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Guatemala is known for many things – volcanoes, colonial towns, Mayan ruins – but food isn’t necessarily one of them. Yet, this Central American country has a delicious, flavoursome and complex cuisine that’s the perfect amalgamation of Spanish culture and Maya traditions. Popular cities like Antigua are packed with excellent restaurants and cool cafes – the only problem will be deciding what to eat. Here are 15 delicious dishes worth a trip to Guatemala for.
Pupusas are everywhere in Guatemala and are a great way for tourists on a budget to fill up. Thick corn tortillas are stuffed with a variety of fillings – usually refried beans, cheese and/or pork – and then fried until the surface is crisp and the inside soft. They traditionally come with a helping of salsa and cabbage to keep it fresh.
Tres Leches Cake is a traditional dessert in Guatemala. Usually eaten cold, it’s essentially a cake soaked in three kinds of milk, including evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and cream.
Elotes can be found at street carts throughout Guatemala. Barbecued corn on the cob are piled high with ketchup, mayonnaise, and cheese – the perfect afternoon pick-me up!
Guatemala doesn’t really have a national dish, but chicken pepian is probably the closest thing to one. This spicy stew is one of the oldest dishes in Guatemala. It’s made with chicken, beef or pork, contains both fruit and vegetables (usually pear, squash, carrot, potato and corn) and is cooked with a rich mix of spices. It’s traditionally served with rice and tortillas.
Kak’ik is the other contender for Guatemala’s national dish. This traditional Mayan turkey soup is packed with spices, including coriander, achiote and chilies, and is an important part of Mayan cultural heritage. Its roots go back to the Q’eqchi’ ethnic group who still prepare the dish in the same way that they did hundreds of years ago.
Empanadas are crispy, buttery pastries that are perfect for lunch on the go. Throughout Central America, these usually have a meat filling, but in Guatemala, most are filled with potato and spinach and covered with toppings such as guacamole, tomatoes, onion and cilantro.
Chile rellenos are pimiento peppers stuffed with a variety of fillings, usually rice, cheese, minced meat, spices and vegetables. They’re traditionally coated in an egg batter and fried, then smothered in tomato sauce and served with fresh corn tortillas.
Tamalitos are made from cooked corn dough wrapped in fresh green maize leaves, and sometimes are stuffed with other ingredients like refried beans. They’re sometimes served in place of tortillas.
The word hilachas means ‘rags’, which seems like a weird name for a dish until you see what it looks like. It’s made with a type of meat that shreds easily and is simmered in a mildly spicy tomato sauce and cooked with potatoes, squash and/or carrots. For a more filling meal, it’s served with rice and fresh corn tortillas.
Tostadas – crispy, hard shell tacos – are a popular street food, and most are topped with guacamole, tomato salsa, radishes, onions and sometimes a large dollop of noodles. You may think the idea of noodle tacos is odd, but with so many different textures and tastes, it’s a pleasure to eat.
The local Guatemalan breakfast is absolutely delicious. The desayuno tradicional usually features scrambled eggs with onion and tomato, avocado slices, mashed piloy beans, stewed plantains and tortillas; it makes for a perfect start to the day.
For those with a sweet tooth, make sure you try some rellenitos. Essentially Guatemalan donuts, rellenitos are made up of cooked plantains mashed with refried bean paste, sugar and cinnamon, and then they are deep-fried. When mixed with sugar, the beans’ taste and texture are similar to chocolate.
Frijoles Volteados is the Guatemalan version of refried beans, and it’s more rich and flavoursome. Refried black beans are mashed into a thick paste and are usually served for breakfast.
Coffee might not be a dish in itself, but it’s hard to discuss Guatemala’s culinary offerings without mentioning it. The mountain basin that surrounds Antigua produces some of the best highland coffee in the world, and even the most simple cup of local brew will delight.
Considered the birthplace of chocolate, cacao played an enormous part in Guatemalan history. It was traditionally served as a drink instead of being eaten, and even now locals prefer to sip on it rather than bite into a bar. Either way tastes pretty good.