Street Food: Soul of a People!
By Wendy Auxillou
A highly-respected guide book author friend of mine once said to me that “You don’t really get to know a place until you have sampled the street-side foods — the soul of the people!” Truer words have probably not been spoken. Street-side foods represent the true culture of a neighborhood. It represents who the people are and what they are about.
I remember once while in Kingston, Jamaica being offered little bags of boiled headless shrimp covered with a salty herbal mixture from one of the street-side stands. Of course, I was game for it. Although served up a little strangely to me, it was absolutely delicious, and definitely a positive change from the horseradish dip I was accustomed to eating shrimp with. I will also probably never forget the shock I experienced my first time in New Orleans when my date took me out for my first crawfish dish and I watched the sad beady eyes of the little crawfish looking up at me from my plate. Some years later, I actually spent a few years living in New Orleans and crawfish boil became one of my favorite meals. I also remember tasting my first Belgian waffle along the streets of Brussels. Picture waffle with chunks of sweet melted sugar flowing into your mouth when you bite into it. Excellent!
I must admit I love street-side food. In fact, I am probably the biggest street-side food aficionado in town. I don’t need croissants or breakfast buffet or even MacBreakfasts to make me happy. Give me my tacos any day and I’m the most contented camper in town.
One cannot walk through downtown Belize City without being accosted by street-side stands loaded with the local fruits and vegetables of the season — puk-unu-bwai (or is it pick-unu-bwai?), guava, mango, governor plum, craboo, sapra, mayplum, hicama, cucumber, oranges, pineapples, watermelon, etc. Or even the food staples such as boiled corn and du-ku-nu. Or maybe even the roving bicycle carts with the vendors selling their coconut crust, coconut tart, jam rolls, and even the local seaweed drink mixture, said to be good for the back (and secretly between you and I, a highly recommended potion for increasing sexual prowess).
Interesting is when new twists are put on the staples we know, like the new way boiled corn is now sold some places with a white creamy dressing and a layer of cheese. We are accustomed to buying our little bags of local sour plums loaded with helpings of pepper and salt. But try adding a squeeze of lime to it and I guarantee that you will become even more addicted. And those one dollar bags of fruit — they are absolutely the best. I could never imagine until I tried it that watermelon with a squeeze of lime and a little salt could taste so good. Ditto for all the other fruits and vegetables eaten exactly the same way. Especially the hicama and fresh orange mixture. Or maybe even the sliced cucumbers.
Locally flavored street-side food stands are not only unique to only Belize City, however. Although we enjoy a proliferation of taco stands in Belize City now, this was typically a Mestizo food more prevalent in the Orange Walk area, usually washed down with a healthy helping of horchata (rice juice). Another Orange Walk specialty I have come to love is the maha blanco, a local rice pudding flavored with canela (whole cinnamon sticks).
Similarly, you just simply cannot go into any rural Belize District village without being offered a meal of hicatee, ‘guana or gibnut meat. In fact, I do believe hicatee was the preferred food of the Ruta Maya spectators. At least that’s how it appeared to me. There were food stands everywhere in Burrell Boom serving up hicatee specialties over the weekend.
Down south, fish sere and hudut are the specialty items. Although not readily available at street-side stands, it is still pretty much the soul of the area.
In the Corozal villages, pig slaughtering is rotated among villagers, making fresh pig meat available to them every few days. What is especially delicious is when the pig fat is deep fried to make a local delicacy called chicharron. Chicharron is the official snack food of Mestizo villages. The pig blood is also seasoned, packed and cooked to make a local sausage called morcia.
Go to Caye Caulker any Easter weekend and you will find street-side stands selling the highly-coveted conch ceviche. Wash it down with a helping of fresh coconut water, then lay in a hammock and enjoy the cool sea breeze. Life gets no better than this. Unless, of course, you are on Caye Caulker around the months of July and August when the cocoplum and sea grape trees are bearing. One taste of these delicious local fruits and you would know you are definitely in heaven then!
So, the next time you travel outside of the radius you call home, stop by one of the charming street-side stands and sample the local fare. Your taste buds might just surprise you. While you’re at it, take the time to have a chat with the local folks and take back home some real culture with you.
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