Calehan's Fast Food in Belmopan, Belize
Calehan’s Fast Food in Belmopan, Belize
I landed in Belize City, slapped by the warmth and humidity of the Caribbean, a welcome wake up after an over-air conditioned flight. While shuffling through customs, my stomach started to sing the tune of hunger, reminding me I had only an empanada that day.
With a mission team of 16, we packed everything up and bump along the Belizean roads to Belmopan, the capital, to load up on meat pies and supplies in Spanish Lookout before going south to our final destinations of Punta Gorda and Jalacte.
Meat pies stopped me in the middle of my documentation of The Bridge Belize Mission Team. Meat pies? I wasn’t sure what this would entail, but my singing stomach instantly went from the deep hunger blues to overly optimistic show tunes.
Meat Pies & Belizean Food Culture
The meat pie is thought to have been introduced during the British occupation of Belize, then known as British Honduras. Over time, the meat pie took on more idealistic Belizean flavors of recado rojo and black pepper, and spicier versions include a habanero-based hot sauce like Marie Sharp’s.
Belizean food is an anomaly—a mélange of the cultures that have settled in the tiny Central American country that was under British rule until 1981: Mayan, Yucatan, Kriol, Garifuna, Indian, British, Eastern European Mennonite, and Chinese. Its food is characterized by rice and beans, fast food (not as Americans know to be but rather made-to-order panades, salbutes, tamales and garnaches), Kriol, and Mayan cuisine. And to add to the variety of culinary flavors, every town has its own Chinese restaurant and locals infuse traditional Indian spices in many meals (hello, yellow ginger a.k.a. turmeric!).
Colonialism shaped a lot of Belizean cuisine—indentured servants from China and India were brought over under the British rule to work the sugarcane, mahogany and other plantations after slavery was banned—but Belizeans have proudly taken ownership of these unique flavor combinations that make even the most basic plate of rice and beans something spectacular.
Meat pies are often found from street dealers, cyclists, or humble fast food stands. These piping hot, flavorful mini-pies are an ideal pocket food as they are made to eat on-the-go and readily accessible in both quantity and price. Locals argue over who has the best meat pies but all agree the best way to eat them is to allow the steam to escape by biting off an edge or peeling off the top (and then using it as a spoon!) so one doesn’t burn herself.
Calehan’s Fast Food Experience
We arrived to Calehan’s Fast Food as the sun above was at its almost-equatorial brightest, pouring through the many power lines stretching along the street. We hopped out of our van and dashed across the street towards the smell of fried masa and recado-soaked meat. Calehan himself greeted us with a warm smile, jokes, agua frescas and the infamous meat pies I heard about the entire trek to Belmopan. A small family business, bustling with locals at the order window and hungry missionaries on the patio, kept Calehan, Belmopan’s former Mayor, his wife, Maria, and daughter, Felicia, a soon-to-be medical student, busy in their humble kitchen.
Calehan quelled our belly choir with a superabundance of pocket foods—meat pies, panades, salbutes, and tamales—with watermelon and sour sop agua frescas. This meal was complete with true Belizean hospitality that lived up to a small token hanging on Calehan’s kitchen wall, “Dios bendiga este negocio y a quienes lo visitan.” God bless this business and those who visit.