With the second largest Barrier Reef in the world located close to shore and just a quarter of a mile offshore from the Northern Cayes, the Belizean waters are teeming with marine life in all sizes and shapes. The Belizeans love to eat, so naturally a lot of ocean life is a prevalent feature on the tables of the coastal regions and tiny islands that dot the reef.
English speaking Belize is a nation that likes to celebrate, so to mark the opening of conch season on October 1st there are a wealth of establishments that set out to demonstrate their culinary prowess and love for the large marine snails that are abundant in the water. Conch (pronounced ‘konk’) are the second best known edible snail, the first being escargot from France. Conch meat has a mild, sweet clam-like flavour and is tough, requiring it to be tenderised by being pounded, or marinated in lime juice before cooking.
To mark the occasion, Absolute Belize set out in search of the best conch dish on the island of Ambergris Caye with the help of Cori Sterrenberg, a private chef on the island. We trawled the more upscale spots and hung out with the locals at some of the island institutionsï¿½.. so here is the short list:
Miss Suzanna's Conch Soup at El Fogon
El Fogon is one of AB's favourite places - hidden away down a tiny side street and behind a tall bamboo fence, all the food at El Fogon is cooked over a fire pit in large cast iron pots. With 5 tables and a chalkboard of 5 or 6 dishes that change daily, it is truly authentic and the food is legendary. Miss Suzanna's soup is packed with conch and local veggies, including cho cho and squash and the flavours are delicate and delicious. The conch was so tender it melted in the mouth and with an added dash of her homemade hot sauce, it won the day.
Coconut conch at The Reef restaurant
The reef is a long standing San Pedro staple located on 'middle street' in San Pedro (there are only 3 streets). The sand floor and nautical theme are cute and the staff are very laid back and friendly. The menu is divided into conch, fish (whole of fillet), shrimp and lobster with a range of different sauces. You chose 'beans and rice or rice and beans' - Really?? It's not as confusing as it sounds – 'beans and rice' is white rice with a separate bowl of stewed beans and 'rice and beans' is where the beans and rice are cooked together with coconut milk. The white rice and stew beans worked perfectly with the coconut conch and the texture was incredibly tender. The sauce was balanced and creamy allowing the conch flavour shine through perfectly.
The Conch Sausage Pizza at Rojo Lounge and Azul Resort
Rojo Lounge and Azul Resort is a hip and exclusive loungey spot that has won Fodor's Choice in Belize 5 years running. Chef and Owner Jeff Spiegel's 'tropical lounge cuisine' is possibly the most innovative and creative on the island and even all of Belize, making it a sure bet for our hit list. They make a divine conch sausage base and blend this with marinara sauce, mozzarella, onions & roasted red peppers. Conch on pizza??? Sounds crazy perhaps, but over the last 6 years their pizza topped with homemade conch sausage has become a customer favorite and an island original.
The conch and shrimp ceviche at Blue Water Grill
Ceviche is on the menu virtually everywhere, so we had to give it it's own category. Ceviche is a cold marinade of fish, conch, and/or shrimp "cooked" in lime juice and seasoned, served with local tortilla chips. A perfectly executed specimen was found at The Blue Water Grill, situated right on the beach on the south side of San Pedro town. With plenty of lime, cilantro, veggies and heat it was hard to beat.
We're looking forward to our next outing - Garifuna Settlement Day. The Garifuna people of Belize make up one of the key ethnicities of the country and Garifuna cuisine is based around fish, chicken, cassava, bananas, and plantains. Watch this space!
With myriad adventures and experiences on offer, together with a range of chic and individual boutique hotels and hip hideaways, Absolute Belize specializes in crafting spectacular and unique travel itineraries, creating authentic Belizean experiences for travelers who are seeking something out of the ordinary.