The Food of Belize

Belize has a mix of Caribbean, Mexican, African, Spanish, and Mayan culinary influences.

Belize’s strongest suit is its seafood. Fresh fish, lobster, shrimp, and conch are widely available, especially in the beach and island destinations.


Staple Foods:

Rice and beans – is a major staple, often served as an accompaniment to almost any main dish. A slight difference is to be inferred between “rice and beans,” which are usually cooked (sometimes in coconut milk) and served together, and “beans and rice,” which are usually cooked and served separately. Belizeans tend to use a small red bean, but black beans are sometimes used.

Stew chicken – should be considered a national dish and its close cousins stew beef and stew fish. These Kriol-based recipes are dark stews that get their color from a broad mix of spices, as well as red recado, which is made from annatto seed or achiote.

Chimole – sometimes called black gumbo. It is similar to stew chicken.

Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce: Almost no dining table is complete without a bottle of Marie Sharp’s. The original Marie Sharp’s is a very spicy sauce made from a base of habanero peppers, carrots, and onions.

Panades – small, deep-fried empanadas.

Gibnut (paca) – The gibnut is a large rodent, Agouti paca, which some say tastes like rabbit, although I find it a bit gamier. The gibnut is often called “The Queen’s Rat” or “The Royal Rat” because Queen Elizabeth was served gibnut during a visit here. Headlines in London read “Queen eats rat.”

Iguana – Iguana is frequently called “bamboo chicken,” and it does actually taste a bit like chicken.

Hudut – a fish stew or whole fish preparation served in a coconut-milk broth, often accompanied by mashed, fried green plantains.

Seaweed shake – a cooling concoction made of dried seaweed, evaporated and condensed milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and blended with ice. Seaweed shakes are sometimes kicked up with a shot of rum or brandy.

Rum: Probably the finest Belizean rum is the 5-year-aged Prestige. One of the most popular brands you’ll come across is 1 Barrel, which has a hint of vanilla, and is slightly sweet.

Fruit wines – produced in Belize using native fruits, including pineapple and even banana. These wines are very sweet and are more a novelty than anything else.

Belizeans tend to eat three meals a day Breakfasts tend to be served between 6:30 and 9am; lunch between noon and 2pm; and dinner between 6 and 10pm. Most meals and dining experiences are quite informal. In fact, there are only a few restaurants in the entire country that could be considered semiformal, and none require a jacket or tie, although you could certainly wear them.


Belize City: Markets and Restaurants:

Michael Finnegan Market:  Belizeans bring fresh fish, meat, and produce from all over the country to sell.

Dario’s Meat Pies: a culinary tradition in Belize City. Mr. Dario sells his well-spiced pastries, stuffed with chicken or beef, from his shop on Hyde’s Lane, and carts on street corners around the city. The meat pies are perfect for breakfast or a snack any time of day.

Dit’s Restaurant: on King Street where the slogan is “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.” Ms. Nadine is still using her grandfather’s Creole recipes for Stew Chicken and Boil-Up, which is a combination of fish, cassava, plantains, and yam boiled together with coconut milk. Ms. Nadine finally clears up the difference between beans and rice and rice and beans for me. Rice and beans are cooked together, while beans and rice are cooked separately. A tasty order is a salbute, which is a soft corn tortilla with cabbage, chicken, and pico de gallo, and Belize’s favouritebeer, a Belikin Stout. For dessert, Dit’s has a variety of homemade treats: coconut tarts, pound cake, and lemon pie. I order the most famous option, a jam roll — which is like a pop-tart complete with homemade strawberry jam — for only fifty cents.

Bird’s Isle Restaurant: take a quick cab ride to Bird’s Isle Restaurant on the southern coast of the town. One of the prettiest restaurants in Belize City, Bird’s Isle is a big, wooden deck built right on the water with a traditional thatch roof. The restaurant has a large tourist-friendly menu including chicken wings and conch fritters, but the best part of the menu is the daily rotating specials. For example, a beef soup served with white coconut rice and plantains on the side.

Harbour View (Belize City; tel. 223-6420): Set on the water’s edge overlooking the juncture of Haulover Creek and the Caribbean Sea, this is the most creative and elegant restaurant in Belize City. Fresh seafood and local staples are cooked with fusion flare and some Asian accents. If the weather’s right and you land one of the outdoor tables on the wraparound veranda, you’ll enjoy the finest dining experience available in the city.

Wet Lizard (Belize City; tel. 223-5973): Much less formal than the Harbour View, this often-rowdy little restaurant and bar still serves up excellent fresh seafood and burgers, in an open-air setting overlooking the Swing Bridge and Belize Harbor. This is a great place to savour some late-afternoon conch fritters and a refreshing drink.

Marie Sharp’s: hot sauce, which comes in 7 different heats; the hottest is called Beware.


Destination – Belize