25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
What If You Got Tired of Fish?
If you got tired of fish 25 years ago, you would have been in deep trouble. Today tourists tend to think of Ambergris Caye as a place to enjoy fresh fish every day.
In contrast 25 years ago, we used to really get tired of fish, but what to do? That was the main source for our tables, much in contrast today. Today, even though we tend to think of Ambergris Caye as a fishing and tourism place, we eat more chicken than fish.
In the 1950’s and earlier, the opposite was true. Our food consisted mainly of fish. I mean it was fish everyday, for breakfast, lunch and supper. The housewife had to be very versatile and creative to create a variety of dishes based on fish.
Twenty five years ago there were no supermarkets with frozen meats or poultry. Chickens were grown in the backyard, but they were reserved mostly for their eggs and the meat was only consumed for very special occasions. Cows were not raised any at all so beef was totally absent from the menus and tables of Sanpedranos. Once in a while a businessman would bring beef from Belize City and the villagers went wild trying to get their two or three pounds for their special menu. I have a feeling they did not even know what to cook with it.
As for pigs, they were commonly grown in the backyard. When a pig was butchered, it was a special event. The huge cooking pot (1/2 steel drum) was rented, the butcher was hired (Mr. Palao), the policeman was notified, (he acted as health officer) and orders for meat and chicaron were taken two days in advance. The head, ribs, tail, feet, snout, liver, blood, even the tongue and heart were salted and kept in large buckets for the family’s consumption for the next month or so. When the fat and was fried to make the delicious chicaron, pork oil or lard was produced. A three hundred pound pig yielded about three buckets of lard or about 100 pounds. This was shared with friends and the rest used for frying and cooking for about two or three months. At the very bottom of the lard bucket there were these crispy particles, very nice and salty. You rolled this into a hot tortilla and this made a delicious taco or “kutz” as the Sanpedranos used to call it. I tell you that with a pig, everything was valuable. Even the hair or bristles of the pig was saved and tied to make fine paint brush. That is why the butchering of a pig was a special event.
Now you can appreciate why corned beef was a specialty 25 years ago. And now you understand why manatee was hunted and killed for its meat. Now you know why we used to eat the pig’s tail or the chicken’s feet. Some people today would never eat those, but they delight in iguanas, frog legs, snake, horse, buffaloes, even cats. This world is so divided in eating habits, right? Twenty five years ago we had very little choice. It was fish three times a day, so our creative housewives had about twenty different menus with fish.