Belizean Easter cooking also includes those delicious hot cross buns. Paul Lopez went looking for the secrets to these with Chef Ainsley Castro of the Naked Chicken on Mahogany Street in Belize City. There, Chef Ainsley had his kitchen’s hot cross bun maker prepare a tray of the Easter special using his personal recipe. We also got a chance to see Chef Christian in action making a fish and fried plantain dish, with an array of sauté vegetables to add that extra touch of color and flavor.
Chef Ainsley Castro, Naked Chicken
“Basically this dah tradition weh everybody use to. Everybody dah hot cross bun, but you have it in design. Usually, here at Naked Chicken I do special orders. But, you have three kind of bun. You have the heavy bun that you bake first. That carries more sugar. Then you have the regular bun that you allow to raise longer, that is the lighter one. Then you have the one that you make into a swirl. So you have three kinds of buns, the heavy one, the swirl one and the light one.
You have the flour, you have the brown sugar, you have the nutmeg, you have the cinnamon, the butter, the raisin, you know. We can go on and on, it depends on how rich you want your bun. But, everybody goes for bun, because that is the time when everybody sell cross bun also. But then you run competition to see who have the best cross bun, because everybody has deh own secret. Bun and fry fish is a tradition, and I always have a hit to it. I add my happy cow cheese. I nice it up to another level.”
“I saw your daughter getting involved in the process. You are showing them that even the children in the family can be involved in the process?”
Chef Ainsley Castro
“That is correct. I want them to be involved, because I always educate them and tell them you got be an entrepreneur and you don’t have to work for anyone. You can create your own business. Because, this dah the time of the year where lot of people make money off cross bun. You get cross bun for three dollars. You get for two dollars, you get for one fifty, you get for dollar. It all depends on the level of cross bun you want to push.”
Denfield Christian, Belizean Chef
“You know we had to purchase our fish fresh, because that’s what we do on a daily basis. We get it cleaned, we get it seasoned. And, when we season, we have our hot oil. You fry your green banana or green plantain first. Then you go and you start the process of frying your fish, making sure that it is nice and golden brown. Then you put it aside to drain a little. After that, you get your vegetables, your zucchini, your onions, peppers and you sauté it in another pan. You put it to rest a little bit, while the bun is in the oven baking. Then when you finish, you assemble everything on your dish, with your spinach, your plantain, your fry fish and your sauté vegetables. Garnish it with your lime, your habanero pepper and that’s it.”
“Would you see your parents, grandparents making fry fish around this time of the year?”
“As a matter of fact, I was always around my mother’s crack tail. And so, yes that is why I am here today in the culinary world because of her. May she rest in Peace. I have seen that for years and I continue that, and even my children, they also.”
Hot Cross Bun and Fry Fish Tradition Lives On
The long Easter weekend is upon us. Across the country, Belizeans are prepping their tables and stomachs for the traditional hot cross bun and fry fish dishes. While the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a near fatal blow to the country’s economy, that impact did not prove lethal to this longstanding annual food tradition. This week, Belizeans lined the shores to purchase their favorite types of fish. The increase in economic activity was a welcomed sight for the fishermen who were not spared by the financial crunch. News Five’s newest reporter Paul Lopez visited the Conch Shell Bay market to find out just how alive this Easter tradition is in these austere times.
Paul Lopez, Reporting
Hot cross buns and fry fish are to Easter what ham and fruitcake are for Christmas. A quick trip to the Conch Shell Bay Market in downtown Belize City shows just how alive the tradition of fish is, particularly on Good Friday, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the harsh economic downturn.
Chef Ainsley, Naked Chicken
“Right now mih boat de come in. I have to big up Mr. Junior, then I have to big up mih bally Arnold cause, I move pan the two sides. I try get like a fifteen to twenty pound of fish literally every day.
Cause I pick mih fish deh fresh you know. I mek sure I nuh get no fish pan ice with the gills dead and thing. When the boat come in right now yo wah see, fresh catch.”
There is a rush at the Conch Shell Bay Market around this time of the year. Belizeans come from far and near looking to strike a bargain, in preparation for their Easter weekend fish meals. Martin Carbajal drove eighty miles from Benque Viejo Del Carmen in search of his deal.
“Sir where are you coming from?”
Martin Carbajal, Benque Viejo Resident
“From Benque Viejo Del Carmen.”
“Why are you coming so far to purchase fish?”
“Well I come right here before I believe here is cheaper. Maybe I can get it for eight, nine dollars a pound. In Benque Viejo right now it’s about twelve, thirteen, fourteen dollars a pound.”
“Do you sell fish?”
“No I don’t sell it. I just came to get some fish for the Easter time you know.”
While fish are certainly not scarce at the market, the majority of the fishermen’s catch are below average size. Fisherman Ernest Goff attributes the catch of small fish to rough sea conditions. Despite the less than thrilling catch, Goff is keeping his prices affordable, at least for today.
Ernest Goff, Fisherman
“This dah the catch right yah today. Whole week wih nuh gawn nowhere, haad breeze.”
“Tell me weh that mean, haad breeze.”
“Haad breeze you can’t guh work, everything the hide. Deh yah we the sell them deh yah for five a pound right yah mix up. Mackerel, the normal price dah five, we dih sell fuh seven. Two dollars more wih put on pan the mackerel.”
“Suh how the gas price affect your pricing?”
“Well the gas price the affect we fuh true, because every day we have to spend a hundred dollars. And some days when yo go out you nuh mek that. But, we nuh the look pan that. Have to look pan the lee bit we wih bring.”
…and while some fishermen are giving consideration to the financial crunch Belizeans are facing, what is not being considered by the consumers is the six feet social distancing regulations. As you can see, buyers lined the sea wall in droves hackling to get their pound of fish. In their midst of it all is a woman who would only give her name as Sandra. She is self employed, taking on a job most customers would rather not tackle.
“How you mek your money out yah?”
Sandra, Fish Cleaner
“Well I clean my lee fish deh out yah. Dah how I mek my lee ends. And, we charge dollar a pound.”
“Dollar a pound?”
“Suh if yo get five pounds ah fish dah five dollars.”
“How business usually look around these times?”
Sandra, Fish Cleaner
“Well right now business good right now, can’t complain.”
It is a well-balanced sales ecosystem that is most alive during the Easter season, even in 2021. The fishermen bring the fish to shore, customers line the shore to purchase their catch at a bargain, and the fish cleaners hustle to make a dollar on the side. Traditions die hard, even during the COVID-19 Pandemic economic crunch.
Chef Denfield Christian
“No matter what, nobody is going to change that. It’s a tradition that will never die, regardless of whatever pandemic we are facing, whatever situation, that cross bun and that fish wah deh pan dah table.”