Expat Insights Part IV: Food and drink, Mexico vs. Belize
Stewart Rogers is an American expatriate who lived in Belize for two years before relocating to Mahahual, Quintana Roo, where he has lived for the past four years. He is webmaster for the web blog, www.costamayalife.com. The blog is sponsored by a real estate company in Mahahual. He has written a series of four articles on his move to the Caribbean and on lifestyles in Belize and Mahahual. The articles are appearing in The Yucatan Times for four consecutive days. This is the last edition of Stewart Rogers’ story in his own words:
For the last article of these series comparing life in Belize to Mahahual, Quintana Roo Mexico. I will talk about how superior Mexico is to Belize in anything that has to do with food & drink.
As I said before, I lived in Belize for almost 2 years, and I have lived in Mahahual for the last 4 years. I lived in Corozal and Kich Pan Ha, Belize, and have traveled extensively through Belize.
I get asked all the time about life in Belize, and which do I prefer the most, living in Mahahual or Belize. At the cruise ship port I talk to a lot of people who get off the boat at Costa Maya Port after their ship was in Belize the day before or so. I also encounter some tourists on their way to Belize, and they always ask me about it and what to expect.
As I have written in earlier posts, people from USA and Canada are attracted to the fact that English is spoken in Belize and that makes a lot of them inquire about retiring there. But there are a lot of other factors in deciding where to retire on the Caribbean, and in this post I will address one of the main factors, Food & Drink.
Today I am going to compare food and drink in Belize with Mahahual and Costa Maya.
I want to state again that these are my personal opinions and observations accumulated over my 5 years in Mahahual and Belize.
These comparisons are for people looking to live or retire in Belize or the Mexican Caribbean. I am talking about everyday life and not tourist related comparisons for people looking to visit for a week.
FOOD AND DRINK
First of all this is going to be an easy post because there is really no comparison, but I will continue.
There is a joke in Belize that says, “You have 2 choices in Belize for things to eat, rice and beans, or beans and rice”. Trust me that is very true. Now if you are rich and can afford to live in San Pedro, or one of the Cayes, you can eat pretty good in Belize. Belize has some nice places to eat on the islands, but it is quite expensive.
Belize meals range with the cultures who make them. Barbecued chicken served with rice, beans and coleslaw is a standard Belize dish. Due to a influx of Chinese immigrants, Chinese food restaurants can be found in almost every Belize town. And obviously, due to its geographical situation, there is a strong Mexican / Yucatecan influence as well.
Other Belize meals
Stew chicken or fish: Chicken or fish rubbed in Red recado, or achiote paste, and slow-cooked in broth. Served over rice and beans.
Garnaches: Fried tortillas coated in refried beans, cheese, and cabbage and carrots doused in vinegar. (Comes from the Mexican word “garnachas“)
Boil ups (or “Bile ups”): A Creole dish containing boiled eggs, pig’s tail (yes, really), fish and ground plantains, sweet potatoes and/or cassava (yuca).
Tamales: Boiled pockets of corn dough, stuffed with meat or sweet corn and served in banana leaves.
Hudut or Hodut: A Garifuna dish made from fish cooked in coconut broth, served with mashed plantains.
Cows foot soup: (Pata de Vaca) A cow’s foot in broth. I have had this in Orange Walk, but slightly different.
Snacks & Sides in Belize:
Ceviche: Chopped raw fish, shrimp, or conch mixed with onions, tomatoes and cilantro, and marinated in lime juice. Served with fresh tortilla chips.
Cassava bread: There are two kinds of Garifuna cassava bread. Ereba uses cassava juice in a pancake-like bread. Bammy is a fried bread made with grated cassava root and coconut milk.
Belizean rice and beans: Red pinto beans mixed with white rice and flavored with coconut milk.
Where to Eat & What You’ll Pay:
Outside of pricey luxury resort restaurants, Belize food is cheaper than U.S. food, but still some of Central America’s most expensive. If you’re on a budget, you can frequent food stalls at public gathering placed like parks and bus stations, or dine at basic local eateries (most which only serve one or two menu items a day, like stew chicken and barbecued fish).
Expect to pay around $5 USD for a plate of chicken, rice and beans, and coleslaw from a roadside grill, on down to $1 USD for a single tamale.
As you can see for yourself there is not much of a wide range of choices for cuisine in Belize, and I will compare to Mahahual later.
The Chinese (Taiwanese), have basically bought out most of the eating places throughout Belize on the mainland, and everywhere you go you will see a Chinese restaurant. All these places sell fried chicken, chinese food, and hamburgers. And let me tell you from personal experience, the food does not taste that good. It is cheap and basically the only choice you have for cheap eating in Belize.
The local stores in Belize, mostly Chinese, also do not have a wide choice of selections. The first thing I did when I got to Mexico was to go to a store and buy some ham and cheese, and make me a sandwich. In fact a lot of women I knew in Corozal would cross over the border to Chetumal to do their shopping, and would smuggle meats and other things you can’t buy in Belize back over across the border.
There is a very poor selection of meats, cheeses, and vegetables in Belize. You can go to the fresh market and buy fruits and vegetables, and sometimes some good fish and meat, but to do so you have to get there early.
My diet in Belize consisted mainly of a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, rice and beans, Ramen noodles, and some fruits. A local woman next door to me in Corozal, Yada, cooked some meals for me from time to time and that made life bearable.
There was also a “Gringo” meeting once a month, and all the ExPats would bring a covered dish dinner, trust me I used to look forward to that.
When I finally left Corozal and went to Mexico, I weighed 175 pounds, which is thin for me. Also I must confess eating rice and beans all the time in Belize gives you a lot of gas, and I could not believe the difference once I reached Mexico.
Now comparing Mexican cuisine to Belizean cuisine, trust me people Mahahual and Mexico wins hands down. The food is Mexico is excellent and there is a wide range of choices. The food in Belize has practically no taste, unless some local cooks it for you, if you are that lucky.
There are numerous Mexican dishes I could list like I did with the Belizean dishes above, but most people reading this know about Mexican cuisine so I will not make a list.
Food in Mahahual
I eat very good in Mahahual, and my average meal here runs 50 pesos. I also have bunch of choices compared to Belize. In Belize if you want a good meal or for instance a pizza, it would run you $10 USD. Every meal in Mahahual is not served with rice and beans like Belize, and you can get a good hamburger and fries also in Mahahual for around 50 pesos (2.75 USD).
There’s a woman on the malecon, Rosa, who makes lunch everyday for me. Everyday she cooks something different , from fresh fish to chicken mole, and everything is fresh and healthy. A lot of the locals on the malecon eat her lunches, and everyday when I ride by on my bike to work she yells at me in Spanish what she is cooking that day.
In Mahahual there are a lot of different places to eat that are owned and operated by a lot of different people from different countries. From Italian, French, German, Canadian, and cuisine even from the USA ,you can make your choice in Mahahual.
The stores here in Mahahual and Mexico have a much superior selection to anything in Belize. I was shocked when I first got to Mexico, and I saw all the choices of food I could eat here compared to Belize. My first week in Mexico all I did was eat things I could not eat in Belize.
Also if you live in Mahahual and want a McDonalds or a Burger King hamburger, you can go into Chetumal, they even have an Applebees in there. Also there is a Sam’s Club and Walmart in Chetumal, which they don’t have in Belize at all.
So in summing up in my opinion the food in Mahahual and Mexico is vastly superior to any Belizean food on a day to day basis, and also is a lot cheaper and more healthy. Also your choices at the store are better and wider in Mahahual compared to Belize.
Beverages in Belize:
The main Belize beer brand is Belikin, which comes in Belikin Beer, Belikin Premium, Belikin Stout and Lighthouse Lager. Belize wines are fermented from creative ingredients like blackberry, cashew fruit, sorrel and ginger. Rum punch is the standard Belize cocktail: a mix of rum and whatever juices happen to be laying about.
Belizeans juice every fruit available, from standard fruits like orange and pineapple, to more exotic ones like soursop
For all of you that don’t know, Belize is a country run by monopolies. There is one brand and beer company Belikin, and it controls the whole country. Beers from the USA and Europe are smuggled in and are very expensive. The Bowen family in Belize owns the beer company and also the Coca-Cola rights. You cannot get Pepsi or any other brands of soft drinks in Belize, because of the monopoly that exists. In fact, I have seen people get Pepsi taken away from them at the Belizean border, for trying to smuggle it into Belize. I think you get more jail time in Belize for smuggling Pepsi into Belize than you do for smuggling drugs. Don’t get me wrong the Belikin beer is not bad, and I drank my share, but it is the only choice, and for me I like different choices. I also like Pepsi Light, and I can get that in Mahahual.
In Mahahual and Mexico there are a vast amount of different beers, wines, and liquors compared to Belize. You can even get beer from the USA in Mahahual and Costa Maya. Also the beer in Mexico is better than Belize and you have a much more wide range of choices. I like Montejo myself a local Mexican beer.
So in summing up, if you are considering retiring or living in Belize or the Mexican Caribbean, I hope this post comparing the food and drink between Belize and Mahahual, Mexico has given you some insight. Again I want to say this is my opinion and my observations and other people may feel differently. As for myself, I eat much better and healthier in Mahahual than I ever did in Belize, and the USA for that matter.
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Yucatan Times.
Thanks for reading this series, Stewart Rogers USA-South Carolina
Stewart E. Rogers Jr. originaly from Greenville South Carolina, grew up in Germany, Japan, and all over the USA. University of South Carolina 1980 BA in Journalism. Now a resident of Mahahual, after living in Belize for 2 years, he loves the Caribbean, eat, work, live with Mexicans and Mayas. Loves Mayan ruins and history. Expert on Belize and Quintana Roo. Not your typical expat. Webmaster at www.costamayalife.com.