Friday, July 11, 2014

Vegan eating in Punta Gorda, Belize

We recently spent a week in Punta Gorda, Belize. For two vegans, this meant doing a little research on what our options were for meals and to be prepared to be flexible in this Central American country. 

Before leaving, I contacted the owner of the place where we'd be staying. Hickatee Cottages is a remote jungle retreat but the owners, British ex-pats Kate and Ian Morton were very accommodating. Kate asked lots of questions beforehand such as: do you eat honey? do you eat Marmite? (nutritional yeast here in the U.S.) do you like peanut butter? (truly vegan butter substitute in Belize is unheard of) so I knew from the beginning we were in good hands. 

Upon our arrival, Kate had prepared chips and salsa along with some champagne and had it waiting in our room. This was a very welcome treat after a long, hot journey.  Dinner would be provided every evening except Saturday and Wednesday and rides into town for dinner were arranged on those nights. 

Since we arrived on Saturday, Ian took us into Punta Gorda (PG to the locals) to Mr. Gomier's restaurant. I had researched this unique eatery prior to arriving and was really excited to finally experience this local eatery. 

Mr. Gomier is Rastafarian and makes his own tofu. He also offers tofu making classes from his unassuming restaurant on the Caribbean Sea. When we arrived, Ian took us inside and shouted, "Gomier!  Are you cooking tonight?" 

The inside of the restaurant looked like a busy Caribbean kitchen, unlike any restaurant we'd ever seen. A round woman in a t-shirt and skirt who acted as both waitress and cook wordlessly led us to the deck where she covered a wooden table with a colorful cloth and took our drink orders. Reggae versions of 80's music played on the sound system. We were the only customers.

You may be cool but you'll never be
Belizean Rastafarian tofu-making cool.

We'd already been introduced to Belize's own Belikin beer earlier in the day so we ordered two stouts to go with our barbecued tofu platter. This platter included a large portion of rice and a small tossed salad. It was just as delicious as I'd expected and we enjoyed every bite. We returned to visit Mr. Gomier on Wednesday night as well bringing with us Ray McDonald, the Garifuna drummer we had met at Hickatee earlier that evening.  What a pleasure to spent time with Ray and to meet the ultra cool Mr. Gomier himself!

Breakfasts at Hickatee were a tropical paradise of fruits and homemade breads. Dragon fruit, papaya, banana, and the best mango I've ever tasted were offered each morning.  We were introduced to soursop juice, a local treat we both loved.  Kate spoiled us with fantastic vegan chocolate muffins!  Peanut butter and jam were always available and we made sandwiches for our lunches. 

Dragon fruit, papaya, pineapple and banana.

What?!  Ian's rum punch isn't mentioned?

Dinner was a treat!  Homemade bread or rolls, delicious soup and a hearty entree awaited us on the nights Kate was in the kitchen.  On our last night, we had tofu with cohune cabbage.  I enjoy cabbage but it didn't sound like a good combination until it was explained to me that cohune cabbage was otherwise known as hearts of palm.  It was fantastic and Kate kindly sent the recipe after we returned home.

As I mentioned above, Kate cooks every night but Saturday and Wednesday so we were prepared to have dinner at Hickatee on Thursday night until Ian arrived at our cottage with the news that he'd be taking us into town for dinner that night.

"The flood flies have hatched.  Kate can't cook."

Flood flies are winged termites and they make a grand entrance for about four hours and then disappear.  They swarm and head for the nearest light source before losing their wings and dying.  A sad short life.  We turned out the lights in our cottage and piled into Ian's truck to go to Asha's Culture Kitchen in Punta Gorda.

Unassuming is an understatement for this eatery on the Caribbean Sea.  A big blackboard displays the menu and we easily found something vegan for dinner; curry veg with coconut rice on the side. A refreshing glass of watermelon juice tasted amazing in the Belizean heat.  The meal was delicious but I was feeling under the weather and didn't eat very much.  Asha generously offered to give us free dessert but we politely declined as everything contained animal products.

On our second to last day in Belize, we headed to Belcampo Lodge for lunch and massages.  A beautiful resort, they pride themselves on being a farm to table restaurant.  Unfortunately, we got a glimpse of the unsuspecting farm animals soon to be taking that trip to the table.

We were there for the organic produce and promise of great food.  We explained to our waiter that we're vegan and he was very helpful in guiding us through the ordering process.  We decided on tortilla chips as an appetizer which came with a dip on the side.  When we asked what it was, we were told it was hummus.

It didn't look like any hummus we'd had before but we tried it and I immediately tasted something non-vegan.

"Is there mayo in the hummus?" I asked.

"No, no mayo.  Yogurt."  Immediately, we witnessed the poor waiter's light bulb moment when he realized he had just given two vegans a dairy product.  He apologized profusely and whisked the plate away to replace the "hummus" with salsa. 

Our meal at Belcampo was less than memorable; two vegetable wraps that didn't impress either of us.  But the view was stellar and watching the hummingbirds flutter around our table while we ate made it all worthwhile.

We both feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to visit this wonderful country with its beautiful, gracious people and delicious food.  As always when traveling, it's challenging to adhere to a vegan diet but we never went hungry and so many were eager to accommodate us.  I told Kate before we left that she may have a new niche market for vegans with her phenomenal cooking skills.  I'm not sure if she's happy about that or not.

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