint of Belizean hot pepper sauce and a variety of other intense flavors. Mmmm, so delicious. I can’t wait to return to Placencia.
REVUE article text and photos by Kerstin Sabene
Fun fact: There are no McDonald’s, Burger Kings or Starbucks in the entire country.