Let’s Have Lunch: Ten Typical Dishes to Try Whilst Volunteering in Guatemala
1. Ceviche is a brilliant mixture of flavors and colors. This dish, made from a variety of ingredients, including, but not limited to: onions, tomatoes, cilantro, limes or lemons,
Worchester sauce, salt, pepper, ketchup, shrimp, and occasionally other forms of seafood
like fish, clams, or snails, is a tasty treat on any hot day. The citric acid breaks down the
protein of the fish and shrimp, essentially cooking it, and when combined correctly, the
flavors will astound you.
2. Chicharrón is a take on a traditional Spanish dish: fried pork skins, to be exact, often
eaten with a tortilla, a bit of salt, and sometimes a jalapeño. While the name literally
means fried pork skin, often times, the dish is merely fried pork cuts—not necessarily just
the skin or rind.
3. Among street food dishes, this Salvadorian culinary migrant has found a home in the
heart of Guatemalans and travelers alike. Papusas are a thick, cornmeal tortilla filled with
a mixture of ingredients, often times cheese, other meats, and perhaps the occasional
veggie. In many parts of Latin America, it will be difficult to find vegetarian dishes,
though rice and vegetarian beans or any sort of fresh fruits or veggies are a safe bet.
4. In many street-vendor and lower-budget restaurants throughout the region, you’ll be able
to find variations of tacos with sautéed meats, veggies, spices, and cheese. More often
than not, these dishes will be served as a two-to-three taco meal, and they will likely not
run more than a couple US dollars or a couple Euros. If you like spicy foods, be sure to
ask for salsa picante because while there are many flavorful, spiced dishes in the country,
true spicy foods are not normally associated with Guatemalan cuisine.
5. If you’re feeling more like a soup to satisfy your hunger, even in the heat of dry season,
(read: in the hottest parts of the year,) try caldo de res or caldo de gallina. The former, a
beef stew is a mixture—or mescla—of vegetables and beef. The latter, in the place of
beef, contains chicken. Both have a hearty broth and are thoroughly delectable. They are
often served with a side, from bread to tortillas to rice.
6. On the sweeter side—but not the nauseatingly sweet—is arroz con leche which is like
rice pudding. It is made from rice, milk, water, sugar, and cinnamon, occasionally served
with vanilla or other spices to define some of the other flavors of the region. Cane sugar
is one of the major exports of Guatemala, so know that the sugar that goes into making
the dessert will likely be local, and will not contribute to any exportation footprints.
7. Buñuelos can be found in many Latin American countries, including Colombia, and while
the number and variations of sweet bread will vary by region, city, and availability,
Buñuelos are a delicious sweet, fried ball of dough, that is usually softer in the middle. In
some countries and variations, it is filled with something like fruit or jam, but normally it
is just a little softer and doughier in the middle, going quite well with a cup of local
coffee at any time of the day.
8. Plátanos are similar to bananas, but are larger, and their sweetness is brought out when
they are fried. They’re best when fried and served alongside something, from black beans
to dipping sauces; the natural sweetness will satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth.
9. Often thought of as a Mexican specialty, tamales are just as popular in Guatemala. They consist of the masa corn “shell,” but instead of being wrapped in a corn husk, they are wrapped in green 'maxan' leaves. The inner ingredients can be as simple as a cheese and vegetable, or as complex as a mixed meat variation. Many travelers are apprehensive about eating street foods based upon horror stories that they’ve heard (and, yes, sometimes it takes a person’s digestive tract a little bit of time to get used to the local fare,) but it is SO worth it. Many of the local women selling their goods from the street have learned the recipes from their mothers, who learned from their mothers, who learned from their mothers, and so on.
10. You can create many of your own specialty dishes using what you find in the local mercados , or markets. From tropical fruit salads, to more complex meals, often times anything and everything you need can be found in the local market. Sure, there are grocery stores in most of the towns, villages, and cities, but visiting and shopping at the markets on market days can make for a true cultural experience. Don’t feel pressured to buy something because it sounds inexpensive. Ask around. Because people know you’re a traveler, they will often times increase the price based on the way you look. Not only will you work on your language abilities by asking around, you will develop a sense of which stalls you will want to visit on the next market days—not only because of the prices, but because of the way local people interact with you.
Ashley Summers is part of our international Blogger team. Check out her personal blogs
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