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Apr 16, 2010 09:04 AM

Guatemala cuisine revisited

I’ll be living in Guatemala with my husband and his family for a few months and want to discuss what the cuisine is about.

I started another thread, but after thinking it over, the title is deceptive and I was trying to accomplish too much.

Living and eating in Guatemala

So I’m going back to the drawing board and starting here with this thread more focused on the food. If I want to discuss something specific like a restaurant or something like that I’ll use the other thread.

I hope others will discuss what they know about Guatemalan cuisine

I am only representing a small area near Escuintla in the town of Massagua.

This wiki article talks about other areas

I have yet to eat a tamale here though I did have a tamal de chipilín that a relative brought to the US. It is a green that is used a lot I was told, but other than that tamale I have yet to see it.

As far as this article ... well, have not seen that so far

And the very Evangelist town that I live in would somehow frown on what they said about corn.

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    So far, after little more than a week, on a high level I am finding it similar to American food, especially the food of the 1950’s. The big difference being instead of potatoes and white bread there are beans and tortillas.

    There are black beans at every meal in various forms. Usually it is just basic whole beans, but there are slight variations on how soupy they are.

    Going back to the comparison with potatoes, Americans, especially in the last century might have potatoes for every meal … hash browns or homefries for breakfast, French fries for lunch and mashed, baked or boiled for dinner. Almost like topping a baked potato with sour cream, the beans are usually drizzled with crema which the plastic squeeze package says is heavy cream.

    In addition to tortillas, dinner rolls are eaten almost daily. They are in various shapes, like American rolls, but basically soft white rolls.

    It is a jarring mix of old and new.

    One day you are shopping at the supermarket similar to Safeway in the mall … complete with food court serving McDonalds, Domino’s (a big presence), Pollo Comparo (the KFC equivalent), frozen yogurt, gourmet coffee and even the usual bad mall Chinese food.

    The next day you are driving down unpaved roads through sugar cane fields and buying fish from a vendor who takes your order, grabs his nets and takes off down the road to catch your fish for you. While waiting you are invited to pick as many mangoes and jocote as you would like for free.

    Surprisingly, it seems the only spice used is salt.

    We had a dish with mole, but it seems like that started with a box from the supermarket.

    Meals have included chicken soup (but with quilete which tastes similar to spinach), liver and onions, steak with onions, fried fish, cooked chicken with mole or other sauce, a New England type boiled dinner (with a piece of boiled chayote thrown in) and even chicken chow mien.

    There are eggs … lots and lots of eggs … scrambled (plain, with onion, with tomato), boiled, chopped, fried. They are usually served with black beans and rice. There’s lots of white rice too … plain or mixed with corn or other veggies.

    Though it is usually beans and eggs for breakfast, the youngest child eats corn flakes and we had pancakes once … complete with artificial maple syrup.

    There is not as much produce eaten, especially fruit. One child did a drawing of what I assumed was a pineapple, apple and pear. It turns out the pear was a chimoya or anona.

    That is another thing; the US seems to use Mexican words. There are lots of things that are called different names like anona and instead of pavo for turkey … chompipi. I think this blog explains the reason, the sound the turkey makes ... but my Spanish is not there yet and gosh is that frustrating not to be able to convey more that descriptions and not be able to really have a conversation.

    Fruit has included sweet bananas (small and large), mangoes, papaya, watermelon and local tropical fruit such as granadia (passion fruit), jocote maranon and Jocote tronador. Often the later are used for juices that are sugared. There is usually juice with every meal.

    Veggies included avocado (plain and guacamole), boiled chayote, corn, cucumbers, tomato and onion.

    The few country-specific things are bananas that are fried and sprinkled with sugar and chilles rellenos. The latter was stuffed with chicken rather than cheese. They stuff them with all sorts of other things I was told.

    No baking goes on … too hot and we only have a range top and a microwave. Baked goods come from the panadria, sold by a vendor who goes house to house. Sweet items are infrequent and are always dipped in coffee … which may explain the dry-ish texture of some sweet rolls.

    Driving by other houses, it seems there is lots of grilling over open flames and I saw a whole pig roasted over a fire.

    We are not near a city, so milk is boxed.

    Unless something new comes up, will post a month or so from now.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rworange

      I guess liver and onions ... higado encebollado ... is something Guatemalans eat

    2. Actually in Mexico el pavo is el guajolote...hmmm, I wanted to ask if your husband's family was of indigenous heritage, mestizo, or mostly European? I wonder if ethnic background as well as the regional issue which you mentioned affect the foods one finds in peoples' homes, or if everyone is eating the same thing.

      Thanks for doing this. I am loving these threads...great opportunity to learn something new.

      6 Replies
      1. re: luckyfatima

        I think it is mixed heritage, though I am not sure what that mix is yet ... too advanced Spanish for me at this point.

        I think it may also have to do with class, as in the US. I would guess he is the equivalent of middle class.

        Breakfast today was atole, huevos rancheros, pureed beans and tortillas. I haven't been spending much time in the kitchen since I am still trying to get used to the heat and am still pretty tired from the hectic move and drive. So I haven't been watching how things are made. For all I know it is atole mix like the mole.

        The ranchero was a thin tomato sauce with zero spice.

        Good news/bad news ... thanks to the heat, your cup of coffee never goes cold ... the bad news it is Nescafe

        Amusingly, I needed to login to Chowhound today. Seems like something on the site is location savy as it said "hola, guapo" ... not another thing in Spanish, thank heavens. I'm not a guy though which is implied by the greeting.

        1. re: rworange

          I think since coffee is such a high earning export in some countries it is too expensive for average local people to drink it as their daily brew, hence the Nescafe.

          Did they call the eggs 'huevos rancheros'?

          1. re: luckyfatima

            Yeah, that is what surprised me. I am doing my English teacher thing and we are on foods we eat every day. So I said frijoles y huevos ... then in English ... beans and eggs. Someone piped up and said they were huevos rancheros. I never would have guessed that

          2. re: luckyfatima

            Actually, everywhere I've been in México "pavo" is used, especially in the Yucatán. The only time I've seen "guajolote" in México is in a dictionary.

            1. re: dlglidden

              'Guajolote' is very much alive, must be a nortenyo thing:

              Here is what you get when you google 'venta de guajolotes'

              and here is a language forum entry on 'pavo o guajolote'

              Mexicanismos are very regional, and as it is a Nahuatl origin word, I suppose it wouldn't be used by yucatecos or in Yucatan.

          3. I forgot about this topic and should have put my diary of a week's meals in this post

            Just a few food thoughts

            IMO, if Gautemala exported its watermelons they would be richer than countries exporting oil. These are just the best ... sweet and crisp in the way a watermelon should be crisp, I have never seen these riound, pale green, basketball-sized watermelons in the US. Here's a photo

            Sunday it finally got too hot even for the family, so we went next door and sat in the shade of a huge tamarind tree eating watermelon. It is way at the top of one of the best food moments in my life. Tamarand trees, btw, are terrific for shade.The huge sow next door occasionally made noises like a machine with metal mangled. Those pigs trotting around town scare me.

            The other note is about cheap white bread. I think I'll be repeating this mantra my whole trip. Sugar is so much better than HFCS taste-wise. The bread had preservatives and was your nothing special bargain white bread but it just tasted so much better

            Finally had homemade pepian on Sunday with one of the former house ducks. I'm down with a major cold so will write about that another time.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rworange

              That fruit stand in your gorgeous, I want to be in front of it right now. (We used to get watermelons like the ones you describe in Taiwan, red and - even better - yellow.)

            2. Sunday we had pepian made with one of this former house ducks.

              It was somewhere between these two photos of pepian

              Pepian is defined in the above links ... "It is based on recado, a tomato, chillies and spices sauce, and some vegetables like potatoes and güisquil (chayote is the Mexican name and most people recognize by this name) along either beef or chicken. I imagine the original recipe calls for Turkey, which what most indigenous recipes use for meat"

              This was one big duck and has been providing a number of meals that included duck tamales and duck chili rellenos. .The large duck ribs were as big as pork ribs. This prep was more suited to the duck as it was not as chewy All that emerged from the pepian was the duck ribs, but there was also a piece of chayote and maybe a carrot. Rice , as in the picture, had carrot bits and was served in a bowl so you could add as much as you liked.

              There was still some of the terrific chiltepe pepers ... really love those

              This link on Antigua Daily photo discusses pepian and other Guatemalan cuisine

              Here's a link to recipes ... but in Spanish

              If you look at the comments in the first two links, it seems there are various versions of pepian.

              I am still a little mystified by how food comes and goes in this house. I'm up the latest and wake the earliest, only because those are the hours with the least heat. My room is directly across from the kitchen, so I see everything going on there. Yet I saw no duck action, like defeathering, etc.

              About all I see is a few veggies being chopped and pots stewing on the stove. So either the duck was processed elsewhere or there is a Guatemalan version of Pepian Helper ... which might not be so far off as the link above mentions jarred pepian sauce. I'll have to look for it next time we go to the market.

              I estimate I'm a month away from having a real conversation in Spanish other than stringing together single words. Maybe then I can ask.

              There was a discussion because to them the English word for duck, sounded like dog.

              Like any rural family, there is no sentimentality about the live food supply. When I first came I asked if they named the chickens, geese and ducks. Nope.

              On being told the duck in the pepian was one of the family ducks, after expressing I was impressed, I said something like ... "but poor little duck"

              One of the daughters, daintily picking at a bone, smiled with satisfaction and said "pero miy rico"

              And she was right. It was tasty.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rworange

                I didn't want to get into a digression on the above post, but the first week I was here, one of the dishes was chow mein. It turns out this is a Guatemalan dish per the discussions in this link

                "Guatemalan Chow Mein is as authentic as shucos, pupusas, mole or even the dish above: Pepian. Remember we take dishes from other cultures and we Guatemalize them."

                Another poster writes "Chow Mein is the American version of Low Mein. However, the Guatemalan version has jullienned spel?? carrots, guisquiles and celery on top of the onions, shrimp, chicken, pork, stake and bean sprouts."

                Someone else mentions adding catsup to chow mein. My family is pretty big on catsup, but didn't notice that anyone added it to the chow mein.

                The chow mein I had at home didin't seem too different from American chow mein. I'll have to pay closer attention next time.

                Googling more, here's a street vendor selling chow mein in Guatemala

                If anyone from the SF board is reading, here's a link to yelp about Universal Bakery in the mission which is a Guatemalan bakery selling chow mein noodles

                Here's a light-hearted link about the national dish of Guatemala where the writer says it is "The full answer might be, “chow mein with Russian salad on the side and horchata as a chaser.”

              2. when we lived in Guatemala City we used to go to the Anacafe headquarters to buy coffee (ground). I was amazed at the instant that I was being served in restaurants!! And the ground you could buy in the grocery stores was no better.