Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Jul 7, 2010 10:19 AM

Guatemalan Cuisine - 2nd quarter report

I hate long threads and the other was starting to get longer than I could tolerate.

Guatemala cuisine revisited

So this thread will be about the next three months of my year-long visit.

The first reply sums up my introduction to the cuisine in the first three months ... the good, the bad, the mediocre.

The next reply has links to a fabulous blog about breakfast food in Guatemala. It is true to what I have observed and has lots of information I never knew such as the more than a dozen different atoles and many different tamales.

Coming up in August, I'll be going to Spanish lanuguage school and staying with a host family for two weeks in Antigua. It will be interesting to see how average city folks eat.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Thoughts on the first three months.

    Originally I didn't think there would be much to write about. However, each day seems to bring a different dish or some obscure tropical fruit, veggie ... or animal part.

    There are all those new and/or mysterious fruts, veggies and other foods such as ayote, quilete, paternas, jutes, white chayote, totopostes, chiltepes, peppers de Coban, barquillos, zepelins, jocote tronador, purple mombin, jocote marañón, plataninas, granizadas, caracol, pacaya, suchiles, huiscoyol, samat, anacates, tepezcuintle, pez sierra tortas, tapado, pacamas, etc

    Guatemala is the most Third World country I've visited. I am never unaware of it. The ancient and modern side by side is jarring, such as

    - Across from a modern mall at a bus stop a shepherd with three goats is selling fresh-from-the-udder milk

    - In a jungle clearing, a woman making tortillas on a cinderblock poyo that is fueled by twigs and branches, stops to take a call on her cell phone.

    My first impression of Gautemala being like the 1950's persists. People are loathe to try food other than what they have eaten for decades. The restaurant menus read like the Continental, Italian-American, Chinese-American etc menus of the 1950's.

    On the good side of that ... cocktails are popular, properley done and strong. At some places I almost expect Frank, Sammy, Dean and the rest of the original rat pack to walk in the door of this portal to the past.

    For a country that spoons Mexico, most of what is served as Mexican food is shockingly underwhelming. However, there is little love between many Mexicans and Guatemalans, so that might explain some of it.

    The tropical fruit is stunning. The watermelon is wonderful. The mushrooms ...dios mio. The tortillas the best I've had in my life. The frankfurters are fabulous ... though it is the whole sandwich rather than just the hot dog.

    Guatemalan food can be on the bland side. However, like some Brazilian food, it picks up if you condimentize correctly ... a tiny bowl of fresh chiltepe peppers on the side, a shot of picamas sauce, a squirt of lime, etc.

    Still, the range of spices seems limited to mainly salt, oregano, laurel (bay leaf) and cinnamon.

    A lot of the best food isn't sold in the restaurants or markets. One neighbor might specialize in tamales or paches, another makes fresh cheese, etc.

    Truthfully, I'm not picking up the subtle differences in some dishes. I can't tell a pepian from a kaik'ik. It's all meat in a red soup to me.

    With few exceptions, I'm still not in love with the sweet breads. They are a little uninterestiong and can be on the dry side. However, they are meant to be dipped in coffee. The cookies and cakes are tasty.

    Looking for information on an item called zepelins (carrot, banana, pumpkin, etc bread). I learned about the German influence on Guatemalan cuisine. In the 19th century the Germans were invited to start up businesses such as coffee fincas (farms) at the Gautemalan government request, but expelled durring WWII, some say due to pressure by the US. The remants of the cuisine remain ... including the coriander the Germans brought with them which now grows wild in the forests

    Swiss food is big here. I don't know if that is related to the Germans.

    In the land of coffee and fresh maize, I find both underwhelming. One writer called it smoother than European coffee ... perfect description ... so smooth there's no flavor. The only exception was at a funeral where the beans were cooked in a large pot over an open fire for hours and took on and exquisite smoky flavor.

    With school schedules and my husband back at work, meal times are more varied, but on weekends and holidays it is still breakfast at about 9am, lunch at 2:30 and dinner about 8:30.That is true of other homes I've visited. The big meal is lunch.

    With my slowly enhanced Spanish hopefully I'll learn more int the next quarter.

    Difficult to believe three months have passed ... as in ONLY three months have passed. Time 'flies' when you are having fun ... such as a major hurricane, exploding volcano, suffocating, hellish heat, floods and scorpion encounter ... they are not all black, ya know ... and as far as I know, inedible ... probably visa versa ... had it lived it might be snacking on me.

    It has been a fascinating peek into another culture that few tourists see. It has been a gift and a privilege, in spite of the challenges. . I'm looking forward to what's on the plate in the future.

    Links from the first quarter

    A week of menus at home ... soon after that I went back to my American diet of oatmeal in the morning, fruit and yogurt at night. I just eat Guatemalan food at the main meal ... and rarely have tortillas or sweet breads.

    Meals at an upper class household

    A wedding

    A funeral

    A 15th birthday;

    A picnic at the beach

    Living and eating in Guatemala – recipes

    Ayote: Black squash - better than butternut

    Ceviche: Vuelve a la Vida ("Back to Life”) or “corpse reviver” (“Levanta Muertos")

    Extreme superchallenge: Identify this Central American fruit (huiscoyol)

    G is for GUANABA

    Gorgeous Guatemalan candy - Los dulces típicos

    Guatemalan Baked Goods Redux

    Guatemalan baked goods … cubilletes, pirujos, etc?

    Guatemalan cheese and butter

    Guatemalan food online

    Guatemalan mushrooms

    Have you tried totopostes?

    How are paternas used in dishes?

    Jutes - Another name for these green lychee-like fruit?

    Magnificent mushrooms of Guatemala


    Rolled wafer cookies around the world - Barquillos, pirouettes, etc

    Shuco hot dog

    Sompopos de Mayo- huge flying edible ants

    Tortas and tortas fritas - Sandwich, bread, pancake, omelet, donut, cake

    Tortilla etiquette - you got to know when to fold

    Traveling globally: Best bottled and bulk H20 ... water that is, blue gold, sky juice

    Tropical fruit

    White chayote

    WWW - World-wide Wal-Mart

    2 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Thanks for your wonderful writing. I lived for a year in Guatemala, and your posts bring back lots of memories. It's also interesting to see how much you've found that I didn't. Of the list of 26 items at the beginning of your post, I only know five. Probably because for 10 of 12 months, I lived in a tiny village in the sticks. Not much variety at the weekly market.

      A couple of comments:

      "Still, the range of spices seems limited to mainly salt, oregano, laurel (bay leaf) and cinnamon." - I'd add achiote and sesame. One of the things I found most interesting about Guatemalan cuisine was the range of chilis, herbs and seeds from which sauces were made. Like the green herbs in jocon, ground roasted ayote seeds, tomatoes and tomatillos.

      About the coffee, Guatemala produces excellent coffee, but the good stuff is often exclusively for export.

      One thing I don't see on your list is cala. (Or is it Kala? Accent on the last "a") Fresh heart of palm. That's a challenge for you. It's so perishable that you may not be able to find it in a market. It oxidizes and turns black within hours of picking. But it is definitely on my list of most delicious things ever eaten. (Along with guanabana.) We would saute onions and tomatoes and then sweat the cala in that mixture -- simple as that.

      1. re: CathleenH

        Thanks ... I'll keep an eye out for fresh heart of palm.

    2. I found this top-notch detailed blog about breakfast in Guatemala.

      I doubt anyone else could be as thorough. I learned all sorts of things about more obscure breakfast items. I also smiled at the more mundane details such as cereal and pancakes because it is spot on. It's not all different and exotic, but often close to what is eaten in the United States.

      My own note is that the "Desayuno Tipico" really is the typical breakfast. It is what is eaten most often. Rich or poor or middle class ... fast food restauant or upscale ... a breakfast of eggs, beans, plantanos, crema, chirmol (fresh tomato sauce), juice, sweet roll and coffee is the usual way to start the day.

      Here are the blog links.

      Breakfast in Guatemala: Beverages (First Part)

      Juices, Orange Juice with raw egg, Shakes, Milk, Coffee, Tortilla coffee, Tea, Chocolate, Punch

      Very cool photos of the chocolate and the ponche.

      Interesting about coffee made from tortillas. I wonder if it is better than the stuff from beans served here. The blogger calls Guatemalan coffee 'softer' than European. That seems the perfect word. The photo of the cappuccino is often how it is served.

      The blogger also mentions the goat's milk ... fresh from the goat. I have seen this. I haven't had the courage to try it though. It is not just in the remote areas, but the cities. While I haven't yet seen the goats at the Central Market in Gutemala City, I have seen a few in the suburbs ... one shepherd with three little goats was right across the street from a huge shopping mall that has a big Wal-Mart (aka Hiper Paiz)

      The blogger writes "You also can find goat milk… but not at supermarkets, no, there are still shepherds walking with the goats at the streets offering fresh milk. It means: you drink it natural, without pasteurizing it. Not exactly so common for breakfast but I thought it would be interesting to mention it here ;) "

      Breakfast in Guatemala: Beverages (Second Part)

      Terrific list of atoles with great photos. I especially like the photo of the corn atole because it is often served with fresh corn kernels sprinkled on top.

      Atoles mentioned include: Corn Atol, White Atol, Atol Shuco, Maizena Atol also known as “yuquilla” atol, Starch Atol, Plantain Atol, Mosh, Rice with Milk, Rice with Milk and Chocolate, wheat germ Atol, Broad Bean Atol (habas atol), Pinol Atol, Incaparina, Atolillo, Sweet Atol, Ashes Atol, Granillo Atol

      So far I've tried Corn Atol, White Atol, Plantain Atol, Mosh and Broad Bean Atol (habas atole).
      My favorite is the corn atol because it is different here with lots of sweet corn flavor ... and I love the corn nibs on top. Some atols like moshi or white atol are eaten with a spoon. I liked the habas atol which I would have guessed, from the flavor, was made of nuts rather than beans.

      I don't know if this is just a thing done in my house, but sometimes they will break up a sweet roll and mix it into corn atol. That is quite good.

      Breakfast in Guatemala (First Part) - Brief overview

      Breakfast in Guatemala (Second Part)

      Fabulous description of the many types of tamales ... WITH photos ... AND usually clicking on the name brings up a recipe ... in ENGLISH. This blogger really did a lot of work.

      Tamales include: Red Tamales:, Rice Tamales, Black Tamales, Corn tamales, Chepilin Tamales, Cambray tamales, Chepes, White Tamalas, Loroco tamales, Corn tamales,with Izote, Chuchitos, Paches

      Breakfast in Guatemala (3rd. Part)

      Breakfast Cereals, Hot Cakes, Gold Medal hot cake mix, Waffles, Crepes, French toast, Fruit

      Breakfast in Guatemala (4th. Part)

      Croissants, Pupusas, Beans, Plantains, Hash browns, Cold meat and sausage, Tortillas, Bread, Chili, Cream

      3 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        Antigua Daily Photo published this photo of a weekend tamale breakfast and it is so spot on. I also love the shot of the pan Frances. That is exactly how it looks

        So far Guatemalan tamales are my favorite of all the Latin American countries. They are rich, savory and not dry like Mexican tamales. The tamales from El Salvador that I've tried in the US were too wet, almost a cream of wheat consistancy.

        1. re: rworange

          RW, did you ever get any guatamalan tamales when you were here? I'd be curious to try them, and agree that Mexican ones are way too dry (for me). I actually love the wetness of the Salvadorean tamales, but i'd be interested in the Guatamalan ones. would you say they're somewhere in between?

          1. re: mariacarmen

            Ah, you caught me just before I was planning to stop posting for the next month. I started a thread on the SF board.

            Guatemalan tamales are similar to Salvadorean, maybe a bit less wet. Of course there is only the basic tamale that I've tried in the Bay Area and none of the many variations.

            Anyway, I won't be checking the boards, but if you have questions, post and email me me. I'll sign onto Chowhound and answer any questions. Otherwise, see you in November ... perhaps.

      2. Look for a dark green fruit when you get to Antigua which is known as a Anona cherimoya.
        The skin looks like Alligator hide. Wonderful..... They grow at high altitudes and are quite
        rare in my experience.
        Good Luck

        3 Replies
        1. re: paul balbin

          Are these different from the light skin anona?

          1. re: rworange

            I don't know, the ones that appear around Lake Atitlan are about the same shade as
            a cucumber. they are quite rare and begin to appear around march. I don't know how
            long the season lasts as we always leave about Easter. Once the ladies who sell them
            discover you like them they will not fail to let you know when they have them. They
            tell me they come from the slopes of the Volcano above the lake. These are my favorite
            fruit of the region.
            I so enjoy your submissions, keep up the good work.
            Pablito el gordito

            1. re: paul balbin

              Thanks. I'll keep an eye out for them. The hurricane and the current rains did a real job on the Lake Atitlan area, so I've put of off heading out that way.

              Markets, for the most part, seem to have locally grown items. This is true of the smaller markets. On market day vendors might travel from outer regions to the big markets in Gautemala City or Antigua.

              In Esquintla there are no dragon fruit like in GC or mushrooms like in San Juan Sacatepequez.

              It is still difficult for me to pick out the special seasonal stuff because so much of this is new to me.

              On another food topic, Antigua Daily Photo had some interesting info about the local conch

              "Concha is sort of a shell clam known in Mexico as “Almeja pata de mula” which is sort of a mixture between clam and oyster plus dark ink (blood)."

              I wondered what that dark liquid was in the ceviche. Also known as Anadara tuberculosa

              Note: I edited and moved the beer comments in another post

        2. Guatemalan Beer

          Today Antigua Daily Photo is about Moza beer, a dark brew, which is my favorite of those I've tried in GT.

          I haven''t tried Cabro yet. One comment in that article says

          "Cabro is made in Xela and is sold only in select locations in Antigua, Panajachel and, of course, Xela; maybe a few, but very few places in Guate city.
          There´s something about the water in Xela that gives Cabro a different flavor (I´m quoting someone who works at the brewery)."

          Will have to seek that out.

          Gallo is to Guatemala as Budweiser is to the US and Corona is to Mexico. It is the ubiquous brew that is everywhere. Like a table wine, good enough to go with a meal, but nothing special.

          The last link in this post has a description of Gallo that is classic ... "Gallo is an easy drinking, unremarkable, thirt-quenching beer with all the personality of a secret service agent. Nice to have when you need it but otherwise non-descript."

          Some of the others that are common are along the same lines - Monte Carlo and Dorado.

          My understanding is that one beer company produces all the brands of beer in Guatemala.

          ADF writes in another article ...

          "These are the widest available Guatemalan Beers. In the picture you can see the 1 liter container for Gallo, Victoria and Brahva. There are five other brands which belong to Gallo house (Cervecerí­a Centroamericana) as well as Victoria. "

          From the comments in that link, a mixta is the Guatemalan version of a black and tan ... 2/3 Gallo and 1/3 Moza

          Nice descriptions here of the Guatemalan beers that sums it up nicely at the end

          " is not the beer capitol of the world. You won't be disappointed in their beer if you think of them as all trying to be as inoccuous as possbile, like the big, mass-consumed beers of the US. And here is a handy guide to them all.

          Gallo = Budweiser
          Dorado = Miller Genuine Draft
          Moza = Michelob Dark
          Monte Carlo = Schaeffer's
          Victoria = Olympia
          Cabro = Schlitz & Stroh's hybrid"

          1. Homemade loroco dobladas

            These have to be one of the best things I've had to eat in Guatemal. We were at fabulous CENMA Zona 12 market in Gutatemala CIty where a vendor was selling fresh loroco, a white flower used often in pupusas.

            I've always been interested in loroco, but in SF they are always frozen and don't have a lot of flavor I asked if someone would cook these if I bought some. The answer was yes.

            Tonight I hearthe pat, pat, pat of tortillas being made. THis usually happens when the tortilla lady gets boycotted by the town for raising the price of tortillas one quetazle (about 12 cents


            However, at dinner the most beautiful, flavorful golden turnover were served.

            Dobladas are usually flour tortillas that are filled, folded in half and deep-fried. I've had very good ones and meh ones. It is often about the filling that makes the doblada rise above the pack.

            These were in a higher level of doblada heave and belonged on God's table.

            The uncooked tortilla was filled, sealed like a turnover and fried. If a Hot Pocket met up with one of these, it would condemn itself to help. This was magnificance.

            They were topped with fresh shredded cabbage, a hot, fresh red tomato sauce laded over them and then sprinkled with queso seco, crumbly dry, aged cheese.

            There were two fillings. One with the lorocco and one with ground beef. I liked the ground beef better because the delicate flavor of the lorocco was a bit lost in this prep. Then again, maybe even fresh loroco doesn't have much flavor. The loroco filling reminded me a bit of the filling en egg rolls.

            Still, they were top-notch dobladas