C is for… Cere, Ceviche, Conch and Custard
As much as I love discovering new restaurants and the thrill of hanging with the chef and being behind-the-scenes, I don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen. I also want to get outside and explore. To me, that means visiting the town – taking a stroll on Main Street, which oftentimes is the only street around. That’s the way to get a feel for what the locals do during the day, where they hang out, how they dress, the dialect they use amongst themselves and of course,… what they eat.
San Pedro was one of these towns for me, the only town on the northern island of Ambergris Caye in Belize, with a few sandy, unpaved streets and golf carts as mode of transportation. I loved San Pedro – and not only because I discovered fantastic custard at DandE’s. (But that didn’t hurt.) The shop brought me right back to summer camp, its wooden screen door that snaps back at you as you walk inside, just like that of our canteen, with the same creaky noise too. Most of all, it had ultimately creamy frozen custard. I went for a scoop of coffee (my go-to flavor) and a second scoop of mint chocolate chip, only because of its bright green color – a nod to my sister’s childhood favorite.
It’s often these small food memories that stay with me when I return home from a trip, perhaps even more so than a fancy restaurant with tablecloths or more formal setting. An ingredient, a local snack, a conversation with a producer, a lunch standing up at a street food cart… There was one restaurant in particular that was truly a food highlight of my week in Belize, an informal, inexpensive and colorful place called Elvi’s Kitchen. You’ll have a casual, authentic experience in a friendly and down-to-earth setting, with phenomenal food to boot. Despite its popularity and probable presence in many a Belizean guidebook, this is no tourist trap, and I’d say it’s a must for anyone going to San Pedro. After all, it is known as “Di Place” for seafood.
(Above, clockwise from top left: Bright exterior to Elvi’s Kitchen; Conch, shrimp and lobster ceviche, Watermelon and pineapple smoothie. Restaurant interior; Seafood ceviche served with tortilla chips)
With your feet in the sand (that’s the floor), you’ll stare up at the enormous tree (inside the restaurant), which is in its original spot from when the restaurant was first a burger stand back in 1974. You’ll read through the long menu (including those burgers) and might have a hard time narrowing it down. Be sure to ask the servers for help, they’re friendly and knowledgeable and will point out the many specialties and local favorites: Good fu di back, a conch soup served with coconut rice; Cajun quesadilla; Flautas con salsa roja; and even Elvi’s famous fried chicken. I couldn’t serve myself enough sautéed squid with roasted garlic and lime – but my fork was faster than my camera.
(Above, clockwise from top left: Fried plantains; Belizean cere with shrimp, green plantains and onions in coconut milk [recipe below], served with white rice; Server presenting the whole deep-fried hogfish with plantain chips; Rice and beans)
To finish a meal at Elvi’s, there’s really only one thing to do. And that’s order dessert. More specifically, you’ll want the key lime pie. Trust me; I don’t even like key lime pie. This was perfect – crisp gingersnap crust, tangy lime ice cream as filling, a scoop of sweet meringue and a slice of lime on top. Elvi Staines agrees that she got this recipe right – and she’s not sharing it! She did share the recipe for her caramel flan though, which was served in a beautiful sugar nest. With savory and sweet recipes below, we all have the makings of a Belizean meal to enjoy at home. Thanks Elvi!
Savory & Sweet Recipes from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro
1 lb fish fillet, diced in 1″ cubes
4 green plantains, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups coconut milk
salt & pepper
1 Tblsp corn oil or vegetable oil
Preheat sauce pan over moderate heat. Add oil, onions and sliced plantains. Sauté until plantains have turned bright yellow and the onions are cooked. Season fish with salt and pepper, add to pan. Cook each side for one minute, then add coconut milk. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes and taste to see if it has enough salt and pepper. Serve with rice.
1 cup granulated sugar
4 Tblsp water
2 cans Carnation Evaporated milk (410 g)
1 can Nestle Sweetened Condensed Milk (395 g)
1 Tblsp vanilla essence
Heat sugar with water in a heavy pan and stir until sugar dissolves. Boil without stirring until it turns golden brown. Pour caramel into baking dish.
In a large bowl whisk remaining ingredients. Pour mixture over the caramel in baking dish and place baking dish in a water bath. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Celsius) for one hour. Remove, let cool thoroughly and then unmold. Serve chilled.