When The Monster samples a new cuisine he likes to test himself about what he may know of the place, the people, the culture. So it happens last night there was finally an opportunity to try out Flavors of Belize, a colorful restaurant attached to the also colorful (but for entirely different reasons) Relax Inn. That the name Relax Inn is the utmost in irony will have to be saved for another day.
So Belize. What does The Monster know about it? It’s south of Mexico. Also bordered by Guatemala. They speak English in Belize. And…that about covers it. What did The Monster learn last night…?
Belize is home to wonderfully friendly people and some seriously scrumptious food!
The restaurant is done up in oranges and yellows, a festive respite from the dodginess of the surrounding neighborhood that is home to fast food restaurants and a cross-dresser who passes by the large front windows multiple times.
From the moment you walk in a sense of happiness and warmth pervades the space that is far too often missing in Los Angeles. Be it the giddily laughing customers or the smiling hostess ready to greet you, Flavors of Belize provides a recipe for getting to know the table next to you, swapping stories with Diamine who runs the front of the restaurant and is the chef’s daughter and generally having a raucous good time.
A plate of thick chips and warm bean spread is brought the table while we peruse the menu. There is a selection of fresh juices so why not give craboo juice a try? We’re told it’s made from yellow cherry though the “cherry” is not the same as Americans imagine. It’s refreshing, a bit thick and pulpy. The beans have a bit of heat from the chilies that we’re told are staple of the food. A jar of neon orange hot sauce is also brought over which is made from the same habaneros. This becomes the de facto sauce for everything The Monster eats. Addictive? Yes. Good for heartburn? Not as much.
So, with no barometer on Belizean food The Monster decides to start off with a sample plate of appetizers. Garnaches, Panades and Salbutes. What are these wonderfully exotic sounding dishes?
Garnaches are homemade fried tortillas topped with refried beans, special Belizean tomato and onion sauce topped with cheese. Along with it comes pickled onions which Diamine tells us is also generously heaped on Belizean food. This meal is getting better by the minute. As for Panades, they are masa (ground corn) tortillas stuffed with fish, fried up and served with cabbage sauce. Lastly, salbutes are masa tortillas fried and topped with shredded chicken and cabbage slaw. A generous portion of the hot sauce and pickled onions slathered on top and each is a tremendous start to the meal.
The dinner menu at FOB has assorted soup entrees, vegetarian options and entrees. You may want escabeche which is a spicy onion soup with chicken which is pan fried and served with corn tortillas or chirmole which is a black soup made from black artichoke (there is such a thing apparently) along with chicken all topped with a hard boiled egg and corn tortillas. Rice and beans cooked in coconut milk are served with potato salad and plantain and may be topped off with stewed chicken (white or dark meat), beef, fried tilapia, oxtail, stewed pork or fried red snapper. Perhaps split beans and pigtail is more your speed all cooked over white rice in coconut milk. Tamales, they have them with chicken wrapped in a banana leaf. Boil up with russet potatoes, cassava, coco, ripe and green plantain, and cabbage have pigtail, fish and boil cake.
But The Monster sees counch (that’s how it’s spelled on the menu people, The Monster isn’t making this up) soup and it’s all over. A sea snail, the counch in this dish is pounded down and served in a hearty soup of matilda foot (ground green plantain) along with coconut white rice. Apparently, besides being a delicious offering counch soup has a myth about it. Sexual in nature. The soup is said to rejuvenate men after sex and replaces what they lose during orgasm. Not that The Monster needs it, but that can’t hurt either.
Portion sizes resemble offerings brought to potluck dinners to feed ten so The Monster’s plan of digging into some milk cake or cassava pudding are thwarted. That will be reserved for the next outing.
Know before you go the place closes early and is not open on Mondays (The Monster made this mistake once before). Also, it’s BYOB if you’re so inclined.
Why go? With 22,960 square kilometers (8,860 sq mi) of land and a population of only 333,200 people (2010 est.), Belize possesses the lowest population density in Central America. The country’s population growth rate of 2.21% (2008 est.), however, is the highest in the region and one of the highest in the western hemisphere. Belize’s abundance of terrestrial and marine species, and its diversity of ecosystems give it a key place within the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.*
Monster rating: 4/5 Monsters
1271 South La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90019
*Thank you Wikipedia.