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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 photo...so 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.

                1. I have been enoying trying American products made in Central America because they have sugar. I feel like I have time traveled to the days before HFCS.

                  My latest is Oreo's ... hecho en Nicaruaga. I was bent out of shape at first when I saw the word 'maiz' far down on the ingredient list, but it turned out to be corn starch. As with everything else, the cookie is less sweet and tastes almost like it did originally.

                  Almost, because they use artificial vanilla. What's up with that? Come on Nabisco. There's real vanilla all around this area. How much more expensive could it be to use that?

                  The chocolate cookie itself is softer and not as crisp as the American version ... sort of a Hydrox texture

                  They have Hellman's mayo here too. The original in the US doesn't use HFCS, but what is cool about Hellman's here is the packaging. Lots of products use these squeeze bags

                  They are fabulous. First of all, you can squeeze out every last bit. Second, you don't ever need messy spoons or knives to scrape the last bits out like in even US squeeze bottles. Third, they store really well. You can pile a bunch of them on top of one another and they take up a whole lot less space.

                  I am guessing they are not very ecologically friendly, but this is a country that puts water in sealed baggies and there are areas of the landscape littered with them.

                  Finally got my Pollo Comparo yesterday. I wonder how you say 'meh' in Spanish

                  Pollo Campero at the sacred source ... the “Campero Conspiracy”

                  Today's eats should be better. The boys got up early and went crabbing and a pail of the lively crustacians are waiting for the next meal ... ours. Will have to see how the local crab tastes. Not sure if they are fresh water or salt water crabs. They also picked some mamey sapote while they were at it. We had those great tiny little fried fish last night. There's still a container of them in water. They appear to be some sort of smelt.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: rworange

                    The crab mentioned at the end of the previous post went into a seafood soup with shrimp, bagre (local catfish) and alcapa.

                    The crab itself was fine. There was not a lot of meat in the skinny legs and small claw, but it did a nice job of flavoring the soup.

                    Over the weekend we went to an the house of an aunt in Peronia and made paches, tamales made from potatoes instead of Masa

                    By the way, should you look up Peronia on the web, do not believe what is said about it by English missionaries. I never knew what my family meant by their disgust of missionaries until I went to Perionia and encountered gangs ... of missionaries.

                    Back to the paches ... I watched most of the process from loading two live chickens from our house into a shopping bag for the drive over.

                    It made me think twice about eating tamales. Some of the American standards for preparing food were put aside. This was family. It gave me pause about street vendors.

                    The action started in the courtyard at the pila. The pila is a sink that is everywhere in Guatemala. Even in the tiny, very contemporary apartment of a sister of my husband, on the terrace there was a pila. Here is a fancy pila and some explanation

                    These are what they usually look like

                    If you scroll down this link you will see a great series of photos about making pilas

                    Anyway, picture that sink ... the aunt is defeathering, degutting and chopping up chickens on the left and the grandmother is washing dinner dishes at the same time on the right. They are both using the water hose in the central tank.

                    The courtyard is shaded by a huge peach tree and the aunt, in the middle of the chicken process, knocks a peach off the tree ... it rolls around the concrete floor where the dogs are playing, she picks it up, rinses it off and gives it to me to try.

                    Despite my thoughts I was going to die, I am still here and did not suffer any distress.

                    I missed the execution of the birds, but some of my city girl must have show thru as when the nibs of the feathers were about to be singed off, someone sat the body on the edge of the pila and said in a talking chicken voice ... Hola, Krys

                    The pila worked for sharpening knives as well. The aunt would hone the edge against the concrete and go back to chopping the chicken on a wooden chopping board.

                    A huge propane fueled burner was hauled out and a pressure cooker with the two birds were put on. I missed a little of the making of the potato mixture. The huge tub was already mashed up and the red sauce added. Some salt was being added and various people stopped by and scooped up a bit with their fingers to taste and comment on what else was needed.. The aunt would take a taste and go back to kneeding the mixture. Some oil was also added.

                    The huge plantano leaves had the stem end lopped off and they were carefully washed down with a cloth. Then two leaves were used for each pache. The aunt spooned the potato mixture on, topped with a piece of chicken, handed them to the grandmother who added a whole fresh pepper to some and folded them. Actually we all got to practice folding them, even me.

                    The bottom of a huge blue pot was lined with the discarded parts of the leaves and the paches put on top to cook for a few hours.

                    They were very good ... how could something with mashed potatoes not be good. They were served with white rolls and agua fresca from the peaches.

                    I learned from this link that it is Guatemalan etiquette never to eat more than one tamale at a time. You can eat as many as you want, just not on the same plate.

                    For breakfast the next morning, we had lukewarm paches from the pot that had been sitting out all night. I guess the word samonella does not have a Spanish translation. I lived ... with no ill effects. Maybe it is not the way Americans handle poultry. Maybe it is the way that poultry farms raise chickens in the United States that is the problem.

                    Also, free range chicken, as I mentioned before, is not all that. They develop muscle. On top of it one of the chickens was a senior citizen and a little chewier than others. Even the family admitted that one was a bit ... duro.

                    In the link with the picture of the pache on the planano leaf there is a link to an article on tamales that no longer seems to be on the web. In there was the story of a grandmother serving paches to gringos who commented that the pache was fine but the lettuce it was served on was hard ... for the clueless ... do not eat the plantano leaf.

                    We were visited by a few sompopo de Mayo though we did not eat them

                    After visiting a sister and doing a brief tour of Gautemala city we went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch and had tacos Chino ... egg rolls ... and they were some of the best I have ever had.

                    All the tables did have a bottle of catsup and the hot Chinese tea was served with packets of sugar and lime slices.

                    1. re: rworange

                      French fries (papas fritas) and fried chicken (pollo frito) seem to be in Gautemala what hamburgers and fries are to the US ... but more so.

                      Every town has many restaurants dedicated to them. They are on the menu of most other restaurants.and for safe measure there are lots of street vendors. Here's a photo of a papas fritas cart


                      Many French fry carts also sell chicken. For lunch today we had fried chicken from the cart that is a half a block away from my home. It was actually quite good and, IMO, better than Pollo Campero.

                      It had a coating similar to KFC original, but with fewer spices. The chicken was tender and flavorful.

                      I have been a little burnt out on street eats lately, so on my own I probably would not have tried this cart. I'll gave to give the fries a try.

                      I forgot to mention that on my visit to Peronia, the aunt had imported coffee from Mexico ... Nescafe Dulce. They talked about the coffee in the same tone I would about the great artisan bean roaster.

                      My husband seems to be a hard-core Nescafe Clasico addict as he didn't like the Dulce. As for me, they day I start destinguising between different types of instant Nescafe is the day I yank my tastebuds out and give up eating. It tasted like Nescafe to me without any subtle difference. I think it has sugar in it, but it did not seem particularily sweet.

                  2. The one quetzal wonder - honey granizada

                    I think Guatemalan shave ice is the best in the world ... ok ..other than Guatemala, I've only tried it in Mexico, the US and Hawaii (yes I KNOW it is part of the US, but it is a different version of shave ice)

                    The miel granizada was different than those I had at Playa San Jose which were similar to the typical granizada.

                    It was a small cup, maybe the size of a small orange juice glass in a restaurant. It was sheer elegance.

                    It was closer in texture to a cross between a lemon ice and a slurpee ... not as liquid as a slurpee and not as solid as lemon ice. If you like the flavor of dulce de leche, this was a little like that, but more refined and subtle.

                    There are currently 8 quezales to a $1. It is the best thing I ever bought for little over 12 cents in my life. Price aside, it is one of my top ten tastes this year ... for you SF flolks ... Bi-Rite, Ici, Scream, etc, ... feh ... this was amazing.

                    The whole place was a class operation. They are mainly a meat and cheese store. They sell a few other things like jars of honey. It is the only small meat shop I've seen that had a refrigerated case. The plump little sausages looked excellent. We bought some cheese that we will have later. This is the closest to artisan that I've seen so far in the immediate area.

                    Almost any meat vendor I've seen just hangs the meat from hooks ... unrefrigerated and unprotected from interested flying critters ... ditto on the chickens that sit on counters in the hot sun.

                    My Guatemalan ceviche crawl

                    1. I had my first fresh pacaya today. It is the flower of a palm tree, Chamaedorea tepijilote.

                      This blog, in London of all places, has a good picture of how they look and how they are prepared

                      For a more upclose look at a single pacaya, scroll down on this picture until you see the green shoot with the yellow tassle that looks a bit like corn silk.

                      The corn comparison is a good one. It is almost like a skinny ear of corn which you slit open and inside is that cornsilk like flower.

                      Goya sells jarred picaya in the US which I have tried and it is btter. When the family moves to the US, I am going to have them taste artichokes which taste similar. Different texture and shape, but similar flavor.

                      I agree with the firt link that they don't taste like asparagus, but I can see the comparison to the taste and texture of baby corn ... but I still say closer to artichoke.

                      They were fried in egg batter and topped with tomato sauce. I really like these a lot and can see why the family craved them in the US.

                      Oddly enough, if I look out my window I can see the volcano Pacaya ... or on a clear day, I can see Pacaya.

                      I can't find any web references tying the volcano name to the palm name. My Spanish isn't good enough to tackle that. I didn't have enough to tackle whether our pacaya fritter was fresh or jarred until finally someone hauled out the fresh pacaya shoot.

                      The food network here continues to be items sold between households. This week we had a brilliant creamy queso fresca made by one of the ladies in the town. I keep telling people they could definately make some money at a US farmers market selling items like the cheese, made-to-order tortillas, tamales, paches, etc.

                      It seems like the tortilla lady is getting a toungue lashing as she raised her price from 5 tortillas for a quezale to 4 tortillas for a quezale ... that is about 12 cents. For hot, hand-made tortillas made from fresh ground maize ... bet I could sell a bag of 10 for about $4 in San Francisco, CA

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: rworange

                        I love pacaya but have in the past only found it jarred and as a part of those mixes of mildly pickled vegetables. yes, I agree it's closer to artichoke and I like it better than baby corn.

                        I've made the pickled vegs but couldn't find any pacaya so it wasn't as good as the jarred stuff (there are other brands besides Goya).

                        I just recently came across packages of pacaya in the freezer section of a local ethnic supermarket chain. I'll have to go back and get some and look again in the produce section for some fresh. I never knew anything else to do with it besides pickle it.

                        1. re: rworange


                          I just don't have the time or the energy to thank you for each and/or all these various posts about Guatemalan food (and I still think "food" is a more accurate word than "cuisine," but I do thank you and encourage you to keep it up. I doubt I'll get back to Guatemala soon, if ever, but you're keeping the dream alive for me (not for the food, but for the country).

                        2. I finally had something I hate - suchiles

                          This is a drink that is fermented a few days

                          ½ lb. yellow corn
                          4 oz. barley
                          10 pieces of allspice
                          1 piece of cut-up ginger (2 cm)
                          4 oz. of peeled tamarind
                          5 balls of cintul (chichipate) washed and cut
                          8 sticks of cinnamon

                          It is also made with pineapple rinds

                          Fresco de súchiles

                          Ingredientes (Rinde 20 vasos)

                          - 1/2 libra de maíz amarillo
                          - 4 onzas de cebada
                          - 10 pimientas de chiapa
                          - 1 trozo de dos centímetros de jengibre machacado
                          - 4 onzas de tamarindo pelado
                          - 5 bolitas de cintul (chichipate) lavadas y machacadas
                          - 8 varitas de cordoncillo lavadas y amarradas juntas
                          - 1 piña lavada y cortada en trozos con cáscara

                          Para preparar la piña

                          - 1 tapa de panela blanca en pedazos
                          - 1 cucharadita de anís en grano
                          - 25 jocotes de chicha (jocote amarillo seco)

                          I'm the only person I know personally that not only likes, but loves, tejuinos, a Mexican drink made by frementing pineapple rinds.

                          But suchiles ... It tastes like all those ingredients got together, made a suicide pack, leaped in a jar of water, drowned, their bloated remains were strained out days later and the liquid is served.

                          Usually there is a drink of the day. The suchile has been served the last three days. Despite the language barrier, some of my California sensibilities seem to have gotten thru the babel filter, because I was proudly told it was "suchiles natruale". Yikes. It left me longing for HFCS and anything unnatural
                          Also tried a mystry fruit, huiscoyol

                          While searching for the huiscoyol, I came across this great list of Guatemalan produce A-Z

                          In addition to nice pictures there are some nice descriptions as this one in Z is for zapote

                          "The Zapote texture is like cutting into a refrigerated pumpkin pie. The texture is like you were having natures guilt free fudge"

                          And when you get it picked ripe, it is exactly like that.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: rworange

                            G is for GUANABA

                            And G is for the flavor of this fruit picked ripe ... great, glorious, grand and gorgeous

                            Since the spelling is similar, I've been mistaking guanabana (soursop) with guayabana (guava)

                            Here's a good Chowhound thread discussing the various names in various countries.

                            Anyway, I've been bewitched by soursop ice cream and sherbets here. Yesterday, I had fresh soursop juice and it was one of the finest things I've tried in my life.

                            I've had guanabana beverages in the US at Brazilian resturants and I liked it a a lot. Howeve, they use frozen fruit or pulp so the drinks are tasty but not spectacular. As this Chowhound poster wrote

                            " Fresh guanabana and the fresh juice is one of the most exhilirating foods I have ever eaten. The frozen pulp or canned juice is but a hollow gesture compared to the real thing"

                            This is a great blog on guanabas from photos of it growing on trees to how to juice one.

                            This blog on growing them has some info I need to ask my family .. when my Spanish gets better

                            "although fresh pulp is more desirable. Immature soursops are often cooked, and eaten as a vegetable. "

                            Since I buy all fruit that is different, I've bought fresh soursop in the US ... once. I really didn't know what to do with it and was unimpressed. I suspect it was probably picked green so it could survive the trip to the SF Bay Area.

                            It is like the little bananas, Bananitos de Oro, that I have been enjoying picked ripe. This site writes

                            "they can also be found in the US now, but I am not impressed with the quality. In Guatemala now they can be found in stores at well and again I am not impressed with their taste, plus they tend to be bigger. The good ones are the ones sold by street vendors or at the market, I think because they need to be cut ripe to have a good flavor thus not good for the supermarket life expectancy needed. "

                            And this is so true. I bought some at a Gautemala supermarket and the difference was jaw dropping from the bananitos from a street stand. Even though the store bananas were ripe and sweet ... the first thing that hit me was the taste of ... green ... the taste of even the best of any variety of banana in the US. Ripening on the counter doesn't removed that taste, only lessens it.

                            Nice local tip in that bananitos link for me while I'm here " the smaller they are the better. I supposed is like a concentrated taste."

                            1. re: rworange

                              Excellent point about the green taste, I know exactly what you mean. The only time we had truly ripe bananas was in Taiwan - they were brilliant - almost a floral taste.

                          2. Death and coffee

                            Lolita, my husband's aunt, died niine days ago at age 50 of a stroke due to diabetes. And though she died a senorita (so much kinder than spinster or old maid) about a hundred people showed up for the midnight service tonight.

                            In the courtyard four huge pots ... enough to feed 100 ... rested on cinder blocks and were fueled by burning logs of wood. Two equally large baskets held dinner rolls and sweet bread.

                            These houses are deceptive from the outside. Driving down the dirt roads and seeing people cooking on open fires outside, I assumed that people did not have the money for electricty or appliances. That is not to say that many people aren't living in extreme poverty, but some of that outdoor cooking and eating is just that, the equivalent of the American backyard bbq.

                            Lolita had every modern appliance and cable tv. But the family complex shared a courtyard shaded by mango, avocado, banana and a few other fruit trees. She had a full set up out doors of various grillls and cooking areas.

                            People are buried here within a day of death. It is the tropics and there sometimes isn't embalming. I didn't attend the burial because the family, rightly so, thought it would kill me. I saw a few other funerals in town. It means walking about two miles from the church through roads cut into sugar cane fields, singing hymns and following the hearse. The body is put in an above-ground crypt. Most people are not buried. This happens mid-day when the heat is the worst.. I'm stil having trouble handling the heat at that time of day just walking around the house. So I don't know what happens on the day of the funeral in terms of food ... or anything.

                            There is a nine day novena and on the last day, family and friends gather about 9 pm to await the final service at 11 pm. People socialize, some men played cards, children ran around , babies are nursed and the family dogs circle hoping to catch some scraps of food.

                            At about 10pm the ponche is served. Ponche is a hot punch made with dried fruit that is usually served at Christmas

                            Although the pot was covered, the smoke from the wood somehow permeated the drink. This was pineapple based with lots of fruit at the bottom. For a 100 people one bottle of liquor was used, mainly for flavor. I doubt I'll ever try a better ponche.

                            The service starts at 11 and there is an hour of prayer and hymns. There is an altar set up with a huge crucifix, flowers and lots of candles. At midnight, a small, upright cross covered in black paper is laid to rest flat on the table. The family exits the seats and immediately serves coffee and plates that contain a tamale, white roll and sweet roll.

                            The tamale, as all Guatamalan tamales, was very good.

                            The coffee was spectacular. This was no Nescafe.

                            Ground coffee beans sweetened with sugar and slowly cooked for hours over the fire, took on a smokey, smooth, melllowness. It is strained with sieves and served.

                            I am going to place this above any artisan coffee I tried in SF. For all the new generation of coffee makers trying to avoid the 'burnt' flavor of over-roasted beans and using machines costing thousands of dollars ... none even come close this complex, rich, perfectly balanced coffee made in nothing more than a large pot. All that artisan stuff produces bland and characterless. They could take a lesson from a tiny town in Guatemala.

                            People sit and shared their memories of Lolita. I left early (1 am) because everyone was so lovely and accommodating my limited Spanish. I felt they needed some time not to deal with the visitor.

                            Even though Lolita never left her home for years due to illness, all those people showed up. I think about my own mother who was in a nursing home and the many older people like Lolita who die alone despite having family. Mother Teresa once said that Amercians are some of the poorest people she knew. Tonight I would have to agree. Lolita died in a tiny village, probably not with a whole lot of money, yet she was so much richer than many Americans I know

                            Unfortunately diabetes is rampant in Guatemala.Even the smallest town seems to have a diabetes clinic. Larger towns have many. Four members of my husband's family have it. It can not be blamed on fast food. These people eat mainly at home. Processed foods ... nope ... mainly from scratch. People like sodas like Pepsi and Coke a lot, but even those are limited to a few glasses a week.

                            However it is a diet heavy on baked goods and starches. Way too many things have sugar added to them ... coffee, juices, fried bananas. While it isn't diabetes related, don't get me started about cholesterol with beef being popular and eggs sometimes served at every meal. And salt ... if it isn't sugared it is salted.Or cheese is added ... choleteral AND salt. THe people in the family who don't have diabetes, seem to have high blood pressure.

                            If anyone wants a living lab to verify much of the health warnings given over the years, Guatemala might be the place to go.

                            Anyway, over the years I have virtually shared many events with Chowhounds from birth to death. I thought I'd share a bit about death and food in Guatemala.

                            In a way, it is my small tribute to Lolita ... a woman who died with no husband or children but a family who loved and honored her. I hope some day we will share a heavenly cup of coffee.

                            Via con Dios, Lolita

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: rworange

                              This is a lovely post. You definitely will have material for an extremely interesting book when you return to the US.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Before going to the funeral, I did a bit of Googling to find out what to expect and the etiquette. I didn't find much. I just came across this article that is mainly about flambre, a typical day of the dead dish. However it also discusses funerals or velorios and the food involved.

                                :"But in small villages it is very different. The funeral or velorio takes place at home. Plenty of food is cooked. Atol, a thick drink made out of corn and cinnamon, chuchitos ... , tamales, hen broth (not chicken, hen)… enough to feed an army ... Pine needles are spread around the whole house and “agua ardiente” burning water (aka, booze) flows amongst the men. Women scream and cry and faint (even if they met the deceased only once) and after a while (and after many drinks), the guys start telling jokes and it turns into a party."

                                As to the flambre, this was the first time I've read there are three different regional varieties "the red one, which is more acid and has beets… the white one which uses honey, and the divorced one, when you serve the ingredients separately."

                                She also lists many of the more than 45 ingrediants of this dish and the shopping frenzy that goes on locally for the best ingrediants ... get to the market at 6am or forget about it.

                              2. The other day for lunch we had a breaded cutlet. Since my husband was at work and I was the only English speaking person at the table, I took a guess.

                                It was tender and tasted a little like squid ... could be conch ... there was an abolone quality to it. It was quite tasty.

                                So I gave the two English words that might translate a try.

                                "Conche? Calaimari?" I asked.

                                Everyone said "Si"

                                Then when my husband is enjoying this delacacy at dinner, he asks "Did you like the panza?"

                                Well, I knew enough Spanish to know that was some sort of cow offal. I trot off after dinner to find my dictionary.

                                Cow stomach

                                I think I'll go back to "Que es eso? with the unknown rather than taking a guess.

                                That being said, It WAS tasty. Guatemalans do have a way with offal. I had my first great menudo when a relative was visiting in the US and my husband brought me some really tasty soup she made that turned out to be menudo.

                                Here's a blog about two other preps of panza ... as a ceviche and a stew. Hmmm ... seems that bulls testicles are used for ceveche too ... maybe "Que es eso?" should be something I ask before taking a bite of the unknown. Then again ... maybe not. I probably never would have found out that panza can be tasty.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: rworange

                                  I'm really enjoying your posts. Have you had Quesadilla yet? It is not the American/Mexican definition of Quesadilla. It is instead a sweet/savory breakfast bread (quick bread, not yeast bread). It is both sweet & cheese-y. I had it in the inland part of Honduras, close to the Guatamalan border. It is apparently common in both countries. I've tried to recreate it at home, but all the recipes I find call for Parmesan. It is defintely not the cheese used when I had it in Honduras, but have been unable to figure out what the right cheese is, and if it's even available in SoCal. If you come across this bread, I would be grateful if you could find out the cheese used!

                                  1. re: aimeekm

                                    Oddly enough I haven't had one here yet ... though I plan on hitting San Antonio Bakery in Antigua next time and getting some ... but I've had it twice in the SF Bay Area. Even more coicidental, this post came up on the SF recently.

                                    In a link on one of the posts, someone writes "1 cup of dried cheese (Zacapa is the real thing; however, you can use parmesan or cotija)"

                                    What is even more astounding to me is that rice flour seems to be used in many of the online recipes. With the slightly crumbly texture, I would have sworn these are corn-based.

                                    Maybe the eggs and butter giving it the color caused my confusion.

                                    There are links to other recipes for it on the SF link. These seemed to be based in El Salvador with nearby countries making it as well.

                                    1. re: aimeekm

                                      Aimee I remembered your quest for this from last year, and looked up the thread (I see you tried the SF Chronicle recipe then). I noticed the one JoanN posted calls simply for "mild cheese," which suggests to me something less distinctively flavored than Parmesan might work for you, like one of the mild Mexican cheeses you can no doubt buy.


                                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                        Thanks for your quick reply rworange! Interesting that came up recently. I agree that it is similar to corn bread, and actually has the same sweet/savory profile and appearance. Thanks for the Antigua Daily link. I'll have to see if I can find Zacapa. I can easily get Cotija or even aged Cotija, so I'll give that a shot! I think though I will use the SF Gate recipe http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article... instead of the one w rice flour. This recipe had the right texture, just the wrong cheese flavor.

                                        Good memory Caitlin! I actually tried Aged Queso Fesco as well. The bread definitely has a rich cheese-y-ness that a very mild cheese wouldn't impart I don't think.

                                          1. re: aimeekm

                                            I had a quesadilla last week with Zacapata cheese. It was made by a cheese vendor who sold nothing but huge wheels of queso de Zacapata, queso de Jalapa, mantequilla de costal and the quesadillas.

                                            The quesadillla was SO different from those I tried in the Bay Area. The cheese was front and center with the sweetness secondary. The previous versions I've had in the states, I never picked up the cheese taste.

                                            I can see why parmesian is recommended, but I can see why the flavor profile would be off and not exact. The Zacapata is a very assertive cheese. I'd go for the strongest dry cheese you can find.

                                            I'm also wondering if the butter would throw the taste off. The dense sack butter might be a contributor to the way the quesadilla tastes.

                                            Looking at that SF Gate recipe, I'm guessing that is not even going to come close. I think you really need the rice flour and I would follow the recipe from Antigua Daily Photo.

                                    2. For dinner tonight we had ayote, a wonderful squash that has green and maybe black flesh. More on the general board

                                      It seems it is made into a cand and empanads on the Day of the Dead. While I was looking for more info, I found this terrific blog about a family celebrating Dia de los Muertos in Guattemala

                                      I know it is early, but I didn't want to lose that link.

                                      1. La Boda de Gustavo y Elena

                                        I haven't found much about traditional wedding food in Guatemala. So I can only describe what was served today.

                                        If I remember anything about today it will be the happy faces of the bride and grrom who seemed oblivious to all around them ... including the intense heat.

                                        This blog by a Peace Corps volunteer about a Gautamalan wedding he attended made me smile because it was almost exactly my experience ... from the dogs to the DJ with "stupidly enormous speakers". . The family is also Catholic.

                                        And I agree with him that the differences from an average US wedding were minor but interesting. Being in a small village, I doubt there were invitations sent out for two reasons ... everybody lives within a few blocks of each other ... there really is no mail service.

                                        We went to the reception and skipped the ceremony which was held next door to the town hall. People from the town peered thru the windows to watch the ceremony take place.

                                        Entering the reception area which was covered with white balloons and a bell-shaped pinata, ladies pinned everyone with a silk ribbon with the date and bride and groom's name printed in gold.

                                        The large cinder block hall painted in blue and white with a metal roof was filled with tables with white tablecloths and plastic knives and forks wrapped in white napkins. Each family who attended contributed a centerpiece with green and gold laurel leaves and dried white flowers.White streamers, balloons and papef swans were strung across the ceiling.

                                        On the stage a dj with a sound system blasted music from an amplifier larger than he was.

                                        The wedding march was started, the young ring bearer entered, followed by the flower girl throwing either petals or confetti from a white basket, followed by the bride and groom who stopped under the pinata which was broken open, showering them with confetti.

                                        The ladies of the family circulated with trays holding small clear plastic glasses of sparkling cider. There was a bottle of sparkling something on the table of the bride and groom. Al I could think was it must have been a very hot drink because it sat on the table in the grueling heat without ice for about a half an hour. But the absolute look of sheer joy on the couple's face as they had their toast ... it seemed as wonderful to them as the finest chilled champagne.

                                        The couple then visited each table with their glasses and at each table everyone clinkled glasses with them and congratulated them.

                                        Next the ladies circled with trays that held cans of soda. Which was followed soon by the wedding dinner served on white styrofoam dishes. There was macaroni salad, a curtido of white cabbage, a grilled onion, three tortillas and a thin strip of steak topped with a stewed tomato and onion mixture.

                                        After dinner, people dropped off presents and took photos with the bride and groom. When everyone wished them well. The bride and groom made a short speech and cut the cake. It was a typical wedding cake, and I applaud it for survivng the heat.

                                        The bride and groom took pictures cutting the cake and lovingly feeding small bites to each other. There was no cake smahing in each others face here. It was a vanilla cake with pineapple marmelade filling and sweet white icing. The ladies circled with trays one more time with large plastic glasses of regular apple cider.

                                        The heat is brutal in this town. Even with high ceilings that had huge open windows across the top ... cinder block and metal intensified the heat. I was amazed neither the bride ... or groom ... fainted since she had a full white wedding gown and large veil and he was in a black tux with jacket.

                                        While there was music, there was no dancing ... just too hot.

                                        The doors were open and a few dogs trotted around hoping for a few scraps from the tables.

                                        I thought of all the etiquette threads on Chowhound with people complaining about children at weddings and uninvited guests. I can not imagine these people even considering leaving their children at home. I don't think they would grasp the concept. I was just told to come along though I am pretty sure I wasn't specifically invited. As that Peace Corp blogger wrote, it is probably expected that extras will show up.

                                        I kept thinking about all the money thrown at American weddings. However, there was no bride stressing out over some 'catastrophe' that ruined her perfect day. Elena only had eyes for Gustavo. I don't think I've ever seen a happier couple at a wedding.

                                        It was nice. It was about what was really important ... a couple celebrating the start of their life together with their family and friends

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: rworange

                                          Going to the movies in Gautemala

                                          After the wedding all everyone wanted to do was hit the Esquintla mall with its air conditioning. Hoping to maximize the time we'd spend there I suggested we go to the cinema. I was curious about what food was sold at the concession stand.

                                          While I know this is not food-related, I have to tell you the jaw-dropping price for a new release movie at prime-time on Saturday.

                                          Movies cost 20 quetzales. That is $2.50.

                                          The theater looks pretty much like any US mall cinema. There was nothing too amazing at the concession stand ... popcorn with margarine, candy, hot dogs, nachos, bright green and pink slurpee type of thing, soft drinks and water. Popcorn prices ranged from just under two dollars to $2.50 for large. Sodas and water were $1 - $2. The candy was the relative rip-off here. No Milk Duds, Good N Plenty, jujubes, etc. It was pretty much regular sized Hershey bars and they wanted almost $2 for them. I didn't see anyone buying candy.

                                          Total damage for three adults and three children for movies, popcorn and sodas ... around $30.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            Proportionally to most people's income that ticket price is about the same as in the US, no? Still a "luxury".

                                            1. re: buttertart

                                              There weren't lines at the ticket counter, though it could be matiness are more popular here. Didn't check the matinee prices.

                                              According to this site

                                              "The biggest difference between Guatemala and the USA is the capita per personal income. In 2006, an average income of $36,714.00 per year.[27] Guatemala had $2,640.00."

                                              Dividing those by 52 weeks it works out to $706 US and $50 GT per week in USD,So actually it is way more expensive in terms of percentage of income to go to the movies in GT.

                                              It sort of bugged me that I could find no information on Guatemalan wedding food so I tried a few different ways to Google.

                                              Here was a Mayan wedding where tamales were served

                                              Some gringo went to GT and recreated a Mayan wedding and writes

                                              " On the big wedding day I was presented with the most important gift from my new mother-in-law - a cooking apron, and I proceeded to go directly into the kitchen, following the wedding, with her to learn how to best prepare meals the way my husband was raised to expect his food to taste. "

                                              Here's a rather posh, upscale Guatemalan wedding, but damn ... if you look at the photo of the dinner plate, there';s that cabbage curtido.

                                              What was funny to me was the Peace Corp description of the wedding got a lot of hostile comments from Guatemalans with one person providing a link and saying he should go to a 'real' Guatemalan wedding

                                              Well, yes. There are weddings like that in the US also. But I'm guessing even in the US it isn't typical to have a wedding like this - "The ceremony was lit by 2,000 candles and a symphony orchestra entertained everyone while they waited for Maria’s arrival. The reception was a blow-your-mind party with a 21-piece band that played until 4:00 a.m. to a packed dance floor"

                                              This was a pretty fabulous Mayan-themed wedding down to the cake. Maybe I'll hold onto this until my stepdaughters are ready. I may actually buy some tablecloths like that before I leave

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                " On the big wedding day I was presented with the most important gift from my new mother-in-law - a cooking apron, and I proceeded to go directly into the kitchen, following the wedding, with her to learn how to best prepare meals the way my husband was raised to expect his food to taste. "

                                                This could also be looked at as a symbolic *cutting of* or in this case *handing over of the apron strings* "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" type of thing. Also it could be a symbol of accepting the bride into the family as a daughter and giving her new tools to build upon and maybe make integrating the two families, while building her own a bit easier. Another thought is it could be an acknowledgement of her new status as the feminine head of house hold, like sous chefs bucking for an apron. It is amazing the rituals and honors wrapped around food and its preparation. If I can remember this long enough I might jokingly give my possible future DIL an apron with the strings cut, maybe with an offer to teach her or a book with recipes my son likes. But having been raised by a feminazi I will of course need to find a similar teasing right of passage for my daughter and any possible future SIL ;-? It's at least as funny as my MIL taking me shopping so she could impart the advise that I should always wear "nice" nightgowns :-0 Anything that can create a deeper and happier sense of family is a beautiful thing to me.

                                                1. re: just_M

                                                  Wish that were all so.If I find it again, there is something about the husband feeding his wife some dish and some back and forth eating. On the third bite by the wife, it is a symbol that her status as a person has been lowered two levels.

                                        2. The freshest goat milk

                                          Looking for info about the Mercado Central in Guatemala City, I came across this photo claiming that market had goat milk for sale straight from the goat.

                                          I thoght ... an exaggeration. I didn't see the goats on my visit.

                                          Anyway, at breakfast this morning we were were talking about Guatemalan cheeses and someone said it possible to buy milk straight from the goat. Damned if on the way to another farmers market today I didn't see two different guys with goats.

                                          The bizzaro thing about Guatemala is the contrast between the modern and ancient in close proximity.

                                          The second guy with three goats was set up across the street from Hiper Paiz (Wal-Mart's local Super Center)

                                          I don't know how much they charge as no one tried it. I may ask the next time I see this, but I'm a little uncertain about drinking the stuff ... even though at this point I have discarded every single US health rule ... and yet I live ... with no 'problems'. I have to think about that goat milk though.

                                          1. La quinceañera - Recuerdo de Mis 15 años Milvia 19-6-10

                                            This site has a nice description of the quince años

                                            "Quince años" literally means "fifteen years" in Spanish, and quince anos or quinceanos is used to refer to the fifteenth birthday itself. "La quinceañera" is the fifteen year old birthday girl, and is also used as the name of the celebration of her coming of age and entry into adulthood.

                                            The quinceanera is a traditional celebration something like a cross between an American sweet sixteen party and a debutante ball. It marks a child's passage from girl to woman, becoming a lady’

                                            This site elaborates on the details

                                            The event I attended on Saturday started with a special Mass. The color scheme was orange, white and green and the church was decorated in those colors.

                                            Milvia had a ring bearer (6 year old Juan Carlos), two flower girls with baskets of rose petals and about six damas (maids of honor) who carried a bird of paradise flower which they used to form an arch that Milvia passed under as she left the church. Fireworks were lit and it was on to the fiesta at her house a half a block away. It is a small town.

                                            The path to the house was covered with rose petals that the flower girls threw for Milvia to walk on.

                                            It was held outdoors in a lovely area shaded by plantain, coconut and mango trees which were decorated with orange streamers and bouquets of white mums and baby’s breath. Even Mother Nature seemed to co-operate with several of the bushes blossoming with orange flowers.

                                            The tables, covered in white linen tablecloths, had lovely arrangements of orange roses with white mums and baby’s breath in clay bowls. Orange and white plastic ware were wrapped in pretty paper napkins with a peach blossom design and tied with a silk ribbon. Bottles of Agua Pura Salvavidas were on each table … the good stuff.

                                            The Brindis was a toast was made with pink sparkling wine in small plastic cups. The seven piece mariachi band played while Milvia danced with her father. Her attendants circled with frilly orange and white baskets pinning little ribbons on everyone commemorating the event while Milvia regally walked from table to table in her fairy tale pricess gown and talked to her guests many of whom gave her gifts.

                                            This young woman and her mother paid attention to detail. There were bowls of pickled (escabiche) onions, carrots and oregano on each table (white, orange and green) It was very good. The aunts and other relatives circled giving out cans of soda … mainly orange and lime.

                                            They have an outdoor cooking area and the meal was assembled from huge pots and pans

                                            The ladies then passed out Styrofoam dinner trays with a beautifully plated meal. There was carne asada topped with stewed tomatoes, grilled green onions, four tortillas, white rice and a pretty salad of shredded carrots and fresh green beans on a butter lettuce leaf … orange and green. Sprigs of cilantro decorated the plate. It was as tasty as it was attractive.

                                            I was really impressed by the lettuce as I haven’t seen anything but iceberg anywhere in Guatemala … from upscale restaurants and markets to the lowliest farmers markets.

                                            Her dad made a speech and it was time to cut the eight cakes with orange frosting that were arranged on various levels using white pedestals. It was on a table that had vases of orange roses and an arch of orange balloons.

                                            The band played happy birthday … though the words were something about cutting the cake … people counted to 15, the cake was cut and everyone applauded. It was very good, a white cake with pineapple filling.

                                            The ladies circled again with pitchers of horchata and plastic glasses. This was a very different-tasting horchata that had a nut-like quality to it. People said it was made from rice when I asked.

                                            The girls changed out of their frilly dresses into formal wear and people sat and chatted under the shade trees. Everone was dressed in their best outfits. Little boys had sword fights with the bird of paradise flowers. This being outdoors, a few dogs circulated and one chicken stolled around the tables.

                                            The thing to do seems to be for guests to take the decorations home. This happened at the recent wedding I attended. So the flower arrangements and decorations were scooped up, though I have no clue what people do with some of this stuff ... maybe keep it for their next fiesta. Plates with extra cake and food were also passed out to go home.

                                            This is the first time I’ve attended any 15th birthday celebration and I really like the concept. It has all the frills and trimmings of a wedding without having to trap some guy for the party. Not everyone gets married … but almost everyone turns 15.

                                            1. Looking for more info about specific Guatemalan cheeses, I came across this mind-blowing site which is without doubt the best I have every come across in terms of Guatemalan cuisine.

                                              There is a depth to it I haven’t seen elsewhere and it rings so true to so many of my actual experiences. Valeria Cerezo, is one fine writer too. As an example, in this article about soups, “Guatemalan traditional food” she writes

                                              “There is a special kind of wild cilantro that grows here in Rio Dulce, but it comes from Coban, and in k’ek chi its called samat. It grows everywhere here now. That wild cilantro (or culantro) does not have a lot of flavor. Hardly any, but the aroma is so strong you can almost taste it. I kid you not! The smell itself is an ingredient .... It smells like wilderness, like a clean chlorophyll kingdom, a tart wild perfume”

                                              I learned so many new things. About the seafood soup she writes “Here we boil the shrimp heads separately. Then you take that broth with heads and all and put it in the blender till it turns into a thin dark purée… then you add it to the soup. You cannot imagine the flavor and nourish you get out of that.”

                                              Having tried some seafood soups, not only can I imagine it, I know it. I have been amazed by the depth and richness of the broths and this gives an explanation why that is so.

                                              She discusses why the produce is so good because of the rich, volcanic soil and fruits being picked ripe and not green to be shipped elsewhere. I hear you.

                                              Also, in the details of the food, there is the surrounding family story, of what it was like to be there. Sometimes just reporting about what was eaten removes the flavor and spice from the experience.

                                              Context is as important as food. There are a zillion websites with recipes about Guatemalan chicken soup, but knowing it is a special occasion soup usually served on a child’s seventh birthday when they are allowed to eat as much as they want and the details to that … it says something more about the actual dish, its importance … and flavor. Reading that account, I can almost taste that soup. I am virtually sitting at that table.

                                              In another article “Guatemalan traditional food .. Part 2” I learned that those outdoor stoves are called poyos. Also, that the mushrooms I thought were chantrelles are called anacates, mushrooms that can only be found in the forests of the Guatemalan highlands. I have been seeing some amazing mushrooms at the mercados.

                                              In the above link she writes “My neighborhood growing up was the old fashioned kind, where there was a bakery and a tortilla place and a small market at hand, so you didn’t have to travel too far. There was also a charcoal guy and three or four tiendas where you could get together and learn all about home remedies and who was dating who.”

                                              I wanted to shout … “Yes, yes … that is so the town I am currently living in”

                                              The thing is, those little stores sell better veggies than I have had at any Guatemalan farmers market. It is all from local back yards and picked at the peak. I’ve stopped bringing home my finds from the larger markets … it got embarrassing … it was never as good as the store around the corner. The selection isn’t as large and you rely on what is fresh that day. The only thing I buy at the other markets is produce that isn’t grown in this town. My family never saw a dragon fruit before when I brought one home.

                                              There are so many details in that link about how Guatemalan food … really good Guatemalan food … is prepared. Even if you don’t follow links, read that one. It is a treasure chest of information.

                                              About pepian, she writes “One of the characteristics of some of our dishes is that part of the ingredients has to be grilled, roasted or burnt first … It gives the dish a bitterness that you can hardly tell is there but mixed with the sourness of the tomatoes and the freshness of the cilantro it comes out irresistible.”

                                              The info between those three dots is great. Never knew burnt plantain peels could be involved in pepian.

                                              Later on talking about the original recipe for Kak’ik I learned it is made with a base of smoked cobanero peppers. No wonder Guatemalan food is often so insipid in the US, the right ingredients and cooking techniques are not used. You don’t see these details in any of the web recipes.

                                              I might have to think about eating tepezcuintle, a medium size rodent with meat that has a different texture than any other and a taste that is “something between pork and beef but not quite all the way; it has also a wild flavor … you can almost taste the jungle”

                                              She talks about the small wooden shack where you can buy real tortillas, starting with ground white corn and not the “crap” sold on the street. She could have been talking about the amazing tortillas place in my little town that is hidden in some trees but has some of the most exquisite tortillas I’ve ever tried.

                                              She talks about the finer points of a top-notch Guatemalan tortilla, thick and perfectly round without ragged edges.

                                              I learned that the “fresco de suchiles”, a fermented pineapple drink and the only thing I’ve tried so far that I dislike … is also used for a dish called Gallo en chichi

                                              Anyway, those are only two articles there are more about food as well as the culture of Gautemala

                                              Great stuff and shouldn’t be missed by anyone wanting a better understanding of Guatemalan cuisine.

                                              1. How the other half ... um, 1% lives … and eats

                                                When I first moved to Guatemala I wrote down every meal I had for one week

                                                My husband does pretty well by Guatemalan standards and I’d place him in the working middle class. The kids go to private school. He has a truck and car. The house has modern appliances and cable TV. We live in a small village though, were houses are modest and if you turn on to a dirt road there is direct contact with extreme poverty.

                                                A relative invited me to visit in Guatemala City for a few days. Her nephew neglected to tell me how wealthy they were.

                                                A nondescript gate was opened and someone should have been playing the theme song to ‘Dynasty” because there was a huge mansion complete with Olympic-sized pool, aviaries with exotic birds, a gym in a separate building, manicured gardens with topiary, a garage to house motorcycles (the son is an international motocross champion), more rooms than I can count in Spanish, staff, etc, etc, etc. My friend said to look at the mountain. This relative owned all the land from the house to that mountain.

                                                So here’s a little sample about how one upper class family eats.

                                                WEDNESDAY June 16, 2010 – MIERCOLES DIECISEIS DE JUNIO

                                                Arrival - Sweetened coffee with milk served in one of the living rooms. An apology was made that there were no sweet rolls because they don’t eat them.

                                                Cena – Grilled lamb, steamed rice, grilled potatoes, BBQ sauce from a huge squeeze bottle, raspberry refresco, white bread

                                                THURSDAY June 17, 2010 – JUEVES DIECISEITE DE JUNIO

                                                Desayuno – Fried eggs, beans, great sharp cheese (queso seco), ham, crema, freshly squeezed OJ, sweetened coffee with milk, white bread, really good pan dulce, pan Frances and pan pirujo

                                                Almuerzo / merieda – Kaik’ik, rice, nance refresco, tortillas, chiltepe salsa, fresh pacamas (green sauce), fresh dragon fruit, sweetened coffee with milk, white bread, pan dulce, pan Frances and pan pirujo

                                                Cena –Dia del Padre – Father’s Day is always the 17th

                                                Pez sierra tortas, tapado soup, steamed rice, soy sauce, stir-fried beef, really good soy sauce, nance refresco, sweetened coffee with milk, black forest cake and a mousse cake for Father’s Day from Café Zurich, cabernet sauvignon

                                                FRIDAY June 18, 2010 – VEIRNES DIECIOCHO DE JUNIO

                                                Desayuno – Scrambled eggs with tomatoes and ham, whole red beans, crema, queso fresco, pacamas, Heinz Ketchup imported from the US (it had HFCS), sweetened coffee with milk, white bread, pan dulce, pan Frances and pan pirujo

                                                Almuerzo / merieda – We went shopping and ate out

                                                Afternoon snack - Fresh zapote, oranges, sweetened coffee with milk, special pan dulce

                                                Cena – Chicarrones, pork and white beans, steamed white rice, lime refresco, sweetened coffee with milk, white bread, special pan dulce, pan Frances and pan pirujo

                                                OVERVIEW: For the most part, the quality of everything was much better. Rich or poor, that Guatemalan breakfast really is typical. Meal times were identical – 9-ish, 2:30, 8 pm … ish. The family ate together less often and not always the same thing. I was told the cook would make anything I liked. The children, when they were at the table, usually had something different. With school and activities, they had their own schedules.

                                                BAKED GOODS: While there were tortillas and sweet breads at every meal, I think they were just for us. Everyone was watching their diet and sliced white bread similar to Wonder Bread was considered healthier than tortillas. Guatemalans seem to love supermarket bread like this. We buy it at home. This was a slightly better version than the generic brand our house buys … but it was still sliced white supermarket bread. Their local panaderia that supplied the rolls and sweet breads was FABULOUS. The best I’ve had so far in Guatemala. It wasn’t ritzy either. The just seem to have lucked out to be living near this humble joint producing amazing baked goods.

                                                PRODUCE, MEAT, CHEESE: With the exception of the chicken in the kaik’ik, all the rest was purchased from a local street market either daily or every other day. The hard, sharp, complex queso seco was from a little market and so good the taste made me stop mid-bite in amazement. The thick crema was from a local cheese stand. Here’s a report on the street market that was the source of most of the food food'

                                                PACAMAS: This might as well be the national condiment of Guatemala. We always have a bottle on the table at home, Pacamas Salsa Brava. It is made from the wonderful chiltepe peppers. This was homemade, thicker and terrific. The fresh salsa with chiltepe peppers and diced onions was wonderful.

                                                COFFEE: While it wasn’t Nescafe and fresh-brewed, the white thermal pot on the table held black coffee that was heavily sugared. I’m starting to think coffee in this country is just a vehicle for sugar.

                                                FATHER’S DAY CAKES: Nice soccer ... um ... futbol ... decoration since the World Cup was in progress. They were very good and from Cafe Zurich

                                                PEZ SIERRA TORTAS: Pez sierra is the fish also known as wahoo. When I asked at the fish market what they were, I was also told they would be used for tortas … swell, fish sandwiches. Nope. Fish pancakes. Here’s more about the tortas

                                                TAPADO SOUP: I also asked about the tiny crabs sold at the market and was told they were used for soups. A few nights earlier they made tapado, a soup with lots of fish, plaintains and coconut milk. Here’s more about this lovely fish stew

                                                CHICARRONES, PORK AND WHITE BEANS: While I like fried pork skin, in the year I lived in Mexico, I never liked the stewed version. No matter who made it ... and a lot of people wanted me to try their special family recipe ... I hated it. It always had a sliminess to it. It was the texture that was unpleasant to me. Surprise, surprise, I really like the Gautemalan version. The skin is drier and closer to chicken skin. There were also hunks of pork in this soupy dish.

                                                KAIK’IK:– I saved the best for last. Everything was top-notch and delicous, but it was the chicken in this dish that was the super star. This Mayan dish, usually made with turkey, had a rich tomato-based broth that seemed to me similar to pepian

                                                The kaikik was made from chickens raised in their aviaries. For some reason, the family thought turkey was more fatty and less healthy. This was maybe the best chicken I’ve had in my life. The dark flesh rich, tender and flavorful.

                                                First of all, the chickens were the cleanest I’ve seen in my life. Raised in a spacious aviary, the floor of the cage was spotless and literally clean enough to eat off of … and I mean humans … not just chickens.

                                                When I took a tour of the home, I didn’t pay close attention to the breeds. After the kaik’ik, I kept trying to learn the breed of chicken. They said they were just regular chickens. They were on a mainly corn diet with other grains mixed in. They had NO antibiotics or shots. They did NOT eat grubs.

                                                That last made me smile inwardly since California poultry vendors tout the fact that their organic free-range chickens can run around and eat tasty things like grubs. Maybe they should re-consider. I’ve never had an organic chicken that even came close to the taste of this bird.

                                                Anyway, it was a wonderful visit and I especially enjoyed the last afternoon … sitting in the big dining room and working on my computer while gazing out the window at the pool, garden with pink bougainvillea and the mountain. The world cup was on the big screen TV and Norma made sure I always had coffee, fruit and sweet breads to snack on.

                                                It rained that afternoon and suddenly I wanted to be home no matter how nice this was. I missed the sound of rain on the metal roof and the insane cat who seems to love to race across it for no reason.

                                                At the end of August I will be going to language school in Antigua and staying with a host family for two weeks. Income-wise the house is mid-way between this upscale house and our modest country home. It will be interesting to see what the meals will be like there

                                                1. One of the things that baffels me in this land of maiz is that I have yet to see a corn of cob in the husk. They are always on styrofoam trays, the top lopped off and the front of the husk removed to display the corn. The whole thing is wrapped in cellophane. I have no clue why this is. It is everywhere, from the lowliest farmers market to the modern supermercado. It is also very blah tasting.

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                    Hmmm? Perhaps Guatemalans do something with the husk. Compost? Silage?

                                                    This is not the case in México: Corn on the cob complete with husks is readibly available. Perhaps the reason you don't like the maiz (husks or not) is because it is not "sweet corn." SOB field corn (maiz/elote) is tough, requires lots of cooking, and just doesn't taste anything like the corn we grow and eat NOB.

                                                    1. re: dlglidden

                                                      I don't know. I was thinking it just sits around too long. When corn grows naturally, often there is a worm at the top of the cob, so I can see lopping off the top to remove wildlife. I'm speculating that that may be part of the reason for displaying the cob.

                                                      I still haven't had roasted street corn or elote loco ... which is the GT version of corn with mayo and chile. I'm going to the market in Guatemala City today and Antigua tommorrow and I'm going to pick up a package, one white one yellow.

                                                      We buy ours from the supermarket and I haven't been touching the farmers market corn because it was pre-packaged and I thought there was no point to it. I think I sort of insulted my friend when I asked about the husk and packaging since he went on about how good the stuff smelled. So I kind of dropped it. Maybe I can suck up to a neighbor who is growing some corn and get some direct off the stalk.

                                                      1. re: dlglidden

                                                        Hmmm ...

                                                        Bought some nice looking corn at the Antigua market. It was still wrapped with part of the husk removed. It was slightly better than supermarket corn, but not much.

                                                        So today this bicycle passes us on the road and the guy has a huge machete. About a half mile down the road is a pile of just whacked corn and it is being cooked (steamed) in husk at the side of the corn field. Can't get much fresher than that. It still didn't taste like much. All I could think was that this is what they probably feed the cows in the US. A little squeeze of lime and some salt helped somewhat.

                                                        1. re: rworange

                                                          I recently in a thread somewhere on CH that in Mexico, corn used for corn on the cob (elote) is field corn, which is what in the US is fed to the cows, or turned into cornmeal, etc., as opposed to the sweet corn we eat as veggies. So I wouldn't be at all surprised if that is also true in Central America.

                                                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                            It used to be the case in Canada (and in the States I should think) in my parents' lifetimes (they were born in 1917 and 1918): field corn is apparently delicious for a very short part of its growing season, before the sugars turn to starch. They used to rhapsodize about its excellent flavor. Sweet corn for the table is I think a post-WWII crop.

                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                              I guess this corn wasn't picked in the short growing period when it tastes good. This is going to be one of those things fo me like the coffee where I'm going to be wandering around trying to find decent corn.

                                                              Anyway, I don't like long threads, so I'm moving here

                                                              Guatemalan Cuisine - 2nd quarter report

                                                    2. Shuco hot dog

                                                      Hot dog carts are fixtures all over Gautemala, so this really belongs under general cuisine comments.

                                                      The shuco hot dog is served on a bed of guacamole and boiled cabbage and topped with fresh onion and decorative squiggles of mustard, mayonnaise,ketchup and hot green sauce. The roll is nicely toasted on a grill. Here's some nice photos of the grill, rolls, dogs and pots of cabbage ... your basic shuco set up

                                                      While the roll bread is similar to American hot dog rolls, the bun is larger, like a sub roll to accomodate the condiments without falling apart. Here's a photo of the finished dog

                                                      I went with the regular hot dog. The other standard sausages available are chorizo and longaniza. I had a bite of my frirend's chorizo and the complex, nicely spiced, course ground sausage is the way to go, IMO. I'm going to try lonaniza next time which my friend says is spicier and has yerba buena.

                                                      The shuco can get more complex. As this link with photo says

                                                      "The jumbo is pictured here and it comes with five meat toppings and it costs about Q20 (US2.50). La ballena or whale has 10 or 20 meat topings at it rings about Q35 (US$5) and Q45 (US$6). I can barely finish a Jumbo, but other people have no problem with even a whale"

                                                      Great photo of the various sizes

                                                      It is quite a lovely sandwich. I'm looking forward to trying more. Here's a link with lotos of photos of the shucos, stands, restaurants and cooking process