Hidden Antigua, GT: La Tienda de La Canche – the best piloyada I have had in Guatemala
There is not the remotest chance that on my own I ever would have found this restaurant located in back of a candy counter … and it is located directly across from La Merced.
Nearby Hector’s, with only a small menu tacked to the door, is loudly advertised by comparison.
Will it be the truest to what is served in most Guatemalan homes? Absolutely
Will you have a delicious meal, be satisfied and get your money’s worth? Absolutely
Will it be the best version of traditional cooking?
Think of it this way. Most of us love the food our mom and grandma made. Is that better than restaurant food? Probably not, but it is so comforting and tasty.
Two tiny abuelas (grandmothers) dish up food from huge pots that are almost half as large as they are. Actually, they might be great grandmothers.
Lunch is 20 quetzales (about $2.50 USD) and includes a main dish such as pepian, a refresco (aqua fresca), a stack of just made tortillas and a half of avocado.
Squeeze behind the counter of the small store in front and enter the back room where produce, crates of soft drinks, rolls and other supplies are stored. Squeezed in the front is a small kitchen.
Any remaining room is used for tables which are shared. This isn’t frou-frou upscale communal dining. This is the real thing. Your fellow tablemates will wish you “buen provecho” as you sit down and as you leave. The response is “gracias”. (“Have a good meal”, “thank you”)
Every inch of wall space is literally devoted to religious pictures. From my understanding, this is NOT the place to question the Catholic religion. Those photos aren’t there as a theme due to La Merced church being steps away. So keep in mind the old saying about never arguing about politics or religion.
We had lunch, but my friend enthusiastically talked about the hearty breakfast which includes a big bowl of atoll to begin and ends with hot chocolate. Lunch starts at noon. However, because it was Palm Sunday the breakfast crowd was bigger than usual, so we needed to wait for about 10 minutes before they were ready for lunch.
Someone will stop by the table, tell you what three dishes they have what type of refrescos and take your order. The refresco is included, but soda and beer is in a cooler for an additional charge. Reach in the cooler and help yourself.
Here's what we had rated from A+ to F - … and God save my soul for rating the joint.
A - … Piloyada
B - …. Pepian
B - …. Tortillas
B - …. Pineapple refresco
Service: B - … Very good
Ambiance: B - … Very good
Ok, a few others have found this. This site writes
“"La Canche" is a little known instituition in Antigua Guatemala among tourists. Run by a saintly elderly couple, it is very much a beautiful aspect of Antigua's local community … from the experience of rubbing elbows family style with people that very rarely serve or eat with gringos, the food is excellent and very cheap, and your presence is genuinely appreciated. Order the local delicacy pepian if it's on the menu. Can't find the sign for "La Canche"? Well stop looking, it's not there. The name refers to the owner's blondish / lightish hair.”
This blog with photos writes
“This place is run by an old lady called “La Canche” and her Husband. They have run this place for many years, and not only I had some of the best home made meals in Guatemala at this place … And if you are in a hurry, or just not feeling very hungry you can ask for a home made sandwich as well, been my recommendation the chicken sandwich or the avocado and ham one.”
I saw some people ordering those sandwiches and they looked excellent.
Restaurant record with more info such as address
Flickr photostream with more pictures
Details in first reply
LA CANCHE DETAILS
PILOYADA: A - … Way above average
This is only the third time I’ve tried this dish made of a local red bean similar to a kidney bean. I’m no expert on this dish, but this so outshines the other two that it moves into the “A” category. As my friend said, at least here, you can see the meat.
Also, it was tasty, flavorful beef and not just cut up hot dogs like the other two dishes.
That being said, it is a humble dish … rice, piloyadas, and beef in a rich, steaming hot broth. That was another difference here. It was hot and not served room temperature. The beans were perfectly cooked, not mushy, but toothsome.
This is the first time I actually enjoyed this dish and saw the point to it.
PEPIAN: B - … Very good
I just had a taste of my friend’s pepian, but it had a good, fresh, homemade flavor No pepian helper was used here. He liked it a lot and when I asked if his mother would approve … she is a stickler on the proper pepian … he said yes.
This blog notes …
“If you’re looking for local favorites, a must is La Canche Restaurante (“The Blonde”), named after the infamous lady that still runs the restaurant at approximately 70 years ols … When you go, order El Pepián, a very popular Guatemalan dish. She’s known for making the best in town (maybe in Guatemala).”
TORTILLAS: B - … Very good
The stack of hot tortillas were rustic and irregularly shaped, with char marks from the griddle and good corn taste.
PINEAPPLE REFRESCO: B - … Very good
When asked what refrescos were available, someone peeked in the large metal pot and said “pina”. It had good flavor, lots of juice and wasn’t overly sweet.
SERVICE: B - … Very good
It is casual but they are very welcoming and make you feel at home.
AMBIANCE: B - … Very good
Sure, it is located in a back storage room. The chairs are plastic and the tables covered with vinyl flowered tablecloths. Other than the religious photos on the walls, there is no thought to décor. You are there to eat some home-made food.
Yet it was so charming, relaxed and pleasant. The workers and customers were cheerful and friendly.
Also, my experience has been that other than the beverage cooler and a few more supplies, if you walked into the kitchen of a good many Guatemalan homes, it would look like this down to the mismatched flower dinner plates.
Anyone who wants a glimpse at real Guatemala, stop by La Canche.
Note: There are two tables hugging the walls in the front of the store. That is not the restaurant. It is behind the counter.
Is this place for everyone? Probably not. For me, it just oozed charisma … and deliciousness.
I loved this place and hope to give breakfast a try before I leave.
Everything is made from scratch and you can reach out and touch the ingredients for current and future meals such as boxes of mangoes or a pile of plantanos under a plastic table.
My friend has the heart of a Chowhound. He was buying candy at the store a while back and sniffed out the restaurant in back. Great find, in my opinion.
It turns out there is a sign, but it is inside. It says “Welcome” in five languages.
We were walking back to the car down Sixth Avenue and saw a place that advertised lunch for 15 quetzales.
“Ah, we just had the pricy 20 quetzale lunch” I said. We both laughed … full of good humor and good food.