When in Guatemala, eat like the Guatemalans. There is no more delicious way to experience the country than through our food and beverages (post coming soon). Guatemalan food is the wonderful result of a fusion of cultures and the richness of ingredients from the land. Godly avocados, mouthwatering corn varieties, interesting spices, lots of greens and veggies and our staple black beans to name a few.
So take a look at this Top 10 list of Guatemalan foods you should try at least once in your life, and get ready to try some of the best foods ever!
1. Tortilla con frijol
Corn tortilla and black beans are Guatemala’s ultimate staple foods. Don’t be surprised if sometimes you get tortillas instead of bread at a restaurant or a Guatemalan home, and be glad because it is much more nutritious than bread. Tortillas are part of almost every Guatemalan’s diet and are eaten either alone with some salt, a grilled steak, sunny-side up eggs, a stew or the classic tortilla with black beans.
Black beans are also in almost every meal and are usually served “parados” or “volteados”. Frijoles parados are whole beans, and volteados are cooked, blended and sautéd. Both are amazing when paired with the freshly made tortillas. Most families always have both things ready to eat. A tupper full of either style of beans, and fresh or a day-old tortillas on the fridge. And those of us who live abroad always keep a can of beans in our first-aid kit to deal with homesickness.
2. Platanitos fritos
Platanitos fritos or fried plantains are something else. They are a love or hate food for those who did not grow up with, especially when they serve it with sunny-side up eggs, tortilla, black beans and fresh cheese in a typical Guatemalan breakfast. But if you are open-minded and don’t mind something sweet, crunchy outside and mushy inside along with your salty breakfast foods, you will most likely become addicted to them.
The trick with the plantains used is that these are very ripe making them sweet and even eaten as dessert in some cases. But they are simply another Guatemalan staple you may very well find in any family’s fridge along with the tortillas and frijoles ready to microwave and eat at any time.
3. Tostadas con salsa ó guacamol
Even though the word tostada means toast, these are far from being toasts. They’re actually fried tortillas usually served with freshly made tomate sauce, guacamol, or frijoles volteados topped with cilantro, onions and a dry salty white cheese called queso seco. They are easy to make at home, but they taste so much better in the street or in the markets.
These are usually a quick meal or a snack, but can very well be a starter to pair with a nice cerveza Gallo while the food arrives. If you do try them in the streets or in a market make sure the guacamol and sauce they use come from a closed container and are not simply collecting germs and exhaust for a delicate smoked taste. Beyond the basic hygienic inspection simply enjoy them, they are delicious!
Rellenito literally mean “stuffed”, and Guatemalan rellenitos are sweetened refried black beans covered in mashed plantains and fried. They are far from being diet friendly, but they are the perfect comfort food eaten with any meal or as a snack. Try to eat them freshly made.
5. Mango verde con limón
As with any other fruits, mango has its season, but before it is ripe it is almost a delicacy for many Guatemalans. Mango verde or green mango can only be eaten during four months a year, and when it is still green streets and markets are adorned with (unfortunately) plastic bags filled with sliced mangos. Once you buy them the vendor will add lime, pepitoria (roasted squashed seed powder), salt and some hot sauce if you are feeling brave.
6. Chuchitos y paches
These two are the most common types of tamales found in Guatemala and both have their charm. Chuchitos are made of corn dough and are filled with either meat or chipilin, a legume found in Central American and Mexico. The ones filled with chipilin are probably the most common ones as they are often served as a side and are relatively simple to make. You usually would top a chuchito with freshly made tomato sauce and enjoy!
The paches are more elaborate, requiring more ingredients and time. They have a potato and tomato base and are usually filled with chicken and meat, along with a dozen other ingredients. Traditionally women get together and start making them a couple of days before Christmas or a family gathering. In contrast with the chuchitos, paches can easily be a full meal, and if you are like me you won’t be able to finish one no matter how hungry you are, but you will love them.
Most people have heard of guac or guacamole, but in Guatemala we call it Guacamol and we make the best one in the entire universe! This internationally loved avocado paste has its country variations and in Guatemala we simply add local ingredients and do magic. Most people add lemon, minced onion, salt, pepper and either cilantro or oregano. The avocados come from here, so we have lots of them and of great quality.
What makes Guatemala’s guacamol the best is simply the quality of the avocados which varies with the season. Sometime around mid-June is probably the best time to have guacamol as they are in season, so if you are an avocado addict you can plan your trip accordingly. The best guacamol I have ever had was at the Earth Lodge near Antigua which is located in an avocado farm where I got to pick the avocado they prepared right there for me. I can still feel its creaminess and taste its godliness.
8. Elotes asados
There is no better way to taste Guatemala’s corn than grilled with a bit of lime, and salt. There are so many types of corn throughout the Americas, that every corn can be a totally different experience. In Guatemala you can usually find grilled or boiled corn with different toppings, but the very best is simply corn with lime and salt served on its husk. This way you can see the size of its grains, feel its texture and not distract your taste buds much from the glory of our maíz.
You can find them anywhere on the streets and usually they are safe to eat as they are cooked in high temperatures and are not served with sauces or dairy. Just make sure they warm it up right before you buy it, rather than being served after standing there for hours collecting smoke and dust. The very best elotes I consistently love are the ones found on the side of the highway between Antigua and Panajachel. I’m hungry now!
9. Chirmol con carne
Chirmol is the Guatemalan salsa, and is usually eaten with grilled meats, but you can add them to anything or eat them with tortillas chips as an appetizer. It has the same ingredients as pico the gallo, but the difference is they are ground with a mortar and ground stone. In some restaurants they will bring the ingredients to the table for you to chose the combination and proportion in front of you and grind them before you. Qué viva el chirmol!
Shucos are Guatemala’s perfected version of a hotdog. A basic shuco is carbon grilled hotdog bun with a cheap sausage topped with guacamole, boiled cabbage, mustard, mayonnaise and hot sauce. That already is a superior use of a hotdog bun and it is usually a cheap and quick bite you can find one the streets, but also in some cool bars like Los Shukos.
The ultimate shuco though, is the mixto with a couple of meats like chorizo, longaniza, bacon and sausage with all the above mentioned sauces and toppings. Even vegetarians can enjoy the texture and taste of a carbon grilled bread with all of these toppings. I remember my vegetarian friends in school waiting in line for a meatless shuco and offering the sausages to their favorite meat-eaters. They are simply glorious.
Enjoy your trip to Guatemala, and let me know what you think about these foods, and of course the country.
Much needed PSA
It is amazing, but it is even more amazing if you can enjoy them without having to stick to a 5-meter radius around a toilet. Just make sure to watch out for food hygiene practices such as using utensil rather than bare hands, make sure ingredients are covered before preparation, sauces and dairy products refrigerated, and food is prepared fresh rather than sitting out marinating in car exhaust.