If you've ever traveled to Belize, you may have glimpsed the richness of Garifuna Culture. The Garifuna, sometimes called Black Caribs, are of mixed African. Arawak and Carib ancestry and live primarily along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. The Diaspora community also gathers in major American cities and Chicago is fortunate to be one of them. I have many Belizian friends and have always enjoyed spicy Belizian food but I never experienced the full gamut of Garifuna specialties until I visited Garifuna Flava, a wonderful restaurant on Chicago's South Side.
I could live on the crispy, golden goodness of panades, deep fried mini empanadas stuffed with fish, all by themselves. They are served with varying levels of scorching hot sauce but they really are flavorful enough without it. Garnaches are another popular appetizer. They're thin tostadas topped with re fried beans, cheddar cheese and ketchup that I've never developed a taste for, mainly because I'm too busy gobbling panades. Like the people, Garifuna cuisine mixes Latin, Amerindian and African influences. The hudut, which is an important staple of mashed plantains that accompany the intriguing variety of stews, is similar to the West African fufu as well as the Puerto Rican mofongo. Hussein, one of the gregarious owners, guides newcomers through the menu as well as the culture. Reggae, Punta Rock and Garifuna rhythms by Andy Palacio floats through the eatery as heaping platters of food arrive.
Of course, I had to have the red snapper, served with rice and pea, plantains and ducunu, a freshly grated corn pudding served in the corn husk. Other delights include darasa another popular staple made from mashed green plantains, stewed pigtails and a spicy tomato-based sauce, oxtail stew, steamed king fish and conch fritters. There's a full bar supplying tropical drinks and more excuses never to leave the place. If you never make it to Belize, I think Garifuna Flava serves up an authentic cultural excursion.