Fry Jacks, Panades, Escabeche, and Soursop Wine, The Cuisine of Belize

Hidden Valley Inn

Since it's unlikely that you have a Belizean restaurant in your neighborhood, here are four things you might look for on the menu while dinning in the Maya Valley. For breakfast, look for fry jacks. Fry jacks are part of a traditional Belizean breakfast. Usually shaped into triangles or squares, fry jacks are fried dough, akin to New Orleans's beignets or Mexico's sopapillas. They are pan-cooked rather than deep fried and are topped with beans, jam, or cheese.

At lunch, you'll want to try panades, which are Belize's version of empandas. Made with masa (corn dough), they are deep fried and most commonly stuffed with fish, chicken, or beans. Toppings are often cabbage or salsa. If you're into street food, this is for you.

Another traditional dish served at lunch is escabeche, which is a soup made from chicken and onions. Belizean escabeche is not to be confused with the European variety. For one thing, it has heat from serrano and jalapeño peppers. The chicken is blackened in Worcester sauce. And for a distinct tartness, Belizeans add distilled white vinegar.

At dinner, don't pass on the bile up, also known as "Boil Up." This dish is a favorite of Kriols, a cultural group distinct from the Maya. The main ingredients are boiled eggs, fish, and/or pig tail, cassava, yams, plantains, tomato sauce.

For libations, if you want to try something truly different, go for soursop wine. Soursop is common fruit in the Caribbean, where, as you can imagine, grapes are hard to grow. Soursop is a green, prickly fruit -- its flavor has been compared to a combination of strawberry and pineapple. Drink as an apertif or digestif. Or both! And if you drink too much, have more escabeche, which according to locals is the perfect remedy for hangovers. Cheers!

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