To BZ or Not To BZ

Beach Scene at Caye Caulker, Belize

Normally, I am not really a beach person. As my planned vacation to Yucatán takes place, I am thinking of also including Caye Caulker in Belize as a little side trip, a sort of vacation from my vacation so to speak. Why on earth would I be interested in knocking around on a Caribbean island? Especially when there’s nothing of any archeological import to be found there. I don’t particularly like to swim, snorkel, or dive: Hell, I don’t even like wearing shorts.

The answer goes back to my last trip. Throughout Eastern Guatemala, there was one condiment that was de rigeur on every restaurant table. It was a bottle of Marie Sharp’s Hot Habanero Pepper Sauce. Now I have always been partial to habañero (aka Scotch Bonnet) chiles, ever since my 1975 trip to Yucatán. Until I encountered those Marie Sharp’s sauces, with their motto “Proud Products of Belize,” I was contented with the El Yucateco Salsas de Chile Habañero, which came on hot and fierce, and maybe a little raw. What fascinated me about the Marie Sharp’s product was that it had the heat, but also the sweetness of carrots. How did she do it?

The Product in Question

Mind you, I still like El Yucateco, but Marie has won me over.

Now, how does that translate me wanting to spend a few days on an island off the coast of Belize? When I went to Guatemala, I was intrigued by the cultural mix at the port of Livingston: Maya, Garifuna, etc. I thought it would be fun after tromping through miles of Maya ruins in the jungle to sit under a palapa with a cool drink (perhaps a Belikin beer) and a good book. And available to me would be the best of Maya and Caribbean cooking. That sounds like a culinarily and culturally interesting diversion.

Marie Sharp’s manufacturing complex is actually by Stann’s Creek near Dangriga in Southern Belize, but that’s a tad too jungly for me.

From Chetumal in Mexico, I could take a quick boat ride to Caye (that’s pronounced KEY in Belize) Caulker and pass through customs at Ambergris Caye. So I might very well BZ happy there.

 

Chilehead

These Used To Be the Hottest Chiles on Record, But Things Have Changed

It was several years ago, when my brother was living in Paso Robles near California’s Central Coast. When I would go to visit him, we usually went shopping together at the farmers’ market at nearby Templeton. Once, one vendor selling olives stuffed with chile habaneros (see photo above) offered Dan and me the opportunity to taste one, all the while grinning as if he expected us to spit them out. We ate the proffered olives, smiled, and asked for more. The vendor looked at us as if we were from the hot side of Mercury.

My brother and I are bona fide chiliheads. It’s one of the things we enjoy most about getting together, because both of us are surrounded by people who blanch at the thought of biting into a sliver of jalapeño, and who carefully remove all pepperoncinis from their salads. We came by this through our mother, Sophie, who used to cook a Hungarian dish called lecso (pronounced LETCH-o), a kind of Hungarian adaptation of Spanish rice seasoned with hot Hungarian banana peppers. When I was growing up, I thought that lecso was altogether too spicy for me. Now I rather like it. (My father, however, did not: He was one of the digestively challenged.)

There is a means of measuring the hotness of chiles called the Scoville Heat Scale. Here is a summary of relative hotness of chiles:

Mexi-Bells, New Mexica, New Mexico, Anaheim, Big Jim, Peperonicini, Santa Fe Grande, El Paso, Cherry     1 100-1,000
Coronado, Mumex Big Jim, Sangria, Anaheim     2 1,000-1,500
Pasilla, Mulato, Ancho, Poblano, Espanola, Pulla     3 1,500-2,500
Hatch Green     4 2,000-5,000
Rocotillo     5 2,500-5,000
Yellow Wax, Serrano, Jalapeno, Guajillo, Mirasol     6 5,000-15,000
Hidalgo, Puya, Hot Wax, Chipotle     7 15,000-30,000
Chile De Arbol, Manzano     8 30,000-50,000
Santaka, Pequin, Super Chile, Santaka, Cayenne, Tobasco, Aji, Jaloro     9 50,000-100,000
Bohemian, Tabiche, Tepin, Haimen, Chiltepin, Thai, Yatsufusa    10 100,000-350,000
Red Savina Habanero, Chocolate Habanero, Indian Tezpur, Scotch Bonnet, Orange Habanero, Fatali, Devil Toung, Kumataka, Datili, Birds Eye, Jamaican Hot    11 350,000-855,000
Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia, a.k.a. Naga Jolokia), Naga Viper, 7 Pot Primo, 7 Pot Douglah, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Carolina Reaper    12 855,000-2,200,000

I can eat chiles up to about half a million Scoville units, namely the habaneros or Scotch Bonnets. If I were to make a large pot of soup, I could put half a chopped habanero in the pot—but no more! As for the superhot chiles such as the Carolina Reaper or Ghost Chiles, they are really too hot for comfortable human consumption, even by chiliheads. I have had powdered ghost chiles on occasion, but only in m-o-d-e-r-a-t-i-o-n.

 

Why I’m REALLY Going to New Mexico

Hatch Chiles Roasting

After what I posted yesterday, I thought I’d say why I’m really going to New Mexico this summer. When you live in a particular climate zone for most of your life, you yearn for the foods of the region. As a not quite but almost native Californian, that means corn and chiles. And the best chiles in the world come from New Mexico. The joke is that there is a state question: “Red or green?” If you can’t make up your mind, there’s another answer: “Christmas” means a mixture of red and green. I will probably switch between red and green from meal to meal.

There is a nifty local restaurant site called Roadfood.Com. Take a look at the restaurants and dishes they recommend for New Mexico by clicking here. (Compare with what’s available in your state.)

Now poor Martine isn’t going to be able to eat any chiles, but she likes hamburgers and chicken and beans; so there’ll be plenty of generic American food to keep her happy.

The Frontier Restaurant Near the UNM Campus

Fortunately, there are some parts of the United States which have their own cuisine. Of particular interest to me are the shellfish of New England, the anything from Louisiana, the fried catfish and BBQ of the Southeast, and the chiles of New Mexico. All are American food at its best. Originally, I hailed from Ohio. Other than great home-cooked Hungarian food, I can’t say much good about the whole state.