Location: Central America
Geography: Mostly forested coastal plains and swampland, with low mountains in the south
Signature flavours: Allspice, achiote, chicken, corn, seafood, coconut, rice, cassava
Eric discovered that Belize has four distinct groups of people (Maya, Kriol, Garinagu, and Mestizos), and set about planning a menu to represent flavours from each. In the end, he opted for three items. He wanted a cohesive menu that wasn’t too heavy on any single kind of dish (as in three stews or three corn-based dishes, for example).
Vegetarian Escabeche: An acidic onion soup, normally made with chicken, but for our menu, made with just vegetables. This vinegary soup is flavoured with allspice, peppercorns, clove, cinnamon, cumin, and oregano. It was served alongside toasted tortilla.
Prep and cooking time: 75 min
Salbutes: A spicy cornbread topped with onion, tomato, cilantro, jalapeño, cabbage, carrot, and lime juice.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Bundiga: A seafood chowder featuring red snapper (a regional fish), and cooked with green banana, coconut milk, red peppers, and spiced with thyme.
Prep and cooking time: 25 min
The Shopping List
Eric called four fish markets looking for red snapper. He learned that rockfish, a west coast fish, is much more widely available and is used as a red snapper substitute in this part of the world. He was able to find the real deal at De La Mer in Toronto’s Greektown.
The achiote paste, blended with cornmeal to make the salbutes base, was found at Perola Latin Supermarket in the Kensington Market neighbourhood.
The escabeche was similar to a French onion soup, but with a much more vinegar-forward flavour profile. It’s a soup that hits your tongue in layers: sour, savoury, peppery, and cinnamon-y to finish.
The salbutes were fantastic. The spicy cornbread, coloured a deep orange from the achiote paste, was deep fried, giving it a crispy exterior and fluffy interior not unlike an arepa. Topped with red onion, a little mayonnaise, fresh tomato, cabbage, jalapeño, and carrot, it was an explosion of flavour (and serious spiciness).
We enjoyed the bundiga immensely, savouring chunks of juicy snapper and the thick broth of shredded green banana and coconut milk. As a Canadian who sees bananas as a breakfast food (and only once perfectly yellow and freckled), it always surprises me how versatile the fruit can be. Green banana is not nearly as sweet as ripe banana, and adds a starchiness to a dish like you might expect from potato or cassava.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.