One Friday night at around 7 o’clock, my college friend-turned-coworker and I were driving around town in a golf cart that we were lucky enough to borrow for the night. After taking some photos and video footage of various locations in San Pedro, Belize, we found ourselves at Central Park, a large park with a mixture of sandy areas and brick walkways with pastel benches and a playground with children running around. Around the park are several bars and the water taxi station where you can catch a ride to the mainland or other nearby islands such as Caye Caulker.
When we arrived, the sun was down but that didn’t slow down the activities of the park. Bright lights were shining down on the park goers, consisting of kids playing on the playground, parents watching them, preteen boys doing backflips off of benches into the sand, and a man setting up a trampoline for kids to jump on – which we later found out is a roughly twice weekly event. We hadn’t thought about it until we arrived that we had not eaten any dinner yet. It was Friday so we spent most of our day working and we set out on the town to work on a photo and video project, so we weren’t even thinking about food until we got to the park and smelled the street food.
In San Pedro, the street food is not only safe, it is also inexpensive, delicious, and highly recommended by coworkers and the people we met around the island. We were excited to have a night off to have the opportunity to finally try it. After filming some of the activity happening at the park, we turned around and began filming the few food vendors that were set up at the north end of the park. These were simple tarp tents with grills set up underneath, with two to three people running each one. Looking through the screen on my camera, I found myself salivating over an array of meats cooking on a grill.
I asked the woman cooking if it was okay for me to film her and she happily said yes. I’m sure she was used to tourists wanting to take pictures of her delicious food. There was so much food in this small tent and such a wide variety. My friend and I began asking questions because we were curious of her story and equally curious as to what to choose for dinner.
The happy woman’s name was Albertina. When we began talking to her she was cooking fried chicken, hot dogs, and bacon wrapped hot dogs. Behind her there was a younger woman preparing the bacon wrapped hot dogs. They were surrounded by pots of beans and other various meats staying warm. We asked Albertina what her favorite food was that they made and she recommended anything with shrimp: the shrimp burger, shrimp burrito, or the shrimp tacos. She explained that everything was good. They made such a variety of foods, from fried chicken to hot dogs, burritos, tacos, and burgers. She even showed us pork chops she was keeping warm in a skillet. We decided on the shrimp burritos.
As she prepared our burritos, we chatted with Albertina. We found out that she’s been cooking in that location at Central Park for nine years, and she is open every day except for Mondays. We were surprised to hear that her hours of operation are from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m., but she assured us that she stays busy that whole time, which makes sense for the various bars that surrounded the area. I bet Albertina’s shrimp burritos or the “special burger” is exactly what I’d want after a night of drinking Belikins or margaritas.
We watched as she placed everything on the grill. First the shrimp with onions. My hunger grew as it sizzled in front of me, making the whole tent smell like grilled shrimp. After she cut everything up, she placed the tortilla on the grill to warm and soak up some the run off from the shrimp. She then constructed the burritos directly on the grill. Placing the beans, shrimp, and cheese on the tortilla and wrapped them, folded them into foil, and handed us our dinner. It was mesmerizing to watch our food being made from start to finish. I held the burrito in anticipation as we paid our $8 BZD each. By the time we were done talking with Albertina, the trampoline was fully constructed with kids playing inside, so we sat and watched them while we ate our burritos. They tasted as good as they smelled. I was so hungry I could have finished two easily but I wanted to save room for a smoothie or possibly ice cream.
Every day that I spend on the island, I am happily surprised at how friendly everyone is, especially in food service. One woman even allowed us to pay for our food the next day after we realized we didn’t have any cash with us. I look forward to sharing more about my food experiences on Ambergris Caye. I have yet to have a bad meal. If you find yourself in Central Park in San Pedro, between 5 p.m. and 4 a.m., on any day that isn’t a Monday, pick up a burrito from Albertina. Not only is her food to die for, her smile is contagious. I’ve already decided that my next visit to Albertina is going to consist of a special burger. I watched her prepare one for another customer, and let me tell you, I’m a sucker for a toasted bun.