Home-style Belizean cooking at El Fogon

One of the things I’m always searching for on my travels is a restaurant that makes the region’s traditional food so well that it’s a daily stop for locals. There are always plenty of eateries that cater to tourists, so it seems like a special discovery when I run across a place that both tourist and local rave about.

On my recent trip to the Belize cayes, I found a few such restaurants. One of them, El Fogon on Ambergris Caye, is named after the traditional outdoor kitchen that was once part of every home. The dining room consists of picnic tables set on the sand under an open-air palapa right next to the grill where lunch is prepared.

For owners Susana and Norman Eiley, the day starts early. The grill is loaded with bottlewood kindling (gray mangrove) that’s obtained from land clearing activities. Norman grates coconut meat with a hand-turned grater mounted to a table. An older grater, one that looks almost like my flat cheese grater at home (which has taken many slices of skin off my knuckles), hangs above the current grater as a reminder of the advance of technology.

Pots of beans, set on the grill earlier in the morning, are nearly finished around 10 a.m. Then, the remainder of the lunch menu is added. The menu changes daily, but when I was there, the grill was loaded with stewed chicken, pig-tail soup, red snapper and coconut rice. On Wednesday, “Smoke Day,” coconut husks are added to the fire to smoke the meal.

It was hard to pick a favorite dish among the lunch offerings, but I was a huge fan of the salbutes (crispy little tortillas topped with shredded meat, cabbage or lettuce, tomatoes and peppers) and the tamalitos de chaya (thin tamales made with chaya, a popular plant to Mexican and Central American cuisine that’s much like spinach).

I suppose that I should have known this before, having spent a lot of island time in the Caribbean, but another one of my favorite things at El Fogon was the roasted coconut meat that came from just tossing split coconuts onto the grill. I’ll definitely be recreating that dessert at my home in Honduras.

If you’re like me and search for authentic local cuisine on your travels, stop by El Fogon when you visit Ambergis Caye. The only meal, lunch, is served Monday through Saturday. Share your table with someone who grew up on the island, and you’ll gen an even richer experience—with tales about their own family fogon and what their mothers and grandmothers cooked.

Posted by | Comments Off on Home-style Belizean cooking at El Fogon  | December 31, 2010
Category: Central America, Food and Drink

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