Chef and food writer James Beard could not have said truer words than this quote, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience”. For the inaugural Belize Food Tours, it definitely rang true. What a great way to spend a Saturday, eating our way around San Pedro Town with the new tour. The foodies were out in full force and ready to taste new things and for some, a few old favorites. On Saturday afternoon a group of us got to know each other, and the island, one bite at a time – it was a great experience. My friend (and part-time at team taco Editor/fact checker, who was also my plus 1 for the event) Aimee, and I met for the tour at 11:30 in Central Park. It was a brilliantly bright hot day and we were ready for some pit stops, light walking, and to try out some new things. I was interested to see where our 8 places to visit would end up being. Although I have tried many off the beaten path places having lived right downtown twice since 2006, I knew I was missing some. I had hopes that this tour would fill my hunger for something new to crave close to home. This dyslexic girl decided to practice her math and figured a 3 hour tour meant everything would be fairly close and we would have roughly 15 minutes at each place with approximately 7.5 minutes walking time in between. As it turns out, we ended up doing 7 places in good time and that was the perfect amount. Taking off from Central Park we headed out to our first stop.
A Piece of Island History
My guess was that this was to be some sort of entree style taster or a savory treat and I was half right. We started on Pescador Dr. (Middle St.) at family owned and operated Elvi’s Kitchen. We were first treated to a wonderfully sweet drink of fresh cane juice. It had such a unique taste without being overly sweet and kept changing its flavor – I love it when food or drink does that. This was paired with their fabulous Ah Kin tacos, a popular Mayan treat made with beef or chicken cooked in adobo and topped with an olive relish and Dutch cheese. Adobo, in case you have never had it, is a wonderfully mild chili and roasted garlic sauce. While sitting around the table enjoying our family style platters, our leader Felipe told us how they got their start way back as a small restaurant by Elvia and Enrique Staines. With 6 kids, she wanted to fulfill a vision and use her skills for cooking to make the original island burger joint. He also mentioned Elvi’s sauces are great and he gave a big up to their pepper. I was jazzed up when Fel said they were serving us my namesake food.:) – “Tacos and more tacos!” Aside from great tacos and tasty fried chicken, you will find out on a deeper level why I am a fan of this place and a few others on the tour later in this post. I was also excited to find one of my favorite night time taco spots, aside from Albertina’s in the park, might make it in the dinner tour – you ready Aimee? 🙂 Another piece of island history, we learned how our town of San Pedro was named. They were looking to name it after a Patron Saint that was a fisherman. It was decided to go with the Spanish version Saint Peter and San Pedro was born. If you do not know the story dating back to the 1800’s behind Ambergris Caye Island’s name, find one of the 4 food guide crew and ask them 😉 Not in the country? No worries Belize Food Tours Facebook page will get you an answer and on the next tour. You can also email info@belizefoodtours [dot] com for more information.
Based on the first stop I thought we would be in for another savory stop, I could not have been more wrong. A few steps north and we found ourselves at well known Traveler’s Liquors were on the menu for a mid-morning rum and local wine tasting. Thanks to Wendy for coming in specially to tell us about and share tasters of all the great products. Those that were doing shooters got to taste the difference between the one Barrel, the 3 Barrel and 5 Barrel which is a 5 year aged sipping rum. A funny story that Fel told the group while they were sampling cashew wine was a person got more bang for their buck with this spirit. According to local legend, the ‘value’ to cashew wine is you get high the night you drink it and the next day while you are out working in the hot sun it ferments inside and you get a double high. Sounds like a recipe for bacon and eggs and a breakfast food tour to me. So glad I am still opting out of alcohol (since Aug 2014) and remain hangover free, it makes the bacon and eggs taste so much better 😉 They also had a few other tasty treats which I shall not mention in case you still want a few surprises when you take the tour 😉
Wendy’s Great Tropical Drink Tip
Add fresh coconut water with rum to make a nice tropical lightly flavored drink. I’ll have a virgin coconut water please It sure is a warm one at the taco office today 😀
Fresh pineapple juice, watermelon along with coconut water and rum (or not.) Travelers coconut rum also makes a great addition to your vacation veranda rum punch and popular souvenir.
Beach Front History
Along the way, the BFT gang stopped at various places and talked to us about local history and tradition. We stopped outside the Heritage Bank located on Front Street which is housed in the historic Blake House, we got to see great pictures of the beachfront in that area from the old days as well. Our third stop was another great piece of rich local family history. We learned about Felipe’s grandpa having the first sailing boat on the island, The Elsa Paz, and how back in the day it started as a small family style restaurant. Lily’s Treasure Chest was actually opened back in the 70’s by the grandparents of our local BFT tour guides. Lily’s offers a seafood experience with a view. Here the group was treated to tasters of Guinness and Belikin as well as their famous ceviche platter. One of the things that makes Lily’s ceviche such a big hit is the perfect amount of heat it has. Not enough to knock you off the chair, but just enough to get your taste buds to stand up and take notice. I liked it and I order mild 90% of the time when given the choice. Take the tour to find out what Felipe’s Grandpa’s trick is to live long and other cool stuff. You will be glad you did.
My Paleta Story
Next up was a popular Barrier Reef Dr. (Front Street) paleta stop. The first time I tried one I was on a borrowed golf cart joyride with a friend. He saw the Manelly’s cooler trike and flagged it down to see what was available. Immediately we both got excited over coconut paletas and laughed as we drove around holding our hands out of the cart so they did not drip on us in the scorching heat. Since then I have had many (almost always coconut). This time my Paleta story was one with strangers. As we stood outside enjoying our treats, I started asking people about what kind they tried. I got talking with Don and Elizabeth from Belize City and found out both of them had wanted to try the coconut, but had opted for different flavors. I decided since food is all about sharing and my paleta was extra yummy that day, I offered up a taster along with a recommendation that they go back get a coconut one while on Ambergris Caye. Paletas are a yummy local frozen treat made with fresh fruits. And Belize Food tours made the Paleta experience great by offering us all a plastic cup so we remained drip free – happy camper 😀
Eat Like a Local
Next, we headed over to Angel Coral St. (Back Street) and onto a local favorite for many, Brianna’s Deli. Here we were able to try Chimole or Black Soup. Chimole gets it’s black coloring from the black recado it is made with. This recado is a mixture of spices and ground blackened corn tortillas. Now burnt corn tortillas may not sound all that appetizing, but I can assure you it is! I wonder what the “Aha” moment was like in that kitchen when this idea was first tested. One of the things I liked about the tour was playing musical chairs. This gave us the chance to really spend time with all the folks in our group. At Brianna’s I got to sit next to fellow blogger San Pedro Scoop, iTravel Belize,San Pedro Sun, and Our Tasty Travels were all there too. Click through to their sites and food tour review write ups – First 2 are about the new food tour, will update the last 2 by Writers Mary Gonzalez and Erin Santiago when they go live.
An Authentic Experience
After a little walk down Back-Back St. or the boat road as I like to call it, we landed at an old favorite El Fogon. Here we were treated with their special rum punch. Some have been known to argue that this is the best on the island. El Fogon specializes in cooking the old fashioned way thanks to founder Ms. Suzanna (SP?). Fire hearth cooking is a traditional Belizean cooking method giving the food a nice old world smokey taste. Creole people say fire hearth makes the best rice and beans. Aimee and I were both glad we got to taste one local food that gets a lot of press, after being served to the Queen of England and then being dubbed “The Royal Rat”; gibnut. In truth, this is a local game meat and a taster was the perfect way to try it. Now I know I would order as a shared plate and not a whole meal. This dish is extremely rich and complex with a texture and taste similar to pork in a heavy, well-flavored gravy. I also found it a bit gamely like the rabbit and partridge stew my grandpa used to make when I was a kid. It got me thinking instantly about gibnut poutine to blend my Canadian and Belizean roots in a new decadent combination. In addition, we were able to taste a local Sunday favorite of fish balls. Fish balls are similar to a crab cake. These were served with a homemade honey mustard sauce – yum. My fruit punch was a virgin version, almost everyone else had the rum. To the Food Tours team, thank you for remembering after the first time I did not drink to make sure I got a virgin drink the next time.
And what meal would not be complete without dessert? Our last stop was a sweet one at the well known Belize Chocolate Company. Here we were offered a choice of 4 delicious bites, either the Coconut Ball, the Howler Monkey, Sea Salt Caramel or a Maya Temple. Both Aimee and I opted for the Sea Salt Caramels as we knew from previous experience that these were a favorite. Although if it was possible, we would have had one of each – maybe next time and an iced chocochino 😀 As we toasted with the sweet treats of the Maya Gods, the energy in the room was running high. It was clear everyone had enjoyed a world-class food tour and were all wishing The Belize Food Tours staff Dora, Felipe, Gustavo, and Monica the highest success. Congratulations for filling a much-needed niche – you are going to make many locals and tourists happy. I would totally do the tour again. It’s a great way to sample a lot of things and socialize.
This tour is a delicious multi-course menu by foot. With food, we sometimes play it safe to make sure we get what we like. The samplers were a big hit as they gave us a unique opportunity to try several things we might hesitate to order a full plate of. For tourists, it provides a great way to try local foods they may not have the head of or come across in their research. Felipe was a great guide and conscientious too. He made sure to watch over the group in regards to traffic, reminded us to do the crab-walk when we needed to to be skinny on narrow streets 🙂 and continuously reminded us he had water if we needed it. Of the 7 places we toured, I was familiar with all from having lived here and knew I liked each one. The beauty of the food tour was that it made me toss my standard “menu box” away and try something new at every place. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Experiencing something new or something that you might not have ordered as you’re not sure if it will be to your liking? This tour went beyond my expectations, it was a great source of history and bonding with people through a wide variety of food and light exercise. What a healthy fun thing to do and for me, so close to home. “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a star.” â€“ Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin I had an unexpected discovery while on the tour and quietly shared it with Fel – 3 of the places on our tour, Elvi’s Kitchen, Traveler’s Liquors and El Fogon are all supporters of the San Pedro Red Cross. All three have helped the organization in many ways including lunches for Belize Blood Services, a Mayan Buffet raffle prize and some One Barrel rum for our Christmas Boat Parade Elves. I always feel when given the choice of where to spend your tourist dollars, it is always good to support those who support the local community. It was personally was a special moment for me beyond a very cool invitation and first food tour 🙂 After the fact when I shared my moment with her, Dora made it even more special, with a pledge to train all the Belize Food Tours staff in First Aid. She committed right away to work with our San Pedro Branch Board member and Head of First Aid Department, Aimee to get on the training list. Stay tuned for Belize Food Tours on Trip Advisor. For now, you can find out more great food recommends and some useful travel apps on Trip Advisor Belize Forum post food, apps, etc. If you missed the post about the cool invitation that was waiting for me at Lily’s Restaurant, we got for the inaugural food tour click through on WTF?! Where’s The Food?! write up to see it. Later That Day…. After getting stuffed in the best possible way, many of us decided to walk it off at the Belize Tattoo Expo being held at the local High School Auditorium. It was particularly amusing to listen to the announcements concerning the high school students and placement of any tattoos they might be getting. Absolutely nothing visible. It had been a fun experience seeing friends around town showing off their new ink. Below is the drawing that most caught my eye, a small slice of the crowd and my $15 pork ribs dinner ready to go in 10 minutes from Hungry Grouper. After that a pic of the outfit I wore for the tattoo convention.