Is there life beyond sugar, starch and fried?
08.02.2015 - 26.04.2015 89 °F
Liz's Fast Food is where the locals go.
Rice and Beans or Beans and Rice?
Belize has two national dishes: rice and beans and beans and rice. No,...really! The first one is rice and red beans cooked together with coconut milk and the second one is 'clean' rice served with a side of stewed brown beans. If you are a vegetarian, don't get excited and order the 'rice and beans' off a menu because it will be served with stewed meat and a side of potato salad or cabbage salad. Liz Fast Food serves it only on Wednesdays and Saturdays- come early or it's gone! Only the gringos buy it. Everyone else is eating it at home...everyday.
Liz Fast Food (the only consistent food source if you don't cook for yourself) specializes in little snacks like salbutes, garnachos, tostadas and empanadas- all some variation of ground corn with re-fried beans, chopped cabbage, maybe a few shreds of chicken and a smidgen of tomato. There are tacos, too, but here in Belize, a taco is just a small warm tortilla rolled up with the barest amount of shredded boiled chicken inside-- you have to request the hot sauce.
Salbutes- a double order (4) is $2BZ or $1US
Lunch with Marie
Speaking of hot sauce...In Belize, they say you never eat alone-- Marie Sharp is always at the table with you! Marie Sharp is the locally made Belizean hot sauce that started in a home kitchen with an overabundance of chiles and is now a factory employing many Belizeans. It is available in a full range of flavors and heat. Using mostly habenero chiles (on the upper end of the Scoville scale) it has become famous and is probably the most common Belizean souvenir. In much of Belize, you'll find it on almost every restaurant table, thus the saying that you will never eat alone.
Where Are the Vegies? (Said with a whine.)
My first two weeks here, all I could think of was food. I was consumed by the quest of it. There were really no restaurants and after my first two days, I knew I could not eat more than once or twice a week at Liz's Fast Food even though the salbutes and tostadas were good.
I love food. I like to eat well which means VEGETABLES. Even in the poverty of Tanzania, there was an abundance of food in their markets. The variety of vegetable and fruits in Arusha was a joy. Like here, there was little option of eating out and there wasn't much in the line of ready to eat food. Everything had to be prepared and cooked- no instant prepared foods, few frozen foods and very little in the refrigerated section. But I cooked up a feast from the vegetables in the market and ate very well everyday once I had my Garden Apartment kitchen. While living in Arusha, my three-month blood test was the lowest ever for cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugars, etc.
Here in my village, food is very basic. In fact, a little too basic. There is no market place here and barely a vegetable or fruit to be found. Even if I preferred meat, I'd be scrambling to find it here. Mostly it is an inferior low quality and frozen. I haven't even found a source for fish and I'm living in a fishing village! I need more than carbs and sugar in my diet. I don't drink sugar drinks and I can live without chocolate and most sweets. I'm perfectly happy to skip meat and have beans for my protein, however, I am not happy without vegetables (corn, peas and potatoes are NOT vegetables!). So, I while I am generally living like a native-- though obviously at a higher level than many since I have water, electricity, a refrigerator-- I am still adjusting to the food issue. The pursuit of it occupies a lot of my time- mentally and physically.
My booty from the Mennonite Truck!
I have been dying for vegetables and was the first in line at the Mennonite truck when it arrived the first Wednesday of my stay. It stops briefly at each store in town. Luckily, the first store can be seen from my front door. Unfortunately, the offerings were limited. I bought some of pretty much everything except the eggs and peanuts; I bought onions, potatoes, green peppers, cabbage, tomatoes and cilantro. Not having fruit for the last week, I bought the only offering-- a big watermelon that cost $6US--more than all my other groceries put together!
Broadening the Search
I was really hoping for some carrots, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, but that might be a challenge even in a larger town. I have seen plenty of sad old carrots around so may eventually find some fresh ones. I was just hoping for an alternative to the heavy-on-the-starch food that is available. Likewise, my drinks are pretty much limited to water and milk in a box; everything else, including juices, are so sugar-laden that a 6 oz. drink can be 49% of the recommended daily carbohydrates/sugars. This is not the place for gourmands or healthy eating enthusiasts.
Finding out about the Mennonite who sells vegetables out of a truck once a week was a relief (and a few locals sporadically cruise around with stuff to sell too), but potatoes are not vegetables. And a week of cabbage and tomatoes had me longing for more. Much more. Finally, I get up early and take the the last daily bus at 6 am to a town which is 40 miles away. After almost two hours in an old school bus on a bumpy road, I get dropped off a few blocks from the market. The market was tiny- one of the smallest I have seen- but after a few loops among the dozen small stalls supplemented by boxes and tables set up along the street nearby, I was rewarded for my efforts.
It was rare and in small quantities, but I had found broccoli and cauliflower. I also bought carrots that were orange and still fresh; the sad brown shriveled things in my village weren't even fit for making soup. I even bought garlic and a nice papaya- both locally grown. And when I thought I had seen and bought all that was possible and had walked a block away-- I found a woman with a box of zucchini. Hurrah!
The People's Store!
My cloth bag bulging from my purchases, I went to two big grocery stores next. While they had better prices, they didn't have much more than my village offered (which is severely limited). Then, I found The People's Store! Unlike other stores, it was clean and well-lit. Most store keep the lights dim and have a layer of dust on everything; the few canned goods often have rusty rims. I felt happy just entering this store and seeing gleaming products on the shelf arranged with a sense of organization unlike the confusing jumbles to which I had become accustomed to finding.
The People's Store was a treat. I was already loaded down with vegies, but I was able to buy some celery without buying the whole stalk. I bought some canned tuna and a frozen fish fillet (hoping it would keep on the hot two hour ride back to the village). I don't usually eat much meat, but the sliced ham with some cheese would make good, quick and easy quesadillas. Oh yeah, I bought four different cheeses. And there was a fully cooked turkey kielbasa sausage-- that would be good cooked with onions, green peppers and potatoes. Best of all, they were all Belizean products except for the kielbasa which was on sale.
Easter Candies! Big hollow chocolate bunnies, malted candy eggs, jelly beans and even marshmallow peeps! Well, I didn't buy any of those, but I did treat myself to some green olives from Spain (the only kind available) and a packet of Planter's Trail Mix (peanuts, corn nuts and sesame sticks)
This was a yuppie paradise in Belize and it's not even a tourist town. Did an ex-pat own it? There were (for a price!) all those imported Easter treats and a lot of other American chocolate bars, apples, pasta sauces in jars, and other surprises. However, I try to eat local and within a reasonable range of a local budget. I was happy with my two treats and the meats and cheeses; all things not available in the village. Most everything else I could buy in the village and support the local businesses.
The one thing I couldn't find at The People's Store was natural yogurt without sugar. I had found a large container when I went to the 'city' to buy my kitchen stuff. It was probably available only because it was an Indian-owned store and yogurt is an important accompaniment for Indian meals. Most countries like it with sugar so a natural yogurt is a real find. The one I bought was a Mexican import.
So after two weeks of obsessing about food which had prompted me to overeat even though I didn't even like what I had-- a result of psychologically feeling deprived and thinking I might not have enough food to eat later-- I was blissfully happy to have a big bowl of broccoli and cauliflower with a piece of cheese for dinner. Though I admit, I started thinking about breaking down and buying a tin of that butter from Denmark that cost a small fortune. Butter would have been so good on those hot, steamed vegies!
The Challenge Continues
So one month later...I'm still struggling with food. On my RTW, I have had a series of quotes or mantras that I use for situations on the road. One is "Food as Fuel". In other words, don't expect the treats and gourmet luxuries. Respect food for what it is-- fuel for your body. This was especially helpful in Africa. Besides, unlike a short vacation, you can't eat 'special' everyday on long term travel.
Another one I recite to myself is "Believe in Abundance". While I always made sure I had some kind of food for an emergency snack (in some cases, the snack would serve as my dinner or breakfast), but I tried not to get so worried that I would overdo it. My bag was heavy enough and while the stores and restaurants might be closed when I arrived late at night-- they would be open in the morning so a simple snack would suffice. And just because I found tiny boxes of juice without sugar that were perfect didn't mean I needed to stock up...each location or country would have something simple and portable that was appropriate or 'would do' as an emergency food.
Yet here I was in a village, constantly overstocking and looking for something more than what was on the store shelves. No wonder low income people are often fat-- few food choices (too much starch, oil and sugar) and never knowing where/when the next food might be available. It certainly still has me off balance...
While I have more muscle from swimming an hour everyday (and my broken arm is fast becoming a memory!), I'm not so confident about the ten pounds I had hoped to lose while here. Disappointing when you think that on my return to the US in time for the holidays, I didn't gain a single pound over the few months that I was surrounded by treats, luxury foods, and things that hadn't been available during my travels. I didn't realize how crazy the abundance of food was in the US until I'd been gone for so long and been in such poor countries. A walk into Trader Joe's was overwhelming (but fun) and Whole Foods literally made me feel sick. I wondered what my friends in Tanzania would think-- could they even imagine such a store?
I'm leaving my village in a few days, and there will be more options in the tourist-ed areas over the next week. I'll be staying on Caye Caulker and Belize City. I look forward to some fish and seafood, more Creole style cooking and in general a little more variety. I bet there still won't be many vegetables on the menus, but in one more week, I'll be back in the US and once again the lap of luxury.
So, does that mean I have finally had my epiphany, you ask?
Alas, the answer is....for another time!
No Wimps Allowed Hot Sauce