Thursday, June 17, 2010

Belize, Beach and of course FOOD.

So I'm in Belize for my aforementioned 2 months of predissertation research. I arrived this past Tuesday. In two days I have already amassed over 16 pages of typed notes from what we anthropologists like to call participant observation (otherwise known as wandering around, watching people, hanging out, helping out and chatting folks up). Since my area of focus is food my participant observation has involved a lot of eating and a lot of grocery shopping. I just wanted to share a couple delicacies with you.

Like mangoes! I have eaten two since I got here, one the size of my two fists, and one only a little bigger than a golf ball and sweet as sin. I love the wide range of mangoes available in the tropics. Ladyslipper, "hairy mango", Tommy Atkins, Julie mango, and those are only a very few of the many different shapes, sizes and flavours. Mangoes grow very well in the sandy, generally crappy soils found in this part of Belize, and especially on the penninsula that Placencia is on, which is basically just a strip of sand. The one pictured above is only about 2 inches long and fantastically sweet and flavourful.

What, ask you, are those other things? Those, my friend, are what we call "tableta" or "cuttabrute" a must for all coconut lovers, its made out of local brown sugar and grated coconut cooked together with coconut water and either pressed into a pan and cut into squares or shaped into bite size balls like these. I obtained both the cuttabrute and the mini-mango from this lady:

This is Ms.B. (for the sake of privacy I dont reveal her full name). She is a born and bred resident of Placencia and an excellent cook who has one of the best kitchens in the world. Check it out under the coconut tree, a mere 10 feet from the Caribbean.

You get to catch the sea breeze while you cook over the open bbq grill. She had rice (made with coconut oil) and jerk chicken (not a traditional Belizean dish, but thanks to tourism, one that you see around Placencia). I bought a plate and hung out with her for a while. It wasnt my only meal of the day. I started out with fresh corn tortillas from the tortilla factory down the street from my house, my big mango that a friend gave me,

local honey, hot tea and some cheese. And after my meal with Ms. B, I walked down the main road to Tutti Frutti, an Italian run Gelateria featuring tropical flavours like mango, coconut, banana, lime, soursop and the classic rum and raisin, with local rum. After my banana and rum and raisin I was ready for a nap. Thank goodness for siesta time! Tomorrow, I head to my family farm in Toledo District. Its only two boat rides and a bus away, and we are planning to catch some land crabs and have a crab boil while Im there. I'll be taking pictures, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rye Bread, Sushi and Tattoos: My weekend in Washington DC

I just got back Sunday from an impromptu four day trip to my former home of Washington DC. I hadn't been in town since Cherry Blossom Time. By early June it had already become Sweaty Hot Outside and Freezing Inside Time in the nation's capital. But I didn't care because I was busy eating. Eating, cooking, drinking tequila and dancing. It was a good weekend. The only thing I didn't do much of was sleep, but that, as they say, can wait until I'm dead.

These ruffians are some of my culinary companions. The man on the left was my constant co-host of what we dubbed "Culinary Madness" during my years in DC. Lets call him "The Punk Chef". He would like that. In the middle, one of our many faithful taste-testers. To the right, a professional chef at the Greenbriar hotel in West Virginia, in town to wreak culinary havoc with The Punk Chef and I. We three shacked up in The Punk Chef's home, a rambling, art, junk and cat filled mansion in Georgetown which he takes care of for its wealthy and eccentric owner. The servents' quarters, on the first floor, boast a large and comfortable kitchen, which, apart from our quarters, was the only space free of the cloying scent of cat piss. It was the perfect spot to prepare the first meal of the weekend, which had been planned by my host before my arrival. A Russian Meal was the theme and the local Russian market had been raided to provide us with goodies ranging from smoked mackerel to a mustard of such pungency that it put wasabi to shame.


The mackerel was dismembered, the dumplings, sauerkraut, potatoes, rye bread, and other smoked fish was prepared and the hearty meal was enjoyed by all. The only thing missing: ice cold vodka. But that we remedied later that night. Post-prandial shenanigans ensued:

The next day we were all tired, hungover or both so supper was simple: left over rye, a nice baguette, triple cream cheese, a huge salad of organic pea shoots, lettuce, cranberries, rosemary, pecans and fresh goat cheese and a seared pork tenderloin, courtesy of our Greenbriar Chef.

We invited some friends and chowed down in our big comfy kitchen.

While in DC I made sure to eat at Nandos Peri Peri, the fabulous South African chicken chain that, so far, has only invaded Washington DC. If its raging success is anything to go by, it should soon be driving Popeye's out of business across the nation. You just can't compete with sangria, spicy grilled chicken, delicious butternut squash and couscous olive salad. You just can't. I don't have any good pictures to share, but just take my word for it and eat there. I also lunched on tapas at Jaleo, the original flagship restaurant for the Spanish DC restaurant mogul Jose Andres, and I have a photo to prove it. The gazpacho was perfect on a sultry DC afternoon:

The next day was sushi day: sushi from Sushi Uni, my favorite neighborhood sushi spot in Dupont Circle.  It was also tacos de lengua day: tacos from the only real Mexican taco stand in the tri-state area, located conveniently outside the Maryland DMV. It was also Pride Parade Day and World Cup England vs. USA Game Day, but that's another story entirely!

Next stop: Belize and Placencia's Lobster Fest. I arrive tonight and I am already anticipating the taste of Belizean stewed chicken and coconut oil laced rice and beans.