Learning to Cook on Caye Caulker, Belize

It’s in the double digits below zero in Minnesota these days, and that has me dreaming about last March, when BackpackMr and I journeyed to Belize.

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Sweet beach chairs on Caye Caulker, Belize. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

On the recommendation of a dear friend, we headed to Caye Caulker, a small Caribbean island we knew little about, but a destination she promised would be laid back. Like, no car traffic laid back. Like, walk barefoot down main street laid back. Like, hang in a hammock all day laid back.

We were so up for it.

In an effort to provide gratuitous eye candy for the suffering souls of the Upper Midwest this week, I’m serving up a few photos before getting to the story.

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Sunset on Caye Caulker, Belize. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

 

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Oh, so blue! The view of the water from Caye Caulker, Belize. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

 

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A fishing boat docked at Caye Caulker, Belize. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

When traveling, BackpackMr and I love finding a local place with good food where we can become short-term “regulars.” Doing so allows us to get to know locals on  a deeper level, and often gives us a picture into their everyday lives. The result: we gain new friends.

On our first morning on Caye Caulker, I ventured out into the blissfully warm sun in search of coffee. I found the perfect spot for us to park ourselves every morning, at Reggae Cafe. Our favorite table had benches suspended from the ceiling, so we could swing in our happy little treehouse.

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BackpackMr and I swing at our favorite breakfast table, at Reggae Cafe on Caye Caulker.

We got to know the staff and the owners pretty well. So when I was unable to find any cooking classes on Caye Caulker, I asked our friends at Reggae Cafe if their chef, Marlen, would be willing to teach me a couple of traditional Belizean dishes.

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We became fast friends with the family that ran Reggae Cafe. Here BackpackMr and I are with mother and son team Nikki and Joel at Reggae Cafe, on Caye Caulker.
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We even got snuggle time with Nikki’s adorable doggies, including this earnest little fella. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Used to working solo in the kitchen and cranking out delicious food from behind the scenes, Mar was unsure if she was up to the task. With some gentle prodding, she agreed. She decided to teach me how to prepare traditional Belizean stewed chicken and beans and rice.

She took me to the market first, to buy supplies for our cooking class.

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One of the stores on Caye Caulker. Marlen is in the foreground, buying supplies. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
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I speak some Spanish, but not much. So some of the ingredients we bought are a bit of a mystery to me. One is chicken bouillon. The other is a red paste they sell fresh in the markets on Caye Caulker, in tiny plastic baggies, known as Red Recado. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Of course, Mar needed no recipe to prepare the dish. And the notes I scrawled that day are sadly insufficient to relay it to you. I can say the recipes on this blog are fancier and have more ingredients than we used in our Belizean stewed chicken and beans and rice, but if you want to give them try the flavors would be similar.

I can also tell you that it was amazing to learn from Mar, to watch her effortlessness in the kitchen, and to hear about her life on Caye Caulker.

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Mar rinses the chicken in vinegar. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
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Mar thawed the chicken, rinsed it in vinegar, and chopped it into smaller pieces. Yes, even the feet go in the dish! Photo by Charish Badzinski.
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Mar serves up a plate of Belizean stewed chicken and beans and rice. A feast. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
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The finished plate of Belizean stewed chicken and beans and rice with the stewing liquid poured over the rice. Delicious! Photo by Charish Badzinski.

The food was delicious. And though I only dimly recall the particulars of the recipes, the time we spent together was unforgettable.

I will savor the memory for years to come…even when it’s not -10.

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Mar, a beautiful person and a great chef. Photo by BackpackMr.

charish profile pic 2017cCharish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.

Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb

Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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