Caye Caulker has felt more like a home than any other place on my journey yet. Something that surprised me: a thriving cheap food scene. And, as I would with any home town, I have the food beat down. It is of course small, but just big enough to give a medium-term traveler the perfect amount to wrap her head/mouth around. I was there for two weeks–that’s over 50 meals and snacks. And I have opinions. Take a deep breath; I hope you’re hungry. Here we go.
There are many excellent options for the budget traveler to start the day with. I’ll start with the classic and cliche Belizian delicacy, the fry jack. A savory fried dough stuffed with eggs, beans, cheese, ham, chicken, and any combination thereof, it is a filling and cheap ($2-4Bz; the exchange rate is $2Bz::$1USD) way to start the day. Many restaurants serve fry jack as a side like toast, but if you’re serious you need to head to Get Hooked Up, a bait and tackle stand that serves fry jack out of their back window in the morning. Join the cult. It’s on Middle Street across from the bank.
|Get hooked up with fry jack!|
But say you get sick of fried dough. I did. My fave pre-dive breakfast: Glenda’s cinnamon rolls. Perfect for take away and just $1Bz each, so what if they are kind of wimpy? Two do the trick and keep you fueled through a morning of diving. If you want to kick it up many notches in deliciousness, get their breakfast sandwich ($7Bz), so worth it! Seriously. On the love child of a bun and a biscuit, it’s a tasty morsel with egg, fresh tomato, fried cured meat, melty processed cheese, and hot sauce. DELISH. Find Glenda’s on Back Street, one block past Sid’s. (Caye Caulker Bakery is another possibility for breads and pastries, but IMHO they are not as good.)
|Glenda’s breakfast sandwich, a mouthful of yum.|
Another option, for a moderate step up in price, is Amor y Cafe. With a chill open-air coffee house feel, they serve up a tasty tomato and cream cheese on toasted multigrain toast-biscuit-bagel ($8Bz) and a good unsweetened ice tea ($3Bz). Yeah, I said it, MULTIGRAIN. Whoa…
An odd breakfast phenomena are the taco trucks ($1Bz corn, $1.50Bz flour) that come out early in the morning on the south part of Front Street. I’ve looked for them later in the day but they disappear. Haven’t tried too hard to track them down though, as I have heard rumors of food poisoning.
For all you health nuts, there are plentiful fruit and vegetable stands around the island. Fresh juice is the way to go (1L for $5Bz). I recommend pineapple, lime, or grapefruit. Stay away from the watermelon juice–it all tastes funny. Quality of produce does differ from stand to stand however. I found the stand next to Get Hooked Up to be consistently overripe on the border of going bad. My favorite was the stand just across from the basketball court.
|Pick the pineapple juice!|
Lunch tends to be significantly cheaper than dinner, so if you are on a budget I recommend eating out during the day and cooking at night. I preferred Belizian stewed chicken dishes because they were tasty and usually the cheapest plate meal. I always strayed from Front Street, which can be more than double the price than a comparable dish just a few blocks down on Middle.
|Hot sauce galore.|
Meldy’s on Middle Street serves a solid plate of stewed chicken with rice & beans and coleslaw ($7Bz). Watch out for the habanero pickled onion condiment on the table; not only is it way spicy but also inedibly overly salted. Use the ubiquitous Marie Sharp hot sauce instead.
Kitty-corner from Meldy’s, Sid’s is famous for their plate-o-fried chicken ($9Bz). A massive crispy half chicken with two sides, it is a huge and cheap meal good for lunch or dinner. I also had some pretty good conch fingers ($12Bz), but goodness-to-price wasn’t close to the fried chicken. Follow the signs to find them on Middle Street, mid-town.
On my first day in Caye Caulker, my friend Gina and I were walking town hunting for an early dinner. Everywhere seemed closed or way too expensive. Until we found a shabby looking house with a handwritten menu on a piece of cardboard posted outside. We wandered through the open front door into the living room and begged to be fed. Our hostess/cook looked at the pots on her stove and told us she had one dish ready. We enthusiastically agreed to whatever she was serving. I received a ginormous plate of hearty stewed chicken and meatballs ($8Bz). Gina got heart, liver, and a foot. We couldn’t decide which of us she liked more. On the way out, I asked what johnny cakes were (listed on her breakfast menu). She proceeded to give me a demonstration, make us a pack for take away, and would not accept any money. They are essentially breakfast sandwiches on a dense, dry biscuit. I was initially intrigued but later found they fell flat. (Could be excellent drenched in honey and butter though…) Still, I greatly appreciate her generosity and the gesture.
|Knock knock? Feed us please!|
|Hungry Gina happily digging in.|
Fast food Chinese restaurants litter downtown Caye Caulker. The one favored by my hostel mates was Pirates, across from Chang’s grocery on Middle. But I have to say, Chinese restaurants are not my pick in general. (Tyler, I hope we can still be friends!) Plus, no coleslaw!? In my book, coleslaw is a key component in a Belizian meal, lack of which is instant grounds for restaurant rejection. I do however respect their legit panko-breaded chicken fingers ($13Bz).
Going diving to Turneffe Atoll or Lighthouse Reef? You’re going to be gone all day and get lunch on the boat. Belize Dive Services provides a delicious sweet and spicy stewed chicken lunch. I asked if we could have second lunch on the ride back from Turneffe and kicked myself later when I realized I forgot to take home the leftovers.
What about happy hour snacks? Very important when day drinking at the Split. If you see a dude wheeling a cart down the street with industrial looking containers, 50% it’s construction supplies and 50% it’s tamales. Ask. On the street and at the Split you’ll find dudes with carts or coolers filled with tamales ($5Bz), beef patties (2 for $6Bz), curry chicken pies ($4Bz), cashews ($10Bz), or coconut tarts ($4Bz). Most of these I think are a rip-off. In Belmopan the same coconut tarts are sold at the bus station for $1Bz. $4-6Bz for a few bites? Come on! I can practically get a full plate of stew chicken for that. Unless you smile real pretty and bargain down to half price for the broken ones! 😉 (Pro tip: smiling real pretty AWAYS helps! As does saying please and thank you. Take it from a development professional.)
Another good spot: 88 Degrees West, the restaurant at the Belize Diving Services dive shop. Their food is high quality and, if you catch the right time, not too expensive. I recommend their Taco Tuesdays ($2Bz). I also had celebratory conch curry ($18Bz) there on my first day of dive class that was the best conch I had on the island. They also have a great blackened chicken sandwich ($20Bz). Wing Thursday is okay but the meat wasn’t as tender as it should be; after all this stewed chicken, I like my poultry falling off the bone please. Dry just doesn’t cut it.
For dinner, even though it is killer touristy, it is super way fun to do a barbeque crawl down Front Street. Saturday night is the night to do it; that’s when the most bbq outfits are set up and grilling for anyone who wants to come by for a bite. My friend Ryan was game enough to go halfsies with me and we did very well if I do say so myself. Our crawl began with a bbq chicken plate ($10Bz) from Otis and Paula’s bbq stand (only there on Saturday); I thought this was the tastiest bit of the lot.
|Super delicious, plus a little toe action.|
We moved on to bbq and spicy garlic shrimp skewers ($5Bz each) from a man up on Front Street near the Split whose sign says he is there “most days from lunch til dusk”. I saw him this one time in all of two weeks and I walked that drag constantly. But he serves up a tasty little morsel when you can find him.
Our third plate was the most disappointing: King Kabob. Don’t be fooled. He overmarkets himself and has a skimpy overcooked product. He charges an outrageous $10-15Bz for one skewer he has cooked the shit out of and pithy sides. His sign says “with vegetables!”. Yeah, that means the two pieces of bell pepper on your lonely miserable single skewer. We had one lousy conch kabob. Apparently the key to conch is tenderizing it before cooking; I think he neglects this step because it was like eating an old tire. In the end, we had one last piece and no one wanted it. Sad face. Really his claim to fame is that he is devoted to being open for business always so gets customers who want bbq but have no other option; I give him props for this. Just don’t you be the one to take the bait and eat his overpriced unsatisfying food.
|Rawr, conch!! Chewy to the max.|
|Watch out for this dude…|
|Even eating mediocre food is damn fun if you’re doing it on the end of a dock.|
After sunsetting at the Split (of course), we finished the night off with the rest of our group at Fran’s “we do it with love” bbq stand. The grilled snapper ($20Bz) was the most challenging fish I have ever eaten in my life! Eating such a bony fish in the dark while drunk (complimentary rum punch = dangerous) took all of my concentration not to choke. The meat was good, but I had a severe lack of brain power to savor it. Whatever way you want to slice it though, I considered our crawl a fabulous success.
|Grilled snapper and free-flowing rum punch.|
Don’t want to walk and eat? Here’s a meal that is practically a bbq crawl in itself that comes to you. When my adopted tour group from the Split invited me to join them for dinner, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. We gluttonously feasted on a smorgasbord of grilled meat at Wish Willy ($30Bz) of shrimp, conch, snapper, pork, steak, chicken, and all the sides you could want. Also served with free-flowing rum punch, I must have eaten parts of a dozen different animals and they were all delicious.
Looking for someplace to impress a date? A charming spot a little different from the typical fare: Sandro’s Piccola Cucina. I split lamb shanks (decadent!), risotto, and penne amatriciana with a cute Scottish man from Aberdeen. Really a lovely place for a meal, especially with the right company.
Another unusual restaurant I would like to recommend is Freinds, serving Lebanese food. They are conveniently located mid Front Street, have good food at reasonable prices, yet their dining room always seem to be empty. We must change that, people! I had some killer babaghanoush ($7Bz) and a tasty falafel plate with hummus and tabbouleh ($10Bz). Nice to eat some fresh vegetables for a change.
Sports Bar is a fun option for trivia three nights a week. I had the cheapest thing on their menu: the hot dog with relish ($4Bz). My kick-ass team “I Can’t Belize it’s Not Butter” won first prize that night and knocked $30Bz from our bill, so I was pretty thrilled with my free hot dog and two beers. Now, how to make this into a real money-making venture…
Oh, and every single place that says it sells pizza by the slice doesn’t actually btw.
Cooking for yourself is also an option, one that I favored to off-set the pricier dinner costs. Yuma’s has truly great kitchens and it was such a boon to be cooking for myself again. As I have mentioned, there are a handful of produce stands in downtown Caye Caulker, but you’ll find most of your pantry staples in the many Chinese groceries. They may all look similar, but in actuality have shockingly different inventories. Some specialize in cooking staples or spices, some have Latino or Asian flavors, beauty supplies, arts and crafts, gardening tools, computer accessories, etc. You can probably find whatever item you are looking for in one of the groceries if you look hard enough, but more often than not your request for a specialty item will be met with “try next shop!”.
Fresh fish is best either caught yourself (fishing poles are for rent and fishing tours happen daily) or purchased directly from a fisherman. Head to the docks in the afternoon and try to make friends; you should get a deal easy enough. In the off chance you’re unlucky there, head to the fish co-op near the power plant on Back Street.
|Cake Lady doing her thang.|
Have a sweet tooth? You’re in luck. The Cake Lady is roaming the streets from 3-9pm every day with a flat truck of, you guessed it, cakes. The first one I tried from her is by far my favorite: rum cake with a super sugary glaze ($4Bz). The coconut, chocolate coconut, and key lime pies are mediocre, as I think her other cakes might be too. She does have competition: a Cake Man who comes by earlier in the day selling pineapple cake, banana bread, and meat pies. I think his banana bread beats hers; it’s fluffier and more flavorful. He came by my hostel daily in the morning when it’s fresh and extra tempting. So I guess he counts as a possible breakfast option too! 😛
|Coconut pie and PADI homework, not a bad combo.|
|Cake Man on his daily morning rounds past Yuma’s.|
A somewhat socially sketch option that I did indulge in occasionally are bags of crazy sweet coconut fudge (more like a soft caramel sugar brittle) sold by young kids supposedly as a fundraiser for a school trip–leaving tomorrow!–that they never seem to go on…
|Silly faces for ice cream!|
But perhaps you need to cool off with your dessert. There are a number of ice cream stands in town. They all serve virtually the same menu, from the same ice cream maker, at the same price. I have yet to find one that is special. I mean, it’s ice cream, and it’s hot out so it is good, but not nearly as good as ice cream should be. Funny though that they are *always* out of flavors, even if you know they opened up a new tub of pistachio yesterday. Suspicious… And P.S. watch out for the rum cake at Lighthouse Ice cream. It may look moist, but there is actually shockingly little rum in it.
|A menu with tons of flavors they never have in stock. I am in love with the poorly Photoshopped pic in the bottom right. Totally necessary because there aren’t *any* other pictures of kids eating ice cream ever.|
After dinner, you may take in a movie at the town’s Outdoor Cinema. If you do, I recommend bringing your own snacks as they do let in outside food (not drinks) and the popcorn they sell is crazy expensive ($6Bz).
For hanging back at the hostel, the nearby convinience store is open very late and has a good supply of frozen candy bars. In the tropics, as a chaser to my pineapple and rum juice dark chocolate Mounds bars ($2Bz) are my favorite! Cadbury dairy milk and Dove dark are close behind though.
Need a second-dinner bite while out dancing your butt off at Oceanside? There’s a solution right next door: hamburgers ($6-10Bz). Decent fast-food style, they’ve got all the hamburger bases covered and hit the spot late at night.
Whew, you made it through! There are of course a number of higher priced places targeted at tourists and other budget spots that I did not go to. Good luck, and enjoy getting to know the food of Caye Caulker for yourself!
|A whole row of restaurants I never visited.|