Belize: Truth will out

By Tim Roxborogh

The tiny Caribbean island of Caye Caulker has cute and colourful buildings and the best reggae bars outside Jamaica. Photo / Supplied
The tiny Caribbean island of Caye Caulker has cute and colourful buildings and the best reggae bars outside Jamaica. Photo / Supplied

It's a good lesson: don't lie to the chef about being allergic to fish if you are not allergic to fish. We were at the famous Jolly Roger's, a roadside barbecue restaurant on the tiny island of Caye Caulker, off the coast of Central America's smallest (and only English-speaking) country, Belize.

Jolly Roger himself was manning the tongs at his toes-in-the-sand establishment that night, all 170kg of him. "Tonight you have a choice of the lobster or the snapper, what will it be?" he grinned.

"Can I have the chicken?" I'm not the world's biggest seafood fan, but I'd also heard stories of Jolly Roger's barbecued chicken from fellow travellers saying it was hands down the best chicken in the world. All of a sudden lies poured forth from my mouth: "I'm so sorry, but I'm allergic to fish."

I don't know what came over me, but Jolly Roger took pity and before I knew it, he had agreed to cook everyone what was on the menu and me what was not.

So there we were, sipping our beers, palm trees overhanging, the Caribbean lapping to one side and the constant strains of Bob Marley coming from the other.

Caye Caulker is long, thin and dead flat. It's only metres above sea level and became two small islands after a hurricane a few years back. This is a place of no cars (just golf buggies), sand roads, cute little hotels and the best reggae bars outside Jamaica. It also has some of the most astonishing snorkelling and diving thanks to having the world's largest barrier reef after Australia.

After about 20 minutes of sipping the local brew and hitting the right notes in Buffalo Soldier and No Woman No Cry, two boys who couldn't have been older than 10 started bringing plates of food out to the table alongside little plastic cups of rum.

One of the boys asked the table, "Who wanted the chicken?" and everyone pointed to me and I'm sure I blushed.

Plates in place we started to eat. It was delicious, only it was quite clearly snapper and not chicken. A quick glance down the table showed everybody else had the same or the crayfish.

On the one hand it never occurred to me fish could be this good, and on the other, had they given this to me by accident or on purpose? Did they know I was lying?

After polishing off the best plate of fish I could have imagined, Jolly Roger himself waddled out of the kitchen with half a chicken. He saw my leftovers and his face lost all its tropical tan: "Who was it who gave you the fish?" he bellowed.

He was genuinely terrified for my life and wanted to know which of the 10-year-old waiters had endangered me by telling me I was eating chicken when it was in fact fish. "Which boy was it?"

I managed to spin yet another web of lies and quickly explained that I'm only allergic to some fish and snapper was fine.

I refused to blame the boys - if you get fired from your first job at age 10 it's surely a slippery slope from there.

And with that, big Jolly Roger smiled again and gave me my second meal of the night. This time I tell no lie: the chicken, without any shadow of a doubt, was the tastiest thing I have ever had the pleasure of eating in my entire life.

With each bite I had no choice but to announce to the table "outrageous" or "this is outlandish" - this chicken was like nothing I'd put in my mouth. I don't even know what was in it to make it so good. I guess Jolly Roger has some secrets stashed behind that barbecue.

What I do know is that it was made even better by the fact everyone had finished their snapper or crayfish and were forced to watch and listen. And I only paid for one meal.

Tim Roxborogh was assisted in getting to Central America by Flight Centre. He hosts the Easy Mix Breakfast with Alison Leonard.

- Herald on Sunday

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