There are many factors that make Belize’s food so special: the coastal towns' and cayes' proximity to fresh seafood, the influence of Mayan, African, and Spanish cultures, and the celebration of indigenous flavors at the heart of its cuisine. Belize is a small Central American country bordered by Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean sea, so its diverse demographic provides a mashup of foods that are stewed, wrapped, fried, roasted—and never lacking in flavor. Though the country has a population of just 350,000 people, it can undoubtedly contend with its larger neighbors in taste, especially with these staple Belizean foods.
Rice and Beans
Though it may appear too simplistic to include rice and beans on a food list, this combination has provided sustenance to Belize for hundreds of years and is a staple component of any meal. There is no corner of the country where rice and beans are not offered and happily eaten. Belizean rice and beans are usually cooked with coconut milk, recados (a reddening agent), and spices like cilantro and parsley. The best place to have this dish is in a Belizean grandmother’s home, but, if you can’t get in good with a local, head to Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro. Elvia Staines, affectionately known as Doña Elvia, opened the restaurant 39 years ago as a takeout window. Since then, it’s grown to become a Belizean institution, with a weekly Mayan buffet and incredibly savory and sweet rice and beans.
Dangriga, a southern town in Belize, is home to the Garifuna people—descendants of shipwrecked slaves and native Caribs. In addition to mesmerizing live drumming and dance performances to take in, there’s also the food—hudut to be exact. This traditional Garifuna dish is made of mashed plantains called fufu and fish coconut stew. It’s served at nearly every restaurant in the small town, but for an affordable and authentic experience, check out Tuáni Garifuna. About 20 miles away from Dangriga in Hopkins town, Tina’s Kitchen also offers traditional hudut and other delicious dishes like grilled snapper and stew pork.
Unlike the Mexican tamale, Belizean tamales are wrapped in plantain leaves instead of corn husks. Seasoned chicken or pork is wrapped in corn dough, then steamed in banana or plantain leaves. This Mayan staple has been served for thousands of years, and the recipe is dependent on its maker. Some prefer bone-in chicken, a lot of sauce (called cull), and spice for a kick of heat. Ask anyone where to try this finger food, and they’ll say Martha’s Guesthouse and Restaurant in San Ignacio.
You'll forget croissants and bagels once you try the savory Belizean fry jack. These triangular-shaped, deep-fried pieces of dough are typically eaten for breakfast alongside refried beans and sausage or as a day snack. In Caye Caulker, Errolyns House of Fry Jacks fills the savory dough with ingredients like refried beans, cheese, and scrambled eggs. Don’t forget to top it off with Marie Sharp’s hot sauce and chopped onions.
This Mayan recipe of slow-roasted pork is the ultimate versatile comfort food. Cochinita means “young pig,” and the Maya word pibil means “buried.” Traditionally, cochinita pibil was buried in a pit with a fire at the bottom to roast the pork. Today, the meat is marinated in achiote and orange before being wrapped in a banana leaf and slow-cooked. This famous Belizean dish is served with rice, beans, pickled onions, and corn tortillas—if you’re in the mood for tacos. Elvi’s Kitchen makes an incredible version of this Mayan classic.
Belizean ceviche takes a different approach to the ubiquitous Peruvian variation by using raw conch and shrimp. It can be ordered all around Belize, particularly in coastal restaurants. Sandy Toes Beach Bar & Grill in Ambergris Caye is a casual beach hangout spot with flavorful ceviche. Also located in Ambergris Caye, Blue Water Grill is a local and tourist favorite with many seafood dishes worth trying. Their house ceviche includes shrimp, conch, octopus, red onion, green olives, tomatoes, cilantro, and habanero.
Salbutes are a staple in Belizean cuisine. Disc-shaped fried masa is topped with shredded chicken, pickled onions, thinly chopped cabbage, avocados, tomatoes, and locally made hot sauce. They are typically eaten by hand and washed down with a cold Belikin beer. In San Pedro, you’ll find a mix of Mayan and Spanish culture that's reflected in the food. El Fogon is an institution that serves excellent seafood and salbutes.
Chimole, or “Black Dinner,” is a stew of Mayan origin that appears black in color due to recado, which is made with burnt tortillas. It’s a classic Sunday dinner meal in Belize that includes chicken, onions, hard-boiled eggs, and achiote spices. Eva’s in San Ignacio and El Fogon in San Pedro both make a traditional chimole soup.
If you find yourself on the coast of Belize, don’t miss a chance to try conch fritters—or “konks frittaz” as the locals call it. The sea snail is used in many dishes in Belize, including ceviche, soup, and curry. Conch fritters are deep-fried in a flour batter that can include cilantro, habaneros, and even coconut milk. The fritters are often served with chipotle mayo. The popular finger food is on nearly every menu, but any local will tell you El Fogon (notice a pattern here?) has some of the best on the island. Palapa Bar and Grill in San Pedro is a bar that sits in the ocean and serves great fritters and views.
Garnachas are like open-faced tacos, and who doesn’t love any form of a taco? The fried corn tortillas are topped with puréed black beans, pickled chopped onions and hot peppers topped with Asiago cheese. They’re served as snacks, appetizers and are popular at Belizean parties. Garnachas include the perfect combination of salty and spicy. Minchos in San Ignacio is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with incredibly low prices and local food—including garnachas.