Saturday, July 20, 2019

Many Mangoes!!

Its everybody’s favorite time of year!  Here in Belize one of the tropical world’s most famous fruits is the mango. Mangifera indica is related to our native cashew trees but originated in India where it was domesticated over 4,000 years ago. Mangoes were introduced into the Caribbean in the 1700s and spread quickly across the region. There are as many as 900 different types, each with their own taste, size, shape and unique name. In Placencia village you can find at least 15 varieties: blue mangoes; black mangoes; white mangoes; the slipper shaped thundershaw; the famous Julie mango; the tiny sweet judge-wig; apple mango, so named because of its round shape; the garlic mango, which has a slight garlicky aftertaste when you bite into it; hairy mango with its long stringy fibers; the ballet shoe shaped slippers mango, the hybrids Number 11 and 13; the Hayden and the so named common mango. Common mango trees can reach a hundred feet high, but thanks to Hurricane Iris none of that size remain on the peninsula. Mangoes and cashews are both members of the Anacardiaceae family and so mangoes contain traces of the caustic anacardic oils found in un-processed cashew seeds. Those who are allergic to mangoes may develop rashes from eating and handling the fruit or even the leaves of the tree. While this extremely popular fruit can be found growing wild as part of the littoral forest it is most often encountered planted in someone’s yard or flourishing in empty lots and along the roadside. 

During mango season, which typically runs from May through September, you can find mangoes for sale at local fruit and vegetable stands and many restaurants on the peninsula showcase fresh mango in fruit salads, desserts and blended drinks. Mango trees are so productive that many often rot under the tree if children don’t get to them first. “Stoning” mangoes down out of the trees is a cherished summertime pastime for generations of Belizeans. Like a number of other fruits in Belize we enjoy mangoes both ripe and green. Full but unripe or partially ripe mangoes are peeled; the flesh sliced off the seed, put in a plastic bag with salt and/or hot pepper and sold on the street as a popular snack. This ubiquitous combination of green mango and salt is a treat found in homes across the country. It also makes a great boca with a cold beer or cocktail. You can also process your green mangoes into a delicious chutney. Ask around Placencia to find out who has some for sale if you don’t want to make your own. Green mangoes cooked into a sauce with brown sugar and cinnamon taste almost exactly like applesauce.  Apart from enjoying the fresh ripe fruit off the tree, local preparations include stewing the entire peeled ripe fruit, seed and all, in brown sugar. With trees producing huge quantities of the fruit, mango wine is another popular way to deal with the overload of ripe mangoes. Or freeze your surplus so you can enjoy a luxurious mango smoothie when the season ends. Make mango cheesecake, mango crumble, mango juice, mango jam, mango BBQ sauce or mango margaritas. For me, nothing beats simply biting into a perfectly ripe, aromatic mango as the juice runs down your arms to the elbow. However you enjoy it, don’t miss out on mango season in our beautiful jewel Belize!

Lyra Spang is owner/guide of Taste Belize Tours, a unique cultural & culinary tour company. She writes about food whenever she can.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Twelve Things You Should Eat and Drink in Placencia, Belize!

Much as I tire of the trend in recent years towards making lists and calling them articles, this month I jump on the bandwagon to tell you about a dozen things that I, (in my humble and imperfect opinion), believe you should eat and drink if you want to experience the flavours of the beautiful seaside village of Placencia, Belize.

This list isn’t meant to represent all the delicious foods available in Belize or even on Placencia Peninsula (how could it with only 12 items!), but it contains some that I think express the diverse culinary scene in this little corner of the country. There are a lot of wonderful seasonal specialties that I don’t mention here because they are only available for a short window of time or because they are not available outside of personal homes. Check back soon for upcoming articles on seasonal delicacies like cashews and mangoes.

1.    Seaweed: No, I don’t mean the green stuff holding your sushi together. Eucheuma isiforme and Gracilaria sp. seaweeds have long been a traditional food on Belize’s beautiful coast. Here in Placencia it is farmed by the Placencia Producers Cooperative. Head to The Galley, D’ Shak, Brewed Awakenings or Omar’s Creole Grub to sample Gracilaria in its most famous incarnation: as a silky, smooth and thick blended drink once known as seaweed punch, now often called a smoothie or shake. The seaweed contributes a heavenly texture to anything, not to mention a huge nutritional boost, with tons of potassium, magnesium, calcium and as much protein as soybeans!

 2.     Ceviche: Everyone in Placencia loves seafood of all sorts. This concoction takes raw seafood and “cooks” it by pickling it in lime juice along with a few choice companions. Tomato, onion, habanero and cilantro are the holy four in Belizean ceviche. I’m a purist so don’t give me any of that carrots or cucumbers business! Ceviche means conch ceviche in Belize unless of course conch season is closed in which case I guess you will just have to settle for shrimp. Make sure to consume with an ice cold Belikin beer in hand and plenty of corn or plantain chips.

3.      Belizean Bittas: Local bartenders know what I am talking about. Made by soaking roots, barks and dried leaves from the jungle in an alcohol base, this potent blend is meant to boost the immune system and improve sexual stamina and performance, what we call “good fi di back”. Also known as “Belizean Viagra”, a shot of this anise/rum/herbal blend will get your night started on the right foot!

4.      Guava Jelly: Placencia jelly makers have perfected the art of this aromatic spread that belongs on every breakfast table. Guavas are native to the tropical Americas and can be found growing as a small backyard tree across the peninsula. Their complex aroma and flavour epitomizes everything tropical. Ask for the homemade guava jelly at your local restaurant and throw out that fake strawberry jam.

5.      Fry Jacks: While we prefer to eat these fluffy pillows of deep fried dough with beans, eggs and cheese for a “proper” aka savory Belizean breakfast, feel free to slather yours with guava jelly if you rather something sweet.

6.      Coconut Curry: fish, lobster, conch, shrimp, plain old veggies, a wedge of cardboard. Pretty much ANYTHING tastes amazing drenched in a rich and flavourful bath of coconut! Almost every restaurant on the peninsula offers their own interpretation of this award winning flavour combination.

7.      Panti Rippa: Number 7 is recommended courtesy of our favorite Belizean bartender, Peter Dacoff. Belize’s most famous cocktail, a blend of local coconut rum and pineapple juice, shaken over ice, is best enjoyed while lounging on a towel or beach chair gazing at the Caribbean.

8.      Coconut Tart: Oh the mouthwatering glory of a perfect tiny coconut tart nestled in a Tupperware container. Say yes to the young lad or lass selling them warm out of the oven and gobble that local delicacy right up! Many homemade treats are sold door to door on Main Street and the sidewalk, so keep your eye out.

9.      Lobster (or shrimp) Grilled Cheese: A Maya Beach Bistro creation, the heavenly lobster grilled cheese can be made with shrimp if lobster is out of season. You can also find a version at Barefoot Bar. So decadent you will be ready to run behind the golf cart on the ride home.

10.   Hudut: Fried fish, mashed plantain, a rich herb scented coconut broth. Heaven on earth also happens to be one of the most famous dishes to come out of Garifuna culture. Make sure to stop if you see this on the menu at Ms. Vern’s or any other restaurant on the Seine Bight Village strip. 

11.   Smoked Fish Dip: Its popping up all over the peninsula these days. This savory and rich appetizer manages to embody in one dish the concentrated, collective Placencia memories of the aroma of fish cooking on a hundred wood burning fire hearths.
12.    Gelato: You say, well, that doesn’t sound very Belizean to me! Perhaps not, but I will tell you that Belizeans from other parts of Belize plan entire day trips to Placencia for the sole purpose of getting a cone of Tutti Frutti gelato. And while the pistachio might not evoke our beaches and byways, the coconut or pineapple certainly will. Sample the seasonal soursop gelato to taste a flavour combination that transports us straight back to our childhoods and the Belizean experience of digging into chilled soursop pulp topped with sweetened condensed milk.

Lyra Spang is the author of Bite Yu Finga! Innovating Belizean Cuisine and owner/guide of Taste Belize Tours, a unique cultural & culinary tour company. She researches & writes about food whenever she can. You can contact her directly at

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Life Goals: Bite Yu Finga! Innovating Belizean Cuisine

I am beyond excited because my book has finally been published! 8 years of on the ground research, data analysis, writing, editing, re-editing and re-re-editing have come to an end, culminating in (what I believe is) an engaging volume on the innovation of cuisine, identity and nationhood that I hope will join the canon as must-read literature on global food studies. If you like reading about food, travel, and/or culture, you will probably enjoy this book. I am super happy that one of the first reviewers said that Bite Yu Finga is "wonderfully written and engaging".

From the back cover: Bite Yu Finga takes culinary explorers far beyond the restrictive parameters of western European-derived fine dining. This engaging ethnography traces the path of national cuisine formation in the young post-colonial country of Belize. With captivating anecdotes and solid data, Spang describes the important role of tourism in driving culinary innovation in Belize and the powerful influence of cultural politics on the process of deciding whose food is considered Belizean. Spang champions gastronationalism as a patriotic imperative, calling for further research on culinary innovation and development in post-colonial nations. She challenges the Belizean tourism industry to embrace a creative, diverse and inclusive cuisine that fairly represents the country. If you want to read it for yourself you can buy a copy here: University West Indies Press.