Eat Like A Local – Guatemala
Do you want to know how to eat like a local in Guatemala?
In June 2017 I spent 3 weeks travelling around Guatemala discovering the best traditional dishes and understanding how to Eat Like a Local in Guatemala.
What to expect
Guatemalan food is influenced by both Spanish and Mayan (Indigenous peoples of South Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras) cuisine.
You will see many dishes that are similar to these cultures, quesadillas and burritos, however, they have their own influence on them.
Guatemalan cuisine is fairly spiced, not so much it will blow your head off, but enough to give you a little bit of heat with the beautiful flavours. I always found the locals will ask you “picante?” which means spicy in Spanish.
Here you have three options:
- Little bit, please – Poco, Por favor
- Medium, please – Medio, Por favor
- Spicy, please – Picante, Por favor
Never forget your please’s and thank you’s… it goes a long way.
The dishes prominently feature corn, chillies and beans as key ingredients… you will soon get used to it when travelling Central America.
TIP: Learn some basic Spanish phrases a few months before your trip so you can communicate with the locals and get by easier. It is appreciated by them.. even if they giggle at your efforts, they will tell you how to say it correctly.
Below is my map of my travels around Guatemala. I have highlighted the key places to eat, sleep, party and tips from my experience. Click here for a larger map
Tipico – A traditional you will find everywhere in Guatemala! It contains black beans, sometimes farm cheese (similar to feta), fried plantain (my favourite), fried eggs, tomato and rice!
Avena – Another popular breakfast with the locals is Avena (oats), it’s almost like a super creamy porridge, flavoured with honey and cinnamon. I can say my description doesn’t make it sound too appetising, but it is full of local flavour and a must try!
You will always find American pancakes and fruit smoothies on the menu too. A little heads up, the locals will tend to ask if you would like “azucar” (added sugar) with the smoothie.
My favourite: (V) Tamales – This is the most popular local snack. These parcels are made from a dough / corn-based ingredient which is then steamed in a banana leaf. Now what is inside can really be anything and everything. You can have cheese, meats, fruits, vegetables, chillies (oh yeahhh) or anything you desire. These became a staple diet on my travels.
Shucos, also know as dirties is a Guatemalan version of a hot dog. This often includes guacamole, cabbage, and mayonnaise. Interesting to say the least but very popular out there.
Chicharrones y carnitas, this was my guilty little pleasure. If you love pork crackling you will love these little treats of fried pork skins and fried pork meat chunks.
Tacos – This doesn’t need much explaining… These Mexican little beauties are sold throughout Guatemala and can be filled with anything from vegetables, chicken, beef, pork or fish.
My Favourite: Pepián is one of the oldest dishes in Guatemalan food heritage and is easily found in Antigua. It’s a hearty slow cooked beef stew with avocado, rice, cheese, chickpeas, fresh corn tortillas and vegetables.
When you get to Antigua, head to the La Casa de las Sopas on 7a Avenida Norte 5. For 50 Quetzal you can get a very filling and delicious hearty soup including the Pepián.
Tapado is a seafood based soup with green plantain slices. Made from a coconut milk sauce, with large chunks of fish fillets and plantain. So places will add crab meat in which is an extra treat.
Carne guisada is a classic meat stew with vegetables and rice. A proper stodgy and hearty meal that will fill up any traveller on a long chicken bus journey. This was a go-to meal after a day surfing or a volcano hike.
(v) Güicoyitos rellenos is stuffed courgette (zucchini) with black beans, rice, tomatoes to name a few options. It is a healthy and tasty option to go for. However, if you want comfort food, go for the chillies rellenos which are loaded with cheese, battered with an airy egg coating and fried until crispy. Comfort food at its best I would say.
My Favourite: Mango… They are sold everywhere on the streets and are always juicy and sweet. They cost around 5Q for a bag of mango (normally a whole mango).
Rellenitos de plátano are small balls of mashed plantains filled with sweetened black beans, fried and sprinkled with sugar… what is there not to love. It is their take on the doughnut. CAUTION – you will get a food baby after eating 3.. or 4.
Pastel de banano, is a similar look and taste to banana bread back home. Light, fluffy and loaded with banana flavour.
Garbanzos en dulce. Now, this might sound unusual but this dessert is a sweet chickpeas bowl in a thick mayonnaise-like syrup… Seriously, just try it!
Buñuelos, torrejas y molletes is one of the most traditional desserts in Guatemala. It consists of different kinds of sweet bread soaked in syrup, which may or may not have a filling (normally it’s a prune). These are normally served during Christmas or Lent but some restaurants will still make them for the tourists, just keep your eyes open.
It’s Not Just The Food!
Guatemala has some of the best coffee in the world!
Where did I have a really good coffee? Was it a stall, shop, place? What is the average cost?
One of my favourite coffees I had was in a Cafe in Antigua called & Cafe (see my Google maps)… it was just before I went climbing Volcano Acatenango.
I had it black and it offered a strong roasted coffee flavour with a hint of chocolate. However… they are all good in their own way where ever you go in Antigua.
I was told that the coffee in Antigua combines a complex refinement of smoke, spice, flowers, occasionally chocolate flavour. It’s a stronger cup of coffee than the coffee beans grown closer to the ocean.
If you got to Antigua, San Sebastián, La Tacita, and Las Nubes are some great estates to visit for good coffee.
Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) is known as the highest grade of coffee around. The regionally designated coffees (Antigua, Atitlan, Cobán) are tested by the Guatemalan coffee association.
And finally, we come to one of my other favourite areas, rum! I bet you didn’t know that Guatemalan rum is produced from sugar cane syrup (rather than molasses)? My favourite the classic Ron Zacapa. It’s not the cheapest out there, but you pay for the pleasure of having it on the rocks.
Back home it would cost you around £50 ($60) a bottle, in Guatemala is still isn’t cheap but normally around £30 ($40). If you are looking for a cheaper premium rum, Botran is a good choice.
Guatemala is a less touristy and cheaper option to Costa Rica. From the stunning volcanic views, quiet surf line-ups, friendly locals, the people I met along the way and the basic, yet excellent flavours of their cuisine.
This was a quick overview of my experience of traditional Guatemalan food and if you feel I missed something important, comment below. I would love to hear your experiences too.
If you loved this post then please share it on for me and help others discover their love for Guatemala.
If you liked this post, why not read my other Eat Like A Local posts