August 15, 2022


Food for all time.

Guatemala’s cuisine reflects its hearty Maya heritage

4 min read

a plate of food on a table: Kaq-ik is served with rice, tamales, and a turkey leg that you dip into the stew.

© Photograph: Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
Kaq-ik is served with rice, tamales, and a turkey leg that you dip into the stew.

When I traveled to Guatemala, I was centered on its legendary scenic magnificence. I desired to see the volcanoes, mountains, lakes, and pastel-colored colonial architecture dotting most of the towns. Touching down in the highlands of Western Guatemala, it was in truth putting: deep emerald ravines surrounded glistening lakes and sacred Mayan ruins appeared to go over just about every other plaza. Guatemalan society is complex, encompassing 21 unique Maya Indigenous groups. This has led to a variety of influences on everything from common gown to spirituality, and unquestionably on the food stuff as nicely. In point, there was one specific dish that showcased the Mayan affect so wonderfully that it practically made me neglect about the landscapes that first captivated me to the nation.

Viewing the modest mountain towns in the location, I spotted tortillas, empanadas, and tamales in avenue carts and stands. Based on these familiar staples, it would be easy to presume that Guatemalan delicacies is just like that of its neighbor Mexico, but I quickly recognized that isn’t the scenario. While it has some crossover with other Latin American countries, Guatemala has a array of distinctive dishes that you won’t uncover anywhere else, predominantly since of the combine of Maya traditions. Several have been ready the exact way for 2,000 yrs.

1 of the first common dishes that I sampled was the spicy pepián. I was in the bustling town of Tecpán, wherever gals walked the slim streets in intricate hand-loomed huipils, the vibrant tunics that converse the wearer’s Maya group via design, coloration, and symbols. Surrounded by forests and mountains, Tecpán was the first money of Guatemala and is pointed out now as its gastronomy money, with about 50 dining places scattered alongside the edge of the Inter-American Freeway. I stopped at the town’s most popular roadside cafe, Katok, which was intended in open-air type with a thatched roof. The long record of classic dishes was somewhat overwhelming but my manual, Jose’, assisted me decipher the dozens of soups, stews, and grilled things on the menu. I went with pepián, which Jose’ pointed to as the most common range the stew arrived in a deep clay dish accompanied by rice, new corn tortillas, and chili peppers. The aromas of roasted spices floated up from the bowl, and when I tasted the thick concoction, the nutty taste of pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, stood out. The savory combination also featured sesame seeds, rooster, carrots, tomatoes, and güisquiles, a mild green squash with a bland style. The stew was only a little spicy on its very own, but as soon as I added the chilis, the richness of the entire dish intensified, with a hint of bitterness from the roasted peppers. Jose’ discussed that the greens had been roasted in a comal, a clay griddle above an open up fire that is the hallmark of Maya cuisine.

I relished the flavorful pepián, but it was not until eventually I attempted kaq-ik that I became hopelessly enamored with Guatemalan food items. It was in the charming lakeside village of San Pedro la Laguna. Positioned concerning the crystalline Lake Atitlán and San Pedro volcano and crammed with weavers displaying vivid textiles, the city so captured me visually that I did not even believe about having until eventually late in the night. I went to a corner comedor, a compact established-menu diner near my resort.

The 1st detail outlined was kaq-ik, and since the waitress described that it’s Guatemala’s unofficial national dish after pepián, I felt compelled to get it. A heaping bowl was placed just before me with rice, tortillas, and tamales steamed in banana leaves. The deep red colour of the soup indicated the spice level, and when I took a sip the slow burn off of multiple spices tickled my tongue. I scooped up far more spoonfuls and the turkey, cilantro, achiote, coriander, and the neighborhood Cobanero chili all sang alongside one another on my tongue. A excess fat turkey leg was served on the facet and I was instructed to dip the meat into the soup along with the tamale and rice. It was a occasion in my mouth and I didn’t want it to end.

The waitress flashed a dimpled smile when she noticed my satisfaction and spelled out that kaq-ik is related to the Q’eqchi’ Maya group. The purple colour carries this means in addition to warmth: it represents the blood spilled in rituals by their ancestors. Q’eqchi’ women of all ages nevertheless slaughter, thoroughly clean, and cook the turkey in accordance with custom, and the dish is a necessary aspect of marriage banquets. The complexity of the spices was so unforgettable that I ongoing ordering the dish in just about every city that I visited in Guatemala. I managed to consume other exceptional countrywide staples, much too (like joco’n, a tangy, lively inexperienced stew of rooster and tomatillos), but none of the country’s soups and stews haunted me fairly like kaq-ik. It leaves a lasting perception, just as it’s completed for hundreds of years.

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