Living and eating in Guatemala
This isn’t about eating in restaurants. It is about the every day food.
I just moved to Guatemala with my husband for a few months Although I knew my husband’s family since the 1990’s and have eaten with them many times, I could not figure out exactly what was Guatemalan cuisine.
Web searches were not that helpful.
So I thought I’d write about what I’m eating here so others could get a feel for the every day food. I’ll report weekly or monthly … I’ll see how it goes.
Any recipes I get will be here
Living and eating in Guatemala – recipes
If anyone has Guatemalan recipes, I hope you will add to that thread. I also welcome any food experiences others have had in Guatemala added to this report. If I can find it, there is a great blog with photos of living in a bigger city.
It took a few days to clear customs. I’ll write about the Mexican part of our stay elsewhere.
I’ve traveled a bit … a half dozen European countries and Canada. I worked a year in Mexico City and a few months in Taiwan.
However, never have I felt so profoundly that I was in a foreign country as when I crossed that border into Guatemala.
It was like stepping into the past. A good percentage of people were still in native costume. Even the ladies who wore more contemporary clothing, had frilly aprons and baskets balanced on their heads filled with everything from laundry to food.
In the morning women in native dress balancing straw baskets on their head were selling fruit from those baskets such as bags of cut watermelon, papaya, pineapple and mango. Vendors in red three-wheeled carts (some powered by motorcycles, others bicycles) sold all sorts of food items. It is a bustling entry point with people crowding the streets.
My border food was fast food because if we got clearance we had to leave NOW. So my first taste of Guatemala was a torta of sorts. It was a soft roll stuffed with chopped hot ham, chopped hot dogs and lots of oozy cheese. It was a good intro.
That was washed down with a can of Central American Coca Cola, which like Mexican Coke uses cane sugar rather than HFCS. It gives it a more balanced, mellow taste and is not as overly sweet and cloying as Coke in the US.
Sitting in the truck and continuing to wait, it got dark and my friend bought a Guatemalan-style hamburger. I couldn’t see what I was eating but it was small beef patty with fried egg and maybe bologna. There was also lettuce, tomato and mayo.
In the morning we had fresh orange juice and a sweet roll with a lardy edge to it. It was sprinkled with sugar. Customs cleared us and we had to leave NOW … NOW!!! My understanding is the agreement to enter the country can sour if one lingers.
I thought maybe the dress at the border was a tourist show … but no … as the miles passed there were still ladies in native dress or with frilly aprons balancing stuff on their heads. It is usually not a straw basket, but a round black plastic tub. My husband’s family dresses only in contemporary fashion … no frilly aprons or baskets.
I only saw one guy in traditional Guatemalan clothing. Mainly men wear t-shirts and ¾ length pants or jeans. Everyone wears sandals. The fairly frequent rain bursts during the day would ruin other shoes
The roads are lined with people selling chicharrons, carnitas, coconut juice in plastic bags, fresh pineapples, mangos, papayas and bags of peeled oranges.
As in Mexico, there are topos (speed bumps) in towns. They are nasty, unmarked things and you must stop to drive over them. I guess they are a version of a traffic light.
Vendors stand next to the bumps with all sorts of food, so as you stop for the bump, you can hand some money over and buy a snack … so much more convenient than a drive thru … you don’t need to leave the road. .
On the way we pulled over to a stand and got carnitas, tortillas, limes and salsa. The big hunk of pork was just ok. My friend said other vendors were better than that.
The landscape in Guatemala also changes dramatically from Mexico. It is lush and green. The sign at the border reads “Bienvenudos a Guatemala, pais de la eterna primavera” … Welcome to Guatemala, country of eternal spring.
We passed sugar cane fields which look like marsh grass. Big trucks passed filled with cut cane. It is not green like I saw at SF farmers markets. The trucks looked like they were filled with brown branches or twigs.
My friend said there was the scent of sugar cane in the air, but it was subtle because I didn’t detect it.
Next to one cane field was a Pepsi plant. Since I am more of a Pepsi person than a Coke person, I thought “Great … Pepsi with sugar instead of HFCS”
Mango trees had branches bent under the weight of the fruit, the red and geen fruit like Christmas ornaments at the end of a branch that are too heavy.
We passed banana plantations and cool, shady rubber tree groves. I know the latter isn’t about food, but they reminded me of maple trees in New England with containers attached to catch the sap.
I’ll keep these reports about food, but in order to give a sense of place, I’ll briefly describe the town of Escuintla where I’m staying.
At this point I really can’t describe much. I was truly played out and exhausted by the nine day drive from San Francisco, CA… the extreme heat doesn’t help either to remain awake
It is a step back in time There was a little… and I mean little … panaderia in town. There’s maybe a largish market, but I’m not sure. Many of the streets are unpaved.
There are raging floods in the winter (and winter starts soon). The bridge to my husband’s home was washed out … to say that is an understatement. It looks like the apocalypse hit it. It is surreal. It is like something chewed up the bridge and landscape and spit it out. Children in school uniforms climb along the rocky mess on their way home. My stepdaughter said she first saw us there.
Finally we get back to a cobblestone street with little red taxis (?) traveling along it. They are about a fifth of the size of a VW Beetle and look like they are held together with scotch tape and hope. Other carts, some motorized, peddle food.
I was told that houses look awful on the outside but once inside they are very nice. I’m glad I was warned because when I saw the place, I wondered what I got into. Once inside it IS very nice and modern … except for the tin roof.
Those roofs are nice when it rains. I like the sound. Some sort of animal ran across it last night, a scary sound … iguana on a hot tin roof? More likely a cat … seriously … as a group of them were having … well … a cat fight.
Out back there are about a dozen chickens, ducks and geese. There are no windows, only open spaces in the walls to let the air circulate. So there is always a rather pleasant background sound of clucking and other poultry-related noises … except for the rooster … which even for a rooster has an overly-assertive crow.
That’s it for the color commentary
THE FIRST FEW DAYS
My husband said I would get bored with Guatemalan food because it is too simple.
After my first few meals, though I doubt I will get bored, I understood what he meant.
It is like America in the 50’s … but with tropical ingredients. The family sits down the dinner table for all three meals. There is no TV blaring. They sit, eat and talk.
My first meal was a dinner of chicken in a soupy red sauce with a bowl of rice to add to it. A stack of thick hot tortillas was wrapped in a towel. There was a pitcher of melon aqua fresca.
I was exhausted, so I skipped breakfast and just had a bowl of boiled plantains in light syrup which was good … and a cup of coffee … instant Nescafe. What is it about Nescafe that they have such presence in countries outside the US?
Anyway, I didn’t come to Guatemala to drink instant coffee. First order of business when I get to Guatemala City, a big city near us, is to buy some real beans and a coffee brewer.
One of my stepdaughters asked if I’d like a sweet bread from one of the street vendors passing by, but I was still more tired than hungry. Later they made me a fresh papaya liquado.
Lunch was a thin fried steak topped with grilled onions and tomatoes along with a salad of cucumbers dressed in vinegar, sliced tomatoes and a few thinly sliced onions. Hot tortillas and black beans rounded out the meal. There was some sort of red aqua fresca and a bowl of fresh, ripe papaya for dessert.
Dinner was scrambled eggs with black beans, fried plantains sprinkled with sugar, tortillas, toasted bread with butter like garlic bread without the garlic and aqua fresca.
I asked if the eggs were from the chickens in back, but my husband said no, the flat on the counter was from a local farm.
Breakfast this morning was a fried egg topped with crushed tomatoes, black beans with crema pura, or as the squeeze bag says ‘heavy cream’. Why these two lonely English words on the packaging that was otherwise all Spanish …no clue. There were fresh soft rolls, tortillas, orange juice and Nescafe
Some items, like the beans can be salty. Salt is sprinkled at the end after cooking. The salt itself is saltier, if that makes sense.
Lunch today was a bit different. There was quilete soup, home made chicken chow mein, horchata and tortillas. Quilete is a brilliant emerald green leaf which was in a clear chicken broth.
I’m having problems setting up my internet and borrowing the house computer. So can’t spend any time searching info on the web about quilete
At the end of meals, someone says muchas gracias and everyone picks up their plates and leaves. This morning, though no one said anything, I think I made an etiquette error. Papa eats first and I grabbed a roll first. I’ll leave the woman’s lib in the US for this particular etiquette thing.
Substitute potatoes (mashed, fried, etc) for beans, white bread for tortillas and lemonade for agua frescas … it is basically American 50’s food.
Meals are served later in the day. Breakfast is about 9am, lunch at 2:30 and dinner about 8:30. People really do take siestas in the middle of the day due to the intense heat. Today it was so hot that all surfaces in the house, counters, tables and other furniture were not only warm to touch but actually hot.
As my husband said … the food is simple … but honest, fresh, tasty and good.
This is great reading. I've always been interested in Guatemala, and you're giving me a good flavor--so to speak--of the place. Thanks. And after you're through with Guatemala, I suppose you wouldn't mind popping over to Paraguay? That is another Latin-American country that interests me. ;)
re: Caitlin McGrath
Thanks for the info.
I thought of you in Texas when I had some proper biscuits with white gravy
you were one of the many chowhounds who taught me what to look for in good food and your posts came in handy in texas. I never would have otherwise walked into coopers but an open pit and all that wood required investigating
First time checking this thread - I have to comment on the coffee - Nescafe - Which is WHAT UP WITH THAT?? Isn't coffee GROWN in South America? I remember having it down there (in Mexico) and I was so shocked! Fer reals? There's gotta be better coffee there and I think you'll find it. I hope.
It seems like everyday drinking is Nescafe. I found this all through Greece, for example. Yes, I am shocked by this in Guatemala. I have not had a decent cup of coffee since I left California. Vera Cruz Mexico had some promising places.
I am hoping that in Guatemala City I can find some good beans and introduce my Guatemalan family to good Guatemalan coffee ... though in the US my husband hated any quality coffee and treated it like poison. Still ... I have hopes.
I suspect that the boutique coffee craze is rather an American and Western European phenomenon. Your average Jose in Latin America is unlikely to give a dam' if he's drinking Jamaica Blue Mountain or Kenyan dark roast, and he's probably never heard of a mocha frappaccino.
PS--Guatemala is in Central, not South America.
hmmm ... I may be replying to an old post that reopened when I looked at this thread. I am going to leave this, but it may be redundant. I have the flu ... in this heat ... and I'm too sick to figure it out
You have to go to the tourist towns to get good coffee. The good stuff gets exported and is more than the average working man can afford. To put this in perspective, most people here can not afford McDonald's ... and it is not any more expensive thand at the US.
What people do ... when and if they must eat out ... is go to the zillion food stands or the restaurants with the meal of the day special wich is at least half the price of McDonald's and comes with soup, an entree, tortillas, rice and an aqua fresca.
I am in a small town. I checked out the coffee in the nearest big market that is comparable to a US supermarket. It was mainly instant coffee. There were some bags o beans, but they were three times the price of a jar of Nescafe. which is abut $4 for the large size jar. When you can probably buy a week's groceries with the difference between Nescafe and beans ... guess what the decision will be.
Also, people LIKE Nescafe. When we were in the US, my husband always reactied to my artisan coffee like it was poison ... I probably never should have started him on Graffeo dark roast.
This is going to be great. I thoroughly enjoyed your reports as you trekked across Texas and will look forward to keeping up with this. Are there going to be pix?
AntiguaDailyPhoto.com is a blog I like for Guatemalan food. We have a lot of restaurants here and neighborhood where about a dozen Guatemalan taco trucks hang out but I've never seen anything like the foods on that blog.
re: The Chowhound Team
Thank you Chowhound Team for moving this back to General Topics. Will stay on topic.
Had some Granadia juice or passionfrut juice for breakfast this morning. This was the yellow passion fruit which I never tried. I liked it better than the purple version
Granadia (or Granadilla) is this the same as passion fruit
Food continues along the lines of 50s food and always some variation of beans, rice, tortillas, eggs and white rolls in various shapes.
This morning with the passion fruit juice we had Kellogs cornflakes with tiny finger bananas that had a hint of a strawberry taste to them. On the side were two pancakes with artifical maple syrup ... with sugar instead of HFCS ... so even though it was phony it was better.
Yesterday was the big market day and they brought back a pound cake like you would get at any Safeway.
Some variation was once elbow macaroni mixed with mayo, a little fried steak, guacamole and a really good rabinos (radish) salad with the dice superfine. This was really good and I am going to have to keep my eyes open next time they make it.
Lots of the leftovers go to the chickens.
I had Pepsi with SUGAR !!! You know, I always said I was a Pepsi person, but I think I prefer Coke with sugar to Pepsi with sugar.
All the yelling I hear occasionally is food vendors in trucks. There was a fish vendor yesterday. The family was a bit distressed that these vendors pulling up to the house were not available in the US. Ah for the days when the milkman delived not only milk, but cheese and other dairy items to your doors ... as I said ... very fifties ... down to burning garbage.
Unfortunately that is the way trash is disposhed of here. No landfill issues. However, the smokey air can be a turn off.
It turns out the family are Evangilists religion wise. Just like the adjectives follow the nouns in Spanish ... grace follows the meal ... so the Muchas Gracias at the end of the meal is thanking God
Which gets me to a report I will be writing about a fabulous evangilical service in town ... lots of street vendors and any church that allows you to eat snacks during the service and bring your dog (it was outdoors) gets my vote.
Will not write that until I go to Mass tonight and see what chow is available there. Turns out there is more town and shops a half a block away from me ... and a street papas frites vendor.
I want to explain there is a subtle difference in this thread. It was not ever meant to be a travelogue or about restaurants or street vendors or color commentary.
There is less than zero chance that anyone is going to visit Escuintla and seriously little of most people even traveling to Guatemala in general.
But it is documenting how my family eats here and extending that to defining what Guatemalan cuisine is all about. Not some lame generic highlights that are currently on the web.
I can only give an analogy to defining what American cuisine is.
What is American cuisine?
That is all I’m trying to do with this report on Guatemala.
And that is what this next post is all about.
Sunday dinner was of all things a New England boiled dinner. There was beef, a wedge of boiled cabbage, a white boiled potato and whole carrot. The local contribution was a quarter of boiled chayote which is called something else here. Dinner also included a bowl of chicken soup to which rice was added and, of course, warm tortillas.
As an American, my stereotype of Latin America is that it was largely Catholic, yet on my drive thru Mexico, I couldn’t find a Catholic Church on Easter.
In the SF Bay Area many Catholic Mexican churches have street vendors outside and at the end of mass, you can buy tamales, raspados, agua frescas, cotton candy, churros etc.
Not so in Escuintla. There were no food vendors at the tiny Catholic Church with about 50 parishioners. All the food action is with the Evangelists where hundreds attend services nightly from 7 – 9 pm.
The service is held outdoors in the grassy school sports stadium. Food vendors line up at the entrance. There is an intriguing ancient, rickety raspado cart, vendors with insulated picnic coolers selling tamales, I think. There are ladies with huge pots ladling out food, vendors grilling food over leaping flames. Given we live two blocks from the stadium, the family wasn’t buying food and it was dark so I didn’t get a good look at the food. I wasn’t expecting it.
When invited to the Friday service I figured, sure, why not and was prepared to sit through a still unintelligible to me Spanish service.
Not so. This was lovely … sitting either in the bleachers or plastic chairs on the grass in the field. The heat had toned down during the evening and the warm night was pleasant. Even the mosquitoes had better things to do, distracted by the huge stadium lights, they swarmed around the lights almost blizzard-like, some probably meeting their maker by flying too close to the light.
Unlike US Mexican masses, you didn’t have to wait until after the service to eat. People brought the food into the service and ate while soothing, live Latino music played … cds available … religion is religion. It reminded me of the cartoon “When the Grinch Stole Christmas” … the sort of atmosphere where the town gathers to sing carols.
No children were being shushed … they played on the grass, often holding plastic bags of sweet drinks. The family dogs were also there
I discovered on the walk to the stadium that I was right near a small neighborhood with a few groceries that sold snacks such as fresh watermelon, a chicken vendor sharing a building with a barber shop, a papas frites cart a half block from my house and a small neighborhood restaurant./bar.
I had not been out of the house yet due to intense heat, pouring rain and general exhaustion. It was a delight to discover the small neighborhood so close by.
This started with going to the, uh, fishmonger.
An aunt who is a real pistol waltzed in and said we were going fish shopping. Vamenos, she announced ... we vamenosed.
This involved driving miles down unpaved roads shaded by tropical trees past sugar cane fields until we arrived at the fish place. An order was placed and the fish guy grabbed his net and with a half dozen hounds following him, took off down the river to catch the fish.
I think he also sells ducks and turkeys. While we waited we collected mangoes and I believe jujubes ... Jocote Tronador ... from the trees on the farm ... gratis. About a half hour later, the fish guy returns and drags out a scale and weights the fish right from the river ... 12 quetzales a pound ... about $1.50 ... I got nothing to match this when we get back in the US
Further research shows they are not jujubes, but a sort of plum --- purple mombin
On the way home we stop for eggs. The chickens wandering around the banks of the small stream ... so they were as free range as one can get. A flat of 24 were 22 quetzales or almost $3. More mangoes were collected.
On the way home a Jocote Marañón tree was spotted and everyone piles out to pick some. Here is what they look like
A different type of mango tree was spotted, so we collected some of those and made our way back home sitting on the open back of the truck, eating fresh mangos.
We passed some fields with cows and bulls grazing in sugar fields and I wondered what the meat or milk of cows raised eating sugar cane would taste like.
One house was roasting a whole pig open an open fire whle not too far away a huge sow trotted alongside the road.
The small tlapia were cleaned and fried ... the flesh stellar fresh and delicate. The aunt, the hot ticket, saw me picking and told me to pick up the fish with my fingers and suck on the bones ... rica ... they were.
This was served with warm tortillas and guacamole and limes. There was chicken soup with quilete and some short noodles. Lime was also squeezed into this.
A drink was made of the Jocote Marañón which worked better than eating them whole with salt. They are very astrigent, like tannic grapes, and the sugar helped
Dessert was mangoes still warm from the trees.
So, you had fish tacos for dinner? LOL...just kidding, and they must have been better than anything most of us have tasted!!! May I ask, how did you pack the fish for the trip back home? I assume no ice, right? And you made all those stops...maybe Americans are waaay to worried about the fish spoiling from store to home? Thanks for your ever-wonderful reports!
Basically they brought along a blue pan and told the fish guy to fill it up. Since they were dumped live into the pan that gave them a little bit of time. We were out maybe a half hour after getting the fish.
I started to feel I was forcing some of the specifically local stuff into this topic, so I started a more general topic about the cuisine and in the future will post to the appropriate thread.
Guatemala cuisine revisited
re: gordon wing
I spent too much time dive dining and street eating in SF. I find myself seeking out similar food here.
Had a paleta at the mall, tutti something or fruti something. This was the shape of a cup. Then it was dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts. It was kind of awful. The nuts were not fresh-tasting, the thick chocolate covering soft like fudge but devoid of chocolate flavor. Even the popsicle was kind of grainy ... or had chopped nuts in it. I didn't get any translation from the family about the flavor ... mania.
It could just mean the same as English ... a crazy flavor. It turns out that in Guatamala the ear of corn with chili on it that is called elote by the Mexicans is called "elote loco" or crazy corn here.
One thing calling to me are the hot dog trucks with the word "Chevere" on them.
Thank heavens for the internet since I know what to expect. From Antiguadailyphoto.com
" The Guatemalan chevere hot was prepared (and still is) with a bun, one or two salchichas (Spanish for hot dog sausage), grated raw cabbage, mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup; Picamás green chili sauce made from chiltepes was available on request."
I had one in SF, but it was served on a tortilla and did not have the green sauce
If they have disappeared elsewhere, they must have moved to Escuintla where every corner seems to have one, At least I will know to ask for the picamás green chili sauce
Another blog with a good photo
Given it is the oddball thing here ... on my list to try is the joint selling Philly cheesesteaks.
I was reading thru the immensly helpful Antigua Daily Photo site and lots of what I wrote about is in it. Often reading the comments adds a whole lot more info
I had plataninas when driving thru Mexico and I am crazy for them .... so much better than potato chips, they are bananas sliced length-wise and fried into crunchy wonderfullness. Great photo. I have my eye on a stand selling these locally
One thing I haven't mentioned is fruit en meil (syrup) l which " are slowly boiled with panela (unrefined brown sugar), canela (cinnamon), clavos (cloves) and water until you get the brown syrup known as miel (honey).
We had peaches the other night. These are lovely and the exact color of the first photo with a pinkish tinge. They are not disgustingly sweet like canned fruit in heavy syrup, but lightly sweetened.
I am beginning to suspect most of what is eaten in the house is supplied from outdoor vendors because I never see the actual food in the house until it appears on the table ... no cans of peaches or whatever. I think the peaches were bought from someone who really did a great job.
My suspicion is based on last night's tamale, one of those wonderful wet tamales wrapped in banana leaves. When I asked who made them, they said they were bought. Yep, given my own preference for buying rather than cooking, the family and I should get on really well. Of course, here it is a necessity due to the heat and just being too hot to spend much time doing anything
Ever since I discovered that AntiguaDailyPhoto a couple of years ago Guatemala has moved way up on my list of countries I want to visit. Thanks again for all your reports.
A clarification - are you saying you'd never had plantain chips until you got to Mexico? or just that you'd never had them fresh and hot? They've been available here for years; all the Latin markets carry packaged brands and many non-Latin supermarkets too. They were probably introduced here more than 20 years ago by the Cordua group restaurants - South American fare - which serve them freshly made. Or is there something special about the ones you've had?
I wish the white rabbit's picture showed close-ups.
My grandsons are Guatemalan and I spend an average of about one month a year there, mostly in their homes in Guatemala City and at Lake Atitlan. One of the boys and their mother cannot tolerate anything spicy; the other boy and their father, as do I, add salsa picante to everything. I think Guatemalan food is bland because that’s the way most Guatemalans prefer it.
Breakfast at our house is catch-as-catch can, although my daughter-in-law often makes pancakes for the boys. Dad will often have beans, eggs, cheese, tamales or paches if there are any in the fridge (bought, by the way, from an aunt who sets up an assembly line of local women and makes them about once a month). The rest of us eat more Americanized breakfasts—cereal, oatmeal, maybe eggs and toast. And didn’t I read somewhere that you said breakfast was at around 9:00 a.m.? Not at our house. The boys leave for school before 7:00 and the parents are usually at work by 8:00.
Dinner, the main meal of the day, is at home at about 1:00 and is prepared by the maids who have been told what to make by my daughter-in-law who, as often as not, pulls something from the freezer to thaw before she leaves for work. It’s nearly always a braise or a stew of some sort, served with rice, steamed vegetables, and freshly made tortillas. Dessert is usually fresh fruit (frequently pineapple, because I can no longer get in New York anything that tastes like a real pineapple and it’s hard to find a bad one in Guate). Although the boys are allowed soda on occasion, most of us drink rosa de Jamaica with dinner. It used to be that the boys came home from school for the midday meal, but their new school is too far away so now it’s just me and their parents.
Supper can be anything from cocktail nibbles turned into a meal to pasta to warming up leftovers. Although we all usually eat at the same time, we eat in the kitchen, not in the dining room (unless we’re having company, of course) and we don’t necessarily eat the same things.
I like to cook when I’m there so I’ll often bring one or two of my cookbooks of the moment. Most of our shopping is done in a large supermarket in downtown GC that’s comparable to supermarkets in the States. Boring, but efficient and reliable, especially for staples. I much prefer shopping in the Mercado centrale—especially for fresh produce. The Mercado, by the way, is where I prefer to buy coffee beans, although I will sometimes buy higher-end, priced-for-the-tourists beans when I’m in Antigua.
I’ve discovered over the years that any recipe based on pork products—sausages, chops, loins, roasts—tastes better in Guatemala than it does back home in NYC. The pork is so much fattier and more flavorful. The only problem is that you can rarely buy something like a should roast with the fat still on it. I’ve always assumed the fat is cut off to make chiccarones.
I mentioned in another thread (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6913... ) a book called “False Tongues and Sunday Bread.” If you’re ever looking for a particular recipe, don’t hesitate to ask me to see if it’s in that book. I’ve found quite a few recipes in it for traditional dishes although, as I say, I’ve not been tempted to make them—just to see how they are made.
Oooohhhh ... high-priced tourist beans ... I am filled with coffee lust ... and worried that I am starting to like Nescafe. I'm going to Antigua either next week or the week after and coffee is high on my to get list.
Do you find the meat chewier in Guatemala. I'm thinking all that free-range meat, so to speak, running all over the place, gives the animals real muscles.
The youngest son eats breakfast at 7 and leaves earlier. One daughter leaves just after breakfast at nine and the oldes goes to school in the afternoon and sometimes misses dinner.
I find beef to be much chewier in Guate, but not necessarily chicken and definitely not pork. Even in the high-end steak houses in GC that advertise "Argentinian" beef, the steaks just don't begin to compare with what's available in Manhattan. (I know; I'm spoiled. But I live in Manhattan so that's what I compare things to.) Most of the chicken that I've eaten at home in GC has been bought at the supermarket, not at the Mercado, and has been commercially processed. Although the breasts aren't as obscenely large as those of most non-free-range birds at home, the flavor and texture are not dissimilar. One thing I have noticed in some supermarkets is "white" chicken side-by-side with "yellow" chicken. I've been told the only difference is in what they've been fed and that it's a question of personal color preference rather than any real difference in flavor. Never did a side-by-side, so I don't know if that's true.
Pork, also most often bought at the supermarket, I find far more tender that what I buy in NYC. And I know it's not just a result of the cooking method since I've had really juicy, not previously brined, chops right off the grill--something that would be hard to achieve with a supermarket product back in the states.
Was fascinated by your link to chicharrones/chicharrines. I don't recall ever having heard the second word. My family uses the word "chicharrones" whether there is meat clinging to the rind or not. I have had chicharrones, by the way, from the stand referred to in that link and they are absolutely the very best ever, ever, ever! As noted in the article, they're there mainly on the weekend and they usually sell out early. It's almost worth arranging your trip to Antigua to make sure you'll be there on a day they set up shop.
Puerto San Jose – Beach picnic – a moveable feast
Fifteen friends and relatives packed into the truck and it was off to the beach. But first we needed to stop for tortillas for the picnic.
We pull up to a lot overgrown with trees, and I’m thinking we are going to pick fruit for the picnic. Nope. There was a little tortilla stand there hidden by the trees with little more than a scrap of tin for the roof held up by four tree limbs. Unfortunately, they were waiting for a delivery of something so no tortillas for us.
I say unfortunately because after picking up supplies elsewhere, we passed this place again and the tortillas were being cooked over an open flame grill, the air filled with smoky deliciousness. It smelled like the fire was fueled by some sort of wood.
The other tortilla joint had one lady knuckle deep kneading the dough and another patting them out and grilling. This seemed to be too slow a process so a bunch of ladies jump out of the truck and help out, grabbing handfuls of dough, patting out tortillas and tossing them on the grill.
A half hour later when we reach the beach, they were still warm. I wonder if you can even buy pre-packaged tortillas here. On the way home we bypassed the large store in town only to go back to the same tortilla joint where a line had formed with people waiting for tortillas. More about Guatemalan tortillas
The picnic included chicken – not sure if it was baked or stewed, a pink salad of shredded cabbage and diced beets, lardy mashed beans, carnitas, bagged chicharrines for snacks, Pepsi and 7UP (with sugar). I swear when I return home my suitcase is going to be filled with soda that has sugar instead of HFCS. The bad part is I could drink oceans of that soda.
Chickens here ... and really all meat ... is seriously free-range. Those chickens get lots of exercise running all around town and develop muscles. The meat is definitely chewy ... really, really chewy. The hunk of pork was the same. The beef I’ve had ... ditto. I don’t think there is a place I haven’t seen a cow. Today some were down by the construction area where a new bridge was being built. These animals exercise ... seriously. Anyway, great stuff here about Chicharrones, Chicharrines and Carnitas
There were dozens of food vendors on the beach. I offered to buy shaved ice, granizadas, for the group. When the vendor asked what kind, everyone said “frutas”. Various colored bottles of syrup are poured on the ice. Then a generous mixture of mangos, coconut and pineapple in a pink syrup top the flavored ice. Dessert for 15 came to just over four dollars. You can barely buy a disgusting slurpee for that in the US ... and I don’t think there was one artificial anything on this.
These are just wonderful. The fruit is not overly sweet and it is just refreshing. They beat Hawaiian shave ice by a long shot and the usually artificial raspados in the US.
Later I had another while it was my turn to guard our things and others were off swimming. The second was better. It also included fresh bananas and the guy did a superior job of shaving off the ice. It was thin and not as course as the first vendor. Here’s more on granizadas, but the shaved ice we had today was way more elaborate than these photos
There were ladies in native costume with baskets on their heads selling bags of fresh sliced mango.From my current bible, Antigua Daily Photo, pictures and discussion on Guatemalan-fresh-fruit-plastic-bags
I can easily answer his question in that link about why thinking of the fruit makes his mouth water ... it is stellar fresh and picked ripe. No long trips of the tropical fruit that is picked green and shipped to the US.
Some ladies also had baskets on their head filled with cerviche in red sauce and bottles of hot sauce ... all balanced with ease on their head. I was tempted, but fish that has been circulating in the sun on top of someone’s head seemed like an unwise choice.
Other fruit vendors sold bags of whole mangos, and people strolled along the beach eating them whole. I don’t have the knack for this yet. It seems they can do this without turning themselves into a juice-covered mess.
There were vendors with bags filled with cashews, macadamia nuts and other nuts. The price was 25 quezales for half a liter, a little over $3. The price was a little less if you bought a liter, but I’m still having problems with numbers over 30.
First of all, they give you a sample. Then they take out a scale and on one side put the appropriate weight and then fill a plastic bag with nuts until the scale balances. They ask for your approval. The nuts are great. They are just roasted and not salted and really, really fresh. There are vendors around the corner selling the cashew fruit fresh with the nut attached at the top. I mentioned picking jacote de marañon earlier in the thread, not knowing these were cashews
Vendors circulated selling whole fish. They had a poll on their shoulder and on each end there were two large fish, about 3 – 4 feet long. I didn’t see anyone cooking on the beach. It seems people bought the fish for home as they were leaving.
There was the vendor selling the mystery shelfish. It looked like tiny black conch shells. Since I had no clue and looking at the inky black water, I thought this would also be an unwise choice.
There were vendors with bags of puffed chicharrines . People selling candy. Late in the afternoon it seemed to be the time that baked goods were sold. I’m really sorry I did not explore this. The first lady had a huge tray with some sort of pastry. She would stop, pull out a folding table and people would pick what they wanted.
Another guy has some other baked good with the same folding table. One guy on a bicycle had a big straw basket up front and said he was selling bread.
You never had to go to them. They were always circulating, even right next to the surf ... thought that was limited to shave ice and fresh cut fruit.
The beach with the black volcanic sand was strictly a locals place. Families piled out with picnic supplies and picked a spot under thatched palm roofs or umbrellas ... usually the ever-present red Gallo beer umbrellas. Plastic tables and chairs were provided.
There were ladies in native costume, complete with long skirts and frilly aprons. They brought their picnic supplies in cloth wrapped packages balance on their head.
Open air restaurants lined the beach where you could get beer and hot food. It was a typical beach town with lots of restaurants and stores selling beach supplies and the universal shell necklaces and such. In addition to the restaurants, there were tons of fruit stalls selling mangos, pineapples and other fruit and veggies.
Those periwinkles are downright purty compared to what these things were.
I am guessing definately conch because the shell was like this
Only the shell was midnight black. They were about two inches long. It must be something that was dug up on the beaach as there were some washed off and in half of a plastic soda bottle. The others were in a pail in murcky black water ... given the sand on the beach is black, that leads me to think they were from that beach.
Tonight was some small salty fried fish. Wasn't able to get the name. The bestt I got was 'pocito frito".
Snails ... they were sea snails
A little uglier since they were still in the black volcanic beach sand.
I found this out since I was looking up caracol ... which I seem to have eaten in a ceviche in Esquintla ... yes, I have eaten raw sea snails. I think they were the crunchy fish.
Hmmm ... I'm trying to decide if knowing or not knowing what I'm eating is the best way to go.
It was sort of a neutral taste like calamari but the texture was different. I would compare it to the outside part of a raw clam ... not the belly. But there wasn't that clam taste, just the texture. While I wouldn't go out of my way for them, I also wouldn't hesitate to eat them again.
I finally had chiltepe peppers today !!!
I have been wanting to try them since reading about them in Antigua Daily Photo
What Makes Guatemalans Hot?
Chiltepe, the hot pepper of Guatemala
What I didn't reallize was how really, small they were ... the smallest pepper I have ever seen .,,. think the head of a pin ... those fancy straight pins with the round colored tops ... that small. Look at the second photo and the newspaper headline to get a perspective on size.
These are really swell ... maybe only slightly behind Hatch chiles as a favorite.
They have the crunch and green taste of a bell peper with the toned down heat of a jalapeno. There is almost a nuttiness to them. My husband ate them by taking a pepper and wrapping it in a piece of tortilla, having so me soup followed by the tortilla with pepper
I can't even imagine what it must take to harvest these ... it would drive me crazy having to pick those itty bitty peppers.
Some other Gautemalan chilies on my to-try list
Poderosos y ancestrales chiles chapines
Thought I’d note what a typical week’s meals are. .. and practice my Spanish a bit. ,,, you might note I have not made peace with Nescafe Clasico yet.
SUNDAY, APRIL 18, 2010 - DOMINGO DIECIOCHO DE ABRIL
Desayuno - Scrambled eggs mixed with diced onions, black beans the consistency of instant mashed potatoes, slice of cheese to crumble in beans, tortillas, sweet rolls, Nescafe coffee'
Almuerzo / merieda – Chicken, mashed black beans with lard, pink shredded cabbage and beet salad, tortillas, soda, granazidas
Cena – Scrambled eggs mixed with tomato, soupy whole black beans, tortillas, Nescafe coffee'
MONDAY, APRIL 19, 2010 – LUNES DIECINUEVE DE ABRIL
Desayuno – Scrambled eggs, cheese to crumble in soupy whole black beans, hot dog bun shaped white rolls, Nescafe coffee, orange soda
Almuerzo / merieda – Ejotes Forrados con huevo, rice, beets, tortillas, fresh sapote (mamey), peach aqua fresca
Cena – Pureed been soup with crema, crisp tostadas topped with guacamole, crumbled cheese and thin onions, Nescafe coffee with milk, hot dog shaped white roll, pan dulce, fresh banana
TUESDAY APRIL 20, 2010 – JUEVES VEINTE DE APRIL
Desayuno – Two fried eggs, pureed beans with crema, fried bananas sprinkled with sugar, tortillas, pan dulce, Nescafe coffee with milk
Almuerzo / merieda – Guisado de res (beef stew) with sweet and white potatoes, rice, half an avocado, tortillas, fruit punch, fresh banana
Cena – Tiny, salty fried fish (pocito frito), soupy whole black beans, scrambled eggs, rice with veggies (carrots, bell peppers), tortillas, Nescafe coffee with milk.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 21, 2010 – MIERCOLES VEINTE Y UNO (VEiNTIUNO) DE APRIL'
Desayuno- Scrambled eggs, whole black beans with crema, fried bananas, hot dog shaped white rolls, tortillas, Nescafe coffee with milk
Almuerzo / merieda – Thin pork cutlet topped with stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes, warm shredded cabbage salad in a vinegar dressing (though warm might just have been the result of room temperature), tortillas, water
Cena – Scrambled eggs, pureed beans with crema, tostadas, tortillas, Nescafe coffee with cream, Bundt cake
THURSDAY APRIL 22, 2010 – JUEVES VEINTE Y DOS (VEINTIDOS) DE APRIL
Desayuno – Scrambled eggs, pureed black beans with crema, hot dog shaped white rolls, chicharonnes, orange juice, Nescafe coffee with milk
Almuerzo / merieda – Chicken stewed in tomato sauce, rice with carrot and bell pepper bits, tortillas, Tamarind Tang
Cena - Chicken stewed in tomato sauce, rice with carrot and pepper bits, mashed black beans, tortillas, hot dog shaped white rolls, pan dulce, Nescafe coffee
FRIDAY APRIL 23, 2010 – VEIRNES VEINTE Y TRES (VEINTITRES) DE APRIL
Desayuno – Fried eggs, whole black beans, tortillas, pan dulce, Nescafe coffee, orange juice
Almuerzo / merieda – Stewed oxtails, German potato salad, sliced cucumbers and onions, whole beans, salsa, tortillas, Coca Cola, whole coconut with a straw to drink the coconut juice.
Cena – Scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions, salsa, pureed beans with crema, tortillas, pan dulce, bundt cake, Nescafe coffee
SATURDAY APRIL 24, 2010 – SABADO VEINTE Y CUATRO (VEINTICUATRO) DE APRIL
Desayuno – Revolcado, tortillas, pan tostado de manteca*, Nescafe coffee
Almuerzo / merieda - Chicken brotn with quilote and short noodles, chiltepe chiles !!!, lightly breaded cauliflower in tomato sauce, warm cabbage salad, rice with carrot bits, Pepsi
Cena – Pato tamales (duck), whole black beans, tortillas, the smaller white rolls, Coca Cola, pan dulce, Nescafe coffee
* The pan tostado de manteca were cookies. It was like a sugar cookie and a biscotti mated. They were round like a sugar cookie and hard like a biscotti. Of every sweet thing I tried so far, I like the cookies best. These took some effort to break a piece to dip in the Nescafe, but were really delicious ... even the Nescafe seemed improved by them.
Well, duck tamales sounded like a good idea when I first heard about them in the US … even tho I’m not fond of duck in general. So Saturday night seems to be tamale night and I was pondering what bony thing I was gnawing at, when someone read my mind … or face … and said pato. Ah, “pato”, I said … kind of unclear on the word … was that chopped up cow’s foot I wondered until I did a search. I think my tamale had the duck neck … luck of the tamale lottery, I guess. It was fine … I like the wet Guatemalan tamales no matter what they are stuffed with.
Some salads, like the German potato salad, it was difficult to tell if they were warm salads, or due to the temperature in the room ... just room temperature.
One striking thing to work on will be the difference in table manners ... not a problem at home, but eating out ... maybe. While it is ok to pick up a chicken leg with fingers and eat it, the same doesn’t apply to cucumbers or oxtail where every last bit of meat is gnawed off the bone.
Usually the only utensil is a spoon with a knife and fork being reserved for chops and steaks. Quite frankly, a spoon works better with fried eggs as you can get more of the yolk easier. Definitely will have to work on the fact that a roll and piece of bread is not a utensil, no matter how well that works.
I’m going to have to check to see if Emily Post has a Spanish edition about American etiquette. On my side I am hoping I am not making major gaffes while here.
One day during lunch, a truck was going by with someone yelling. Usually these are food vendors, so I asked what they were saying. They were looking for people to work in the sugar cane fields. The heat from 10 am to 6 pm is unimaginable. The siesta isn’t a nicety, it is a necessity. Even then, I woke up once because the heat was so bad I couldn’t breathe. To work in that ... I’m speechless. When my husband was 14 his father made him go to work in the sugar cane fields. It was so horrible that he developed a dislike for his father that remains to this day. It also inspired him to train in his field and to be the best at it so he would never work those fields again. I doubt I will ever look at sugar without thinking of the heat and the tortuous work it involves. I feel ashamed for all those packets of fast food sugar that I’ve thrown away in the past. Someone’s arduous labor turned to nothing more than garbage.
Nothing really phenominal so far. The best I've had is at a chain called & Cafe.
I even was desperate enough to try McCafe which boasts baristas and Guatemalan coffee. Seriously, I couldn't tell the difference from the coffee McDonald's serves in the US ... and I would doubt they are serving Guatemalan beans in the States.
The problem it seems is that to Guatemalans, it seems, coffee means sugar ... lots of sugar. A pot of black coffee at a home I visited was already sugared. That is also true at a lot of cafes .. you don't add sugar, the coffee is brewed WITH sugar ... the Texas iced tea of Central America, so to speak.
So if sugar is the star, the coffee itself becomes irrelevant. I am still looking
This is a great discussion, thanks! I was in Guate last fall and loved it. Earlier you mentioned cayote. In Guate it is called guisquil (whis-keel'). It took months to find the name and find that chayote is sold here in Florida, now a regular part of my diet. Raw in salads, baked, stir-fried, there are many ways to eat this vegetable. Escintla- close to Pacaya, are you all OK?
We had a chayote in the backyard in the US. That one little plant almost swallowed the house. I have lots of chayote recipes
Chayote chronicles part 1 – raw, fried, boiled, microwaved ... wonderful and so pretty
Prickly chayotes gone wild
The revenge of the Chayote leaves
That plant freaked me out it was so aggressive. Lord knows what will happen this year without me to hack away at it. It will probalby swallow the town
Other than the kids getting a few unnecessary volcano days off, the volcano didn't do much to Escuintla. Guatemala City got most of the damage. The hurricane was way worse and most of the country is still in recovery.
Anyway, I've started a thread on the next three months.
Guatemalan Cuisine - 2nd quarter report