We (Chef D, The Beard, and myself –The Birdman) took a recent trip to the remote island of Caye Caulker, Belize for some quick sun, Belikin, and new food finds. We never planned ahead for meals, or really anything for that matter, but the reoccurring question that always came up was “Where should we have lunch?”
And every day we came back with the same answer. The Budgetman. So for the 6 days on Caye Caulker, we had lunch with the Budgetman for 5 of them. The one day we were out fishing so missed him.
Everyone on Caye Caulker seems to have a self given nickname. Charles Coote is no exception. By day he is Budgetman and by night Charles (never Charlie, always Charles). His superhero costume is a floppy chef’s hat over the top of a baseball cap. He’s got himself a pretty nice life. He rocks up at about noon, sets his table on Front Street located right on the main beach, has a couple of the local lads put up a tent to keep himself in the shade. Yes, even the locals in Belize like the shade.
He dishes food (15BZD for one protein, 25BZD for 2) into Styrofoam (made in China of course – like much that is sold on Caye Caulker) plates. There’s always rice, always some kind of seafood, always some kind of animal protein, vegetables and coleslaw. Sometimes its jerk pork or chicken, sometimes curry.
Sometimes with coconut, sometimes not. What are consistent are the flavor and the quality. The vegetables were stewed every day – always some potato and garlic, sometimes plantain. Other occasional mysteries. Every day this simple food tastes wonderful.
Belizean jerk meat is different from Jamaican. In Belize it always seemed to be stewed or braised with achote, while in Jamaica it is usually a dry rub and grilled. Either/any way is just fine by me. The bold hot flavors coating my mouth, staining my shirt as I greedily scarfed down the whole plateful. And the portions were huge. Didn’t seem to matter, I always finished mine.
What’s his secret? I guess there are several. Tireless self promotion – and always in the 3rd person; really well prepared food that doesn’t have to be done at the last minute; little or no overhead other than the cost of ingredients. He arrives with the giant pots filled with goodness cooked at home, lays them out and he is open for business. The food is never hot, nor cold. It is sold at street temperature. Sometimes a little Marie Sharp habanero sauce, but on the better days he brings his own, home made, hot pickled onions. Oh yeah, on top of the coconut curry chicken, I am still tasting it.
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