Most traditional foods in Guatemalan cuisine are based on Maya cuisine, with Spanish influence, and prominently feature corn, chilies and beans as key ingredients. Guatemala is famously home to the Hass avocado and the birthplace of chocolate, as first created by the Mayans.
There are also foods that are commonly eaten on certain days of the week. For example, it is a popular custom to eat paches (a kind of tamale made from potatoes) on Thursday. Certain dishes are also associated with special occasions, such as fiambre for All Saints Day on November 1 and tamales, which are common around Christmas.
Regional Guatemalan cuisine is relatively obscure, due in part to its geographic isolation in volcanic highlands, and also due to the civil war in the second-half of the 20th century which discouraged international visitors. Guatemalan cuisine is heavily influenced by Mayan cuisine, with some Spanish influences as well. Many dishes are hyper-regional, and are not available outside specific towns.
Maize is an important staple food in Guatemalan cuisine, and has been cultivated in the region since ancient times. Hot chocolate also has a long history in Guatemala. Before the modern era, chocolate was seen as a luxury, and cocoa beans were also used as currency by the ancient Maya. Pork and beef were later introduced by Spanish colonization in the 16th century, supplementing the local meat sources of turkey, other poultry and fish.
Many Guatemalan dishes are cooked without the use of cooking oil, with ingredients placed directly on the comal or wrapped in leaves. Many Guatemalan dishes have the suffix '-ik' as part of their name; -ik means chili in several Mayan languages spoken in the country.
Varieties of Guatemalan tamales
Black and red tamales
There are reportedly hundreds of varieties of tamales throughout Guatemala. The key variations include the ingredients in the masa or dough (corn, potatoes, rice), in the filling (meat, fruits, nuts), and what it is wrapped with (leaves, husks). Tamales in Guatemala tend to be wrapped in green 'maxan' leaves (Calathea lutea), while Chuchitos — which resemble Mexican tamales — are wrapped in corn husks.
The masa is made out of corn that is not sweet, such as what is known as feed corn in the United States. In Guatemala, this non-sweet corn is called maize and the corn that Americans are used to eating on the cob (sweet corn), Guatemalans call elote. Tamales in Guatemala are more typically wrapped in plantain or banana leaves and maxan leaves than corn husks. Additionally Guatemalan tamales use cooked masa, which is prepared in a time-consuming process that requires a significant amount of work.
- Tamales colorados ("red tamales") owe their name to the tomato and achiote (annatto seed) that give them their color, wrapped with corn masa and are stuffed with tomato recado (a flavorful thick sauce), roasted red bell pepper strips, capers, green olives, and chicken, beef or pork.
- Tamales negros ("black tamales") are darker and sweeter than their red counterparts due to the chocolate, raisins, prunes and almonds which are added to them. Other black tamales are not sweet but are simply made out of blue/black corn.
- Tamales de elote ("sweet corn tamales") do not use the typical masa but instead are made out of sweet corn. These may contain whole kernels of corn in the masa and do not generally contain meat.
- Chuchitos ("small dogs") are a very typical kind of Guatemalan tamale made using the same corn masa as a regular tamale but they are smaller, have a much firmer consistency and are wrapped in a tuzas (dried corn husks) instead of plantain leaves. Chuchitos are often accompanied by a simple tomato salsa and sprinkled with a hard, salty white cheese traditional from the Zacapa region. Chuchitos are a very common and are commonly served at luncheons, dinners and celebrations. The masa can be mixed with tomato recado or with a meat broth.
- Tamalitos de masa ("small dough tamales") are smaller than the typical tamales because they are usually plain in taste, with no filling and are used to dip in other foods such as soup, salsa or beans, rather than eaten alone. These tamales are a staple of western Guatemalan cuisine which are favored over the typical tortilla.
- Tamalitos de chipilín and tamales de loroco are other variants of the aforementioned tamalitos de masa, that have said ingredients added to the mix.
- Paches are a kind of tamale made from potatoes or rice instead of corn.
List of typical foods
- Tapado, seafood soup with green plantain slices
- Chiles rellenos, bell peppers stuffed with meat and vegetables, covered in whipped egg whites and fried
- Gallo en perro, spicy stew ("perro" being slang for "hot/spicy")
- Gallo en chicha, hen/chicken stew
- Pepián de indio (19th century recipe), meat and vegetable stew in a thick recado sauce
- Subanik, meat and vegetable stew in spicy sauce
- Kak'ik, turkey soup with "ik" chili
- Caldo de res or cocido, beef and vegetable soup
- Caldo de gallina, hen soup
- Jocón, chicken stewed in a green sauce
- Hilachas, shredded beef meat in a red sauce
- Güicoyitos rellenos, stuffed zucchini
- Pollo a la cerveza, chicken in a beer sauce
- Pollo guisado, Spanish chicken stew
- Carne guisada, meat stew
- Chuletas fascinante—"fascinating chops", a breaded pan-fried pork chop
- Ensalada en escabeche, pickled vegetable salad
- Pollo encebollado, chicken in an onion-based sauce
- Estofado, beef, potato and carrot stew
- Revolcado (or "chanfaina"), tomato-based stew with spices and cow’s underbelly
- Pollo en crema, chicken in cream-based sauce
- Carne adobada, marinated preserved beef
- Pulique, yet another kind of meat and vegetable stew
- Mole de platanos, fried plantain slices in a chocolate-based sauce (not a sweet dish)
- Suban-ik, chicken and pork stewed in a red sauce inside mashan leaves, often prepared for special occasions
There are a variety of rice dishes made in Guatemala. Some include
- Arroz frito, fried rice
- Arroz amarillo, plain yellow rice
- Arroz con vegetales, rice made with different vegetables like corn, carrots & peas.
- Arroz con frijoles, called simply that or in other parts called “casamiento” or “casado”, rice with beans (typically black beans).
- Rice and Beans, made with coconut milk
- Arroz con pollo, chicken and rice, similar to paella
- Pastel de banano, a type of banana cake
- Tortitas de yuca, yuca latke
- Chancletas de güisquil, sweet chayote covered in whipped egg whites and then fried
- Arroz con leche, the Spanish version of rice pudding
- Atol de elote, sweet corn atole
- Buñuelos, torrejas y molletes, different kinds of sweet bread soaked in syrup, which may or may not have a filling
- Rellenitos de plátano, small balls of mashed plantains filled with sweetened black beans, fried and sprinkled with sugar
- Garbanzos en dulce, chickpeas in sweet thick and mayonnaise like syrup
- Repollitos con dulce de leche
- Tamales de frijol con chiltepe
- Shucos ("dirties"), the Guatemalan version of a hot dog, which often includes guacamole, cabbage, and mayonnaise. This type of hot dog is a native snack only from Guatemala City where it was created.
- Chicharrones y carnitas, fried pork skins and fried pork meat chunks, respectively
- Tostadas de guacamol, frijol, o salsa, fried corn tortilla with guacamole, fried black beans or tomato sauce
- Tacos de carne o pollo, fried rolled up corn tortillas filled with meat or chicken
- Yuca con chicharrón, boiled cassava served with fried pork chunks
Traditional food "Día de todos los Santos" (Nov 1st)
- Fiambre, which can be "white" or "red", depending on whether the pickled vegetable salad in it contains beets
- Ayote en dulce, a type of squash boiled in a special sweet syrup
- Jocotes en miel, a variety of Spondias purpurea fruit boiled in syrup
- Empanadas de ayote, a type of squash pastry
- Atol maatz, thick corn-based drink flavored with fire ash.
- Caldo de huevos, an egg-based Consomme typically eaten as a remedy for hangovers.
- Chirmol Chapín
- Chojín, a version of salpicón made with fried pork skins.
- Guatemalan ceviche of fish, shrimp, snail, clams or a mixture of all.
- Macuy, a green-colored soup.
- Puchon-ik, chili-spiced dried fish popular in the city of San Juan.
- Salpicón, chopped meat, radish and mint leaves served with lemon juice.
- Tukun-ik, a corn, egg, and chili soup popular in San Juan.