Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Belize Chocolate Company - San Pedro, Belize

"All good things must come to an end" is a pretty depressing thought. Some things we never want to end. Bands play endless encores, meals can linger as long as eleven courses, and dermatologists dole out the botox in the quest for eternal youth.

I wanted to be finished with Belize even less than I wanted to finish Island Crunch. The sponge toffee is as porous as a coral reef with sweet dark chocolate coating its nooks and crannies. The toffee skims the surface while the milk chocolate House Truffle sinks deep into the stomach with its rich cream ganache.

People say you need the bad to appreciate the good, some bitter to appreciate the sweet. But my whole trip to Belize was all 
Chocochino sweetness, with all trace of bitter coffee are curtailed by chocolate milk.

Even the simple things stood out. The Chocolate Chip Cookies were a sweet shop staple, but it's all in the details, and the soft and chewy center with concentrated Kakaw chips made the trip to Belize Chocolate Company unforgettable.

Belize was as intoxicating as the guttural-yet-refined Green Fairy's alcoholic absinthe. But as much as I didn't want the trip or the chocolate to end, from every end comes a new beginning. This boozy little box finishes bittersweet as I leave one adventure behind and avidly await the next.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Elvi's Kitchen - San Pedro, Belize

San Ignacio was an incredible culinary immersion, but I was getting pretty bored of San Pedro's tourist-traps. Lonely Planet has always been my gustatory guru for going off the beaten path, but the last few recommended restaurants were more beaten than a dead horse. 

Apparently, opposite day is the only way with Lonely Planet Belize. Elvi's Kitchen was criticized for tourist-trap prices despite being a good place to try local favorites, but the menu would suggest otherwise.

What's up with Elvi's? The Wasaceviche is what's up. Fresh-off-the-boat ceviche for fresh-off-the-water-taxi Asians. The sweet soy marinade brings out the flavor of the shrimp, squid, and conch with wasabi on the side to give those sinuses a memorable kick in the nose.

I don't know what herbal remedy Lonely Planet was using, but there's no tourist-tampering in Elvi's Basil Pasta. The pasta itself is made of basil, angel hair lightly tossed in slightly sharp tomato. Tossed with a tender, full-flavored garlic chicken, this confident combination is a stroke of pure genius.

It has been said that in order to win, one must go back to basics. Coconut rice and beans is as basic as it gets, but this one had just the right amount of sweet coconut to mix with a slightly-bitter Garlic Butter Conch. Conch is yet another San Pedro staple, but this thick, pungent, unforgettable garlic butter literally stayed on my breath for days...This was also the first time I wanted to eat my own breath. 

It seems San Pedro's seafood gets better as you inch your way inland, and you'll eat just fine if you completely ignore your guidebook. In Elvi's Kitchen, the price stays fair, the quality doesn't suffer, and Lonely Planet stands corrected.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Caramba - San Pedro, Belize

"To go north, you must go south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back"...if you're Daenerys Targaryen. If you're Kel-nerys Chen-garyen, to go to the sea you must go inland because ironically, they serve much better seafood.

I don't know what was in that sweet Sangria or just how much rum they mixed in the Mint-Chocolate Mojito, but clearly the Chen-garyen party was destined to cavort at Caramba.

The cocktails were wet n' wild, but the Broiled Lobster was undoubtedly dry. Fortunately, all crustaceans come with garlic butter for dunking, and the mere excitement of getting two tails for the price of one (compared to Blue Water Grill) was more than enough to juice it up.

Did I dig into the Stone Crab Claws or did the stone crab dig its claws into me first? Those prominent pinchers are a hybrid of flaky snow crab texture infused with blue crab juice. You never forget your first time, and my first time with stone crab certainly won't be my last.

The problem with prophecies is that they are often counterintuitive, and sometimes they don't make sense. Technically Neville Longbottom killed Lord Voldemorte, and who knows what will happen to Daenerys Targaryen, no thanks to the citadel. And while I haven't the slightest idea what path my Lonely Planet prophet has planned for me, those claws at Caramba were clearly the key to restoring my faltering faith.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wild Mango's - San Pedro, Belize

Everyone has their bible. For everyone there is a most sacred source of all their wisdom, a good book that cannot fail. Vogue is the foundation of fashionistas, rockers stand on a Stairway to Heaven, and every chef pays homage to Pepin. I haven't figured out my foodie bible yet, but Lonely Planet is the only travel companion I'll ever need. Wildly wise and always authentic, this has been the text of travel junkies and adventure addicts far and wide.

After I discovered Lonely Planet, I needed no other source. San Pedro was no exception. I knew I could count on Lonely Planet to deliver me to the freshest seafood in town.

Lonely Planet described Wild Mango's as "sev[ing] up some of the island's most consistent and creative cuisine." The pan-seared Wahoo with lime sauce was exactly that as I can definitively say I've never had anything like it. The wahoo was so over-seared it had the texture of undercooked pasta, el dente with a side of FAIL. I somewhat appreciated the wasabi mashed potatoes but only after I spat out a chunk of scales and dislodged a gigantic bone from the roof of my mouth. The so-called lime sauce was sticky and slightly sour, mostly sticky. After digging into this disaster, all I could think was, Wahoo-the-hell-made-this-godawful-dish?

I guess the Coconut Basil Grouper can be considered consistent. The fish was tender and flaky from a nicely-flavored coconut broth, but it was any dish from any beach. I didn't dislike the dish, but I wasn't a groupie for the grouper.

I figured I couldn't sit down at a place called Wild Mango's without trying the Tropical Mango Smoothie. Turns out, I've already had Jamba Juice.

You lied to me, Lonely Planet. I believed in you like I believed in Santa Clause all those years and then you took him away. I followed in your footsteps and listened to you without the faintest shadow of a doubt. You will remain my valued travel companion as my loyalty is not so easily forsaken. You have so seldom steered me astray, but I can't help but wonder...What the heck were you smoking when you wrote so highly about the munchies at Wild Mango's?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blue Water Grill - San Pedro, Belize

The citizens of Belize are truly bilingual. The schools are taught in English, but everyone grows up speaking Spanish at home. The great naval powers of colonial Europe played tug-of-war with this country, and the result was a conglomeration of all that is right in the world. Belizean culture is a fusion of the Caribbean candor and Spanish seduction, an English-speaking Mixteco masterpiece where any culture can feel at home.

Nothing shows off the cultural combination better than Belizean cuisine. While local favorites like salbutes and escabeche do exist, Belize kind of borrowed a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and in a way, its fused identity often feels like a lack thereof. 

No restaurant exemplifies a lack of identity better than Blue Water Grill. Literally a beachfront grill and bar, the patio is privy to quite the view. The clear blue sea stretches as far as the eye can see, and the menu is full of seafood staples, straight-up steamed or generically grilled.

Judging by the price of the Grilled Lobster, there must have been a seaside surcharge. Lobster isn't cheap, but $24 US is a bit much for a single lobster tail with a so-called "passion fruit soy and pineapple sauce" that tastes suspiciously like butter with a ton of garlic. It hit the spot hard enough, but it hit the wallet harder.

The Island Style Ceviche doesn't really have a style. The marvelous mixture of shrimp, lobster, and conch had a tomato and cucumber crunch, but I'm not sure what part of it was island except that it was prepared on one. But few things are more refreshing than eating ceviche by the beach while watching pre-ceviche swim before your eyes.

Belize may be a blend of every culture, but Blue Water Grill is as generic as it gets. The menu can be found in any seafood restaurant on any street, anywhere in the world. There's no denying it's delicious, but it does a huge disservice to a place as special as San Pedro.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

DandE's Frozen Custard & Sorbet - San Pedro, Belize

I started missing small-town San Ignacio the minute after I stepped off the water taxi into tourist-town San Pedro. Not a cloud in the sky with a beautiful beachfront for miles, but San Ignacio's personal touch and fresh-squeezed fruit juice had clearly drowned along the way.

I had sat below deck on the water taxi, shielded from the wind and sweltering sun, and so I didn't think I had lost anything on the way. What I didn't realize was that going to San Pedro was the equivalent of throwing half my money into the deep blue sea. Everything had doubled or tripled in price somewhere along the way, and I was missing those dollar-dollops from the San Ignacio ice cream stall. 

When I need a fix, I need a fix so I went to DandE's where the custard isn't custard, and the ice cream is thrice the price. Unlike the half-sweetened, half-ice concoction from the streets of San Ignacio, DandE's dense, triple-cream is ice cream without the ice, pure cream and sugar, for here or to go. The Soursop is sugar with a hint of tropical, flavored fruit with not much fruit, soursop without the sour. I like my sugar with Cookies and Cream, and a crunchy sugar cone sure hit the spot. 

DandE's ice cream may be better, but this quality will cost you. But there is a difference between value and price, and that day, I valued my cravings way more than I valued the price.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Street Food - San Ignacio, Belize

Don't let fine dining fool you, the best food comes from the streets. In San Ignacio, some of the best food comes from an avenue; Burns Avenue, to be exact. Here on Burns, carts and tables and stalls burn throughout the day and into the night, furnishing affordable food for the frugal and enough grease to feed every guilty pleasure.

I've spent a lot of time wondering what makes street food superior to half the things legitimate establishments sell, and after trying almost everything Burns Avenue has to offer, I think I'm onto something. 

For starters, street food is usually fresh. Most things are made to order, and they haven't spent their day under a heat lamp. Few things are fresher than unrefrigerated, naturally-ripened fruit. On a converging corner of Burns, you'll find all sorts of dealers with dime-bags of sliced Papaya, Pineapple, and Plums. The papaya and pineapple are just dripping with sweet, juicy nectar, and the regular plums are sour, sinewy spears. Just steer clear of the sliced plums with salt unless you have shot of tequila waiting. They're laced with an entire shaker of the powdery white stuff.

Another great thing about street food is that it's always cheap. In case you accidentally ate the plums, a 50-cent cup of Horchata, a sweet, rice-based beverage, will wash the salt away.

Street food is always the quickest meal you can get. I love me some dime-bag fruit, but I need the hard stuff when it's time to eat a real meal. I can always hit up my man Nelson's cart for a quick fix after 6.

After downing consecutive Panty Rippers until the sun goes down, you can't help but relish an instant Hot Dog with the works. Frankly, it's just a frank from a bag, but the sauteed peppers and onion with an Austrian flag of condiments are a game-changer.

The best thing about street food is the grease. And what's better than grease? More grease! The Beef Tacos taste just like the Pork Tacos, because they're all cooked in the same fatty pan. The corn tortillas are heated and fried right in the meat grease too. All that flavor will stop your heart...and all that grease will stop your arteries.

No local grease is complete without a few drops of Marie Sharp's Habanero Hot Sauce. Bottled as one of few national products of Belize, the habanero is a sharp burn and a slow death, but probably one of the better ways to go.

Marie Sharp's isn't the only happiness in a bottle. Belikin is the local beer here, Central America's Bud Light, borrowed from the nice neighbors in Guatemala. This beer-for-a-couple-bucks is sold in every corner store and pairs perfectly with tacos.

There you have it, all the reasons to go to town on all the tidbits they sell on the streets. Your food is swiftly made-to-order, with enough grease to keep you full for days. It goes well before, after, or with any beer, and it's a sweet way to start, middle, or end your day.

Speaking of sweet, a single US dollar will buy you a small scoop of a sweet ending if you're willing to pay. And there is no ending sweeter than Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream... Except the Sweet Corn.