Snack hunting on Caye Caulker, Belize

July 25, 2017

My favourite part of travel, hands down, is food. I don’t plan much before I leave home on a big trip, often arriving to my first destination with only a loose idea of what’s on offer and just a single night’s accommodation booked — but you had better believe I’ll have a list of snacks I plan to locate and consume.

A local convenience store (to survey the culturally-specific chip flavours) is usually my first stop, then I hit the streets, on the hunt for the best cheap eats and the most beloved local restaurants. When I hear someone advising travellers to avoid eating local food, I cover my ears. If eating homemade tamales sold out of a handwoven basket on a literal waterfall is wrong, I refuse to be right.

I recently spent four months travelling in Central America. My initial plan was to head south from Mexico to Guatemala, travel through Honduras, and end my trip in Nicaragua. Then life happened, as it inevitably does on long trips: Honduras and Nicaragua were bumped from the itinerary, and replaced with Belize. I’d heard that food was pricey there, but miraculously, I ate cheap in Belize. Super cheap. The cheapest eats on my whole trip, in fact.

Elsworth Crawford and one of his sweet treats.

Elsworth Crawford and one of his sweet treats

As I was nearing the end of my trip — and the end of my budget — I made a conscious decision to forego real meals and survive instead solely on snacks. To my delight, the first snack found me. Elsworth Crawford, a native of Caye Caulker, has been baking for an impressive 28 years and sells his freshly baked treats — twice a day! — from his bicycle, which he rides across the island. Donning a chef’s hat and apron, he pedals through town, bearing a permanent grin, hawking cinnamon buns the size of your head. You’ll hear him coming: “FRESH BAKED CINNAMON BUNS! COCONUT BREAD! JUST SAY THE WORD, BAY-BAY! SAY THE WORD!” A cinnamon bun will set you back a whopping $2 BZD ($1 USD) and easily provide a day’s worth of calories. I had one most days, and don’t regret a thing.

Fry Jacks are a must-eat in Belize.

Fry Jacks are a must-eat in Belize

Errolyn’s House of Fry Jacks is not exactly a secret. Beloved by locals and visitors alike, this place is a must. A fry jack is quintessentially Belizean and, by all accounts, the perfect breakfast for a hangover. It is essentially a deep-fried flour tortilla stuffed with whatever combination of beans, egg, ham, chicken, and cheese you desire. Eating one of these left me feeling at peace with the world, and judging by overheard conversations, I wasn’t alone: “I can’t believe we only found this place today!” a nearby diner exclaimed. “We could have been eating these every morning!” Luckily, I had found it on my first morning, and returned for one each morning that followed. Errolyn’s is where it’s at, with complete satisfaction on sale for $3.50 BZD ($1.75 USD). This place is popular for a reason.

Bonus tip: Spring for a litre of fresh-squeezed juice at Sea Choice Juice Bar next door. It’ll cost you $5 BZD ($2.50 USD), making it more pricey than most nearby snacks, but it’s worth it.

At the midway point in my trip, several locals took interest in my snack seeking. With recommendations coming at me from all sides for meat pie, Johnny Cakes and other treats, I decided to extend my stay on the island by three nights, and waited to be hungry again.

Errol Patt and his wife, Reina, make 25 dozen meat pies a day — and they always sell out.

Errol Patt and his wife, Reina, make 25 dozen meat pies a day — and they always sell out.

The meat pie guy, also known as Errol Patt, wasn’t easy to track down. I had good intel — I knew he had a yellow three-wheeled bike with a yellow umbrella, and that he went to the local school in the morning before making his way back down the main street— but failed to locate him several days in a row. I looked, I waited, I looked again, then gave up and went snorkelling. On my way to the boat I bought a piece of pineapple cake to snack on.

That evening, I spotted the man who had sold me the cake, and lamented to him that I still hadn’t found the meat pie guy. He looked at my strangely: “I’m the meat pie guy!” He was sold out of pies, but told me to go see his wife, Reina — “The Queen” — at their bricks-and-mortar restaurant in the morning. “She makes 25 dozen a day and we always sell out,” he said, adding that the pies come out of the oven at 7:30 or 8 a.m. each morning: “Go early to get them hot!”

The sign at Reina's.

The sign at Reina's.

As instructed, I set my alarm, and got up with the sun. Reina’s Pastries and Meat Pies did not disappoint. The pies were perfect: Perfect size, perfect pastry, perfect filling (mmm saucy beef), and perfect price, at $1.25 BZD ($0.63 USD) each. I bought two, thinking I’d save one for later, and ate them both before saying goodbye. The next day I went back and bought half a dozen more. Reina knows what she’s doing. She has been making her meat pies for more than 20 years and has no competition. Nobody messes with The Queen.

Not everyone I spoke to agreed Mama Lizz Take-Out was the one and only place to procure a Johnny Cake, but everyone did agree it was a respectable choice. I was a little late out of the gate, making my way over to around 8:30 a.m. I opened the door and bounced in, eager to collect my prize, until I was told: “Johnny Cakes are done for the day!” What? I had arrived a little less than an hour after opening and they were already gone? It was a tough pill to swallow, but I vowed to return.

If you want to go to Mama Lizz's place, go early.

If you want to go to Mama Lizz's place, go early.

The next day, I ran over to Mama Lizz’s place and burst in the door, obviously stressed. “Good morning! You made it! What can I get ya?” I opted for the ham and cheese (a crowd favourite) for $1.50 BZD ($0.75 USD), but for the less-decisive customer, the “full works” is only an extra $0.50 BZD. Mama Lizz describes the humble johnny cake as a grab-and-go breakfast sandwich, valued for its simplicity. “Basically, it’s a less-fluffy biscuit, made with coconut milk,” she says. She sells them to school kids and those who stop off on their way to work. Quick, simple, cheap, and tasty to boot.

With savoury snacks settled, my final mission was to get my hands on a slice of key lime meringue pie. The pie is apparently known on the island for its yumminess, and I was promised to be led to its (seemingly secret) location by Kodi, a fast friend and registered tour guide from nearby San Ignacio. After four days, he led me to Chef Juan’s Kitchen and Pastries, but there was no pie. Sold out. We were told to return at 5 p.m.

Fluffy, delicious key lime meringue pie.

Fluffy, delicious key lime meringue pie.

Kodi took off, and my friend Anke and I kept our eyes on the clock. When 5 p.m. rolled around, we dashed over. Two magnificent pies, topped with gorgeous tufts of meringue, sat in plain view, but were too hot to cut. “One more hour!” we were told. This made me nervous, as the lead-time on this pie had already been 96 hours. I offered to pre-pay for the right to reserve a slice, but Chef Juan assured me there would be one waiting.

After the hour was up, I procured the piece of pie for a fair price of $5 BZD ($2.50 USD). Chef Juan explained that in high season, he and his wife, Nevina, can’t keep up with demand, with line-ups down the block, and customers purchasing entire pies after sampling a piece. But the pie wasn’t always the smash hit that is is today. Two years ago, they changed the recipe for their crust and the pie’s popularity exploded. What exactly is in the “graham cracker-like” crust? He wouldn’t say, but it was easily the best piece of key lime pie that I’ve had; as we walked away, the man at the table next to me bought every slice left.

I arrived on Caye Caulker with minimal expectations, and ended up on a surprise scavenger hunt for some seriously satisfying snacks. I stayed nearly a week longer than I originally planned. But as I sit in Toronto, thinking back to my time on the island, I realize it wasn’t just the snacks keeping me there. It was the spirit of the locals and their willingness to connect over a shared love of food that kept me invested in the game. Caye Caulker brings its snack A-game, and if you go — to quote Elsworth Crawford — just say the word!

If you go...

The bicycle baker, Elsworth Crawford, is a man on the move. That said, I would be shocked if you had trouble locating him. Be patient and have faith: he will find you. If you’re after the cinnamon bun specifically, those are rolled out in the afternoon. He takes a break from baking on Sundays.

Errolyn’s House of Fry Jacks is on the corner of Pasero Street and Avenida Langosta, kitty-corner from the Atlantic Bank. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m., closed on Mondays.

Reina’s Pastries and Meat Pies is on Avenida Langosta, near Estrella Street and Chinatown Market. Hours are 7:30 a.m.-noon. She closes on Sundays to sleep in.

Mama Lizz Take-Out is located just off Avenida Langosta on the same street as the island’s back dock. She is open for business every morning, with official hours of 7:15-1pm, but I’d say those who desire Johnny Cakes should make their way there early to avoid disappointment!

Chef Juan’s Kitchen and Pastries is on Crocodile Street, just before Bella’s Backpackers Hostel. Hours are 7 a.m.-11 a.m. and 4 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday/7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, closed on Fridays.

Getting there

Want to try tracking down some of the best snacks in Belize? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to Belize here.

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