Day 71: Belize
“Why don’t we ever go out for breakfast?” asks GirlfriendBites on numerous occasions. So today, I decided to try to be a nice guy, which brings us to the charming and surprisingly spacious restaurant near USC called Nel and John’s Belizean. They’ve got their own parking lot, an inviting blue and white exterior and they serve breakfast. Sounds like a winning combination.
We step inside to the lovely sights and sounds of “Judge Joe Brown” up on the television, with the audio blasting out of speakers hidden throughout the restaurant. We’re told to sit anywhere, so we grab a booth and are handed colorful, worn out breakfast menus directing you to “1) Choose Entrie 2) Choose Side 3) Choose Bread.” Belize is a Central American country with a huge amount of diversity and loads of influence from Caribbean flavors, so while you probably could order scrambled eggs and toast, why would you? Basically, you pick a main protein, which ranges anywhere from bacon to beef liver to beef ox tails. Then you pick your side, which will most likely involve eggs, fried beans or both, then a bread. As usual, we ask for what’s typical, then sip on our beverages while we wait. GFB has coffee and apple juice, while I pick soursop (or soursapp, as it’s often known) juice. Soursop is a fruit native to Central America, South America and the Caribbean, with a green spikey exterior and white insides. The juice arrives mixed with milk in a re-appropriated plastic juice bottle with “Soursapp” written along the side in black sharpie. I pour it over ice, then sip the thick, creamy concoction. It’s fairly rich, but has a strong fruity quality which reminds me a little of cranberry. While I do like it, I’d have a hard time ever drinking a whole one of these and find myself sneaking sips of GFB’s apple juice for a more satisfying refreshment, then saying “I really like apple juice. If I ever made a lot of money, I would just be excited about being able to fill my fridge with apple juice and then drink pint glasses of it all day long. Wouldn’t that be awesome?”
GFB’s stew chicken with nicely prepared cheese eggs, avocado and fry jacks arrives. Fry jacks basically just taste like fried pancake batter, leading to GFB taking one bite and say “Uh-huh. Yes. I like that.” She eats her eggs and fry jacks first, as if to add “Stew chicken is not breakfast. So I will eat this breakfast food first, and only then will I move onto the other stuff.” But feeling an obligation to my Personal Food Project in Blog Form, I reach rudely across the table with my fork to try it while it’s still hot. Whole pieces of tender leg and thigh— coated in a dark red, thick, oniony tomato mixture that tastes like Caribbean barbecue sauce— is really quite pleasing. It’s not something that most people I would meet on a day-to-day basis would want to eat for breakfast, but it’s right up my alley.
I, however, have my own breakfast to tackle: hash fish (which is, with no surprise whatsoever, a fish hash) served with thick, flavorful fried beans, avocado and johnny cakes (picture wide, flat biscuits). Eating something like minced up fish with onions and tomatoes, doused with Belizean habanero hot sauce can’t help but give the feeling that it’s transporting you somewhere else. Often when you eat something new, your brain tries to find an association. It wants some kind of reference point. But the closest thing my brain can do here is to create an image of a Central American beach vacation that I’ve never actually taken. But the association is a positive one, so I’ll just roll with it. Munching soft, spicy, chopped up fish with soft, spicy fried beans, mellowed out by avocado and crumbly, pre-buttered johnny cakes, makes me think that if I’d grown up on breakfasts like these, I’d probably like breakfast a whole lot more. United States of Americans can have their pancakes, hash browns and oatmeal. I’ll take huevos rancheros, pho and fish fry, thank you very much.
We pay the bill and stand up to leave, as I realize that the family sitting in the booth next to us had already been here for quite some time when we arrived, and still show no signs of leaving, even after GFB and I have gone through our entire meal. Then a very large man walks in, who could probably bench press a a buffet table before or after eating all of its contents. He walks up to the counter, laughs with some patrons, says a few words, then saunters over to the table next to ours. He smiles, drops a few bucks down for somebody, then goes back to the counter. But it’s not just them. It seems like everybody in here knows each other. They could be friends, neighbors, family, or just people who have grown acquainted through their patronage of this immensely soul pleasing restaurant. It’s like Cheers, but without the alcoholism. And I dig that about it. I like being able to experience something different, but still feel comfortable at the same time. This, like I said, is my kind of breakfast.
Nel and John’s Belizean
3567 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90018
Food Breakdown: 3 non-alcoholic beverages, 2 breakfasts
Distance From My House: 6.6 miles