We recently went to Guatemala on a whim. (Thanks for the cheap flight, Going.) And for most of the trip, many of the best meals we had were at hotels. It seems that Guatemala is not a huge foodie destination but I got recommendations from a couple locals and some recommendations from other travelers so we did find a few other gems which I’m happy to share.
So here’s my list of foods and drinks to look forward to, seek out, and try when you visit Guatemala.
Beans and Corn
Guatemalan food culture hasn’t strayed far from pre-colonial times when the Mayans grew crops such as corn, beans, chilies, squash, and tomatoes, which still form the basis of Guatemalan cuisine.
You will encounter beans and corn on almost every traditional Guatemalan plate. The corn is typically in the form of tortillas and the black beans are volteados – blended and fluffed to the perfect texture and seasoned expertly.
- Guatemalan tostadas are toasted or fried corn tortillas topped with various ingredients. More traditional versions include refried black beans, tomato salsa, and guacamole, but some vendors get more creative by adding meat, radishes, or noodles!
- Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with a variety of fillings – usually refried beans, cheese and/or pork – and then fried until the surface is crisp and the inside still soft. A pupusa traditionally comes with a helping of tomato salsa and cabbage.
- Guatemalan enchiladas are completely different from Mexican enchiladas. They consist of a tostada layered with lettuce, meat, marinated vegetables (beats, carrots, peas, beans), queso fresco, boiled egg slices, and tomato sauce.
Soups and Stews
- Pepián is the result of ancient Mayan culture merging with Spanish traditions. It is a chicken stew with a tomato and chili sauce, thickened with toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds.
- Jocón is a traditional Mayan stew of chicken in a tomatillo, jalapeno, and cilantro flavoured sauce, thickened with pumpkin and sesame seeds. It’s obviously served with corn tortillas, rice, and avocado.
- Kak’ik is a traditional Mayan turkey soup cooked in a broth of tomatoes, cilantro, chilies, and achiote.
- Hilachas is a Spanish colonial shredded beef stew in a velvety sauce with diced potatoes and other vegetables. It is similar to Cuban ropa vieja.
Where to find good soups and stews in Guatemala:
- Guatelaria in Antigua serves traditional Guatemalan foods – what you might be served if you were invited to dinner by a local abuela. Because these stews are hard to find in restaurants, I recommend getting the “Guatemalan Sampler” which comes with a beef Pepian, chicken Jocon, and turkey Kak’ik along with sides.
- Fonda De La Calle REAL in Antigua has similar options as well as tradtional breakfast and grilled meat options.
- Konojel Restaurant in San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlan is a locally owned spot that supports community programs by serving Guatemalan food.
- The mountain basin that surrounds Antigua produces some of the best highland coffee in the world.
- During the Mayan era, chocolate was consumed mostly as a bitter and spicy drink, still enjoyed today. To prepare, they grind the cacao beans by hand and mix it with water, vanilla, honey, corn, and chili.
- Atol de Elote is a warm, sweet, and creamy drink made of ground corn mixed with milk and sugar and seasoned with cinnamon or vanilla.
Where to find good drinks in Guatemala:
- We visited Finca La Azotea in Antigua and got a tour. Our guide took us from tasting coffee cherries straight from the plant, through the sorting, fermenting, and drying processes that take place on site. Our guide also explained how different methods of roasting, grinding and brewing affect the final quality. And then we enjoyed a fresh cup.
- Atol de Elote can easily be found in markets, however I did not try any.
- There are also a number of tour operators offering coffee tours in Guatemala and chocolate tours in Guatemala, mostly near Antigua.
- Mole de platano is made of mole, a chocolate sauce mixed with fried plantains, cinnamon, chili, and bell peppers sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Where to find good dessert in Guatemala:
- Guatelaria and Fonda De La Calle REAL, both in Antigua, serve versions of mole de platano along with a few other typical Guatemalan desserts.
- Casa San Juan in Chichicastenango offers a combination of Guatemalan and Western style foods. It has a slightly upscale vibe but extremely reasonable prices. I recommend any of the grilled meat plates.
- La Casa del Mundo on Lake Atitlan is a hotel accessible only by boat, but it’s worth the effort to visit their restaurant. Enjoy amazing views of the lake and surrounding volcanos while eating a breakfast burrito and fresh fruit juice. Or coffee. Or a cocktail.
- Saúl Bistro in Antigua serves a huge variety of international foods and is a great option if you’re in the mood for something fresh and “healthy” – think lots of veggies, fruits, fish, and whole grains. We ate here a few times and everything we tried was fantastic, although very much on the pricey side.
- Toko Baru in Antigua offers very tasty and affordable middle eastern and Indian food. Plan to go early or expect to wait for a table.
- Cafe Boheme in Antigua makes delicious sandwiches (and coffee). Get the potatoes as your side dish – trust me.
- Marshmallows roasted in the crater of Pacaya Volcano. We joined a tour from Antigua to hike to the top of the volcano. If you don’t think you can hike that far, there are locals there that will repeatedly offer to let you ride a horse, which they will guide all the way up and down for you.
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