Guatemalan cuisine is a delightful fusion of indigenous Mayan, Spanish, and African influences that has evolved over centuries. Rich in flavors, textures, and colors, these dishes showcase the country’s diverse agricultural bounty and its unique cultural heritage. In this article, we’ll explore a variety of traditional Guatemalan recipes, from street food favorites to comforting soups and stews, as well as mouthwatering desserts and flavorful condiments.
With a history that dates back to the ancient Mayan civilization, the culinary traditions of Guatemala tell the story of its people through taste. The use of local ingredients like corn, beans, and an assortment of chilies forms the backbone of many dishes, while the influences of Spanish colonization and African culinary traditions can be seen in the use of spices, meats, and seafood. Whether you’re a novice cook or an experienced food lover, there’s a Guatemalan recipe waiting for you to discover and enjoy.
- The article explores a wide range of traditional Guatemalan recipes and dishes.
- Guatemalan cuisine has a rich history, with influences from Mayan, Spanish, and African culinary traditions.
- The use of local ingredients and diverse flavors make Guatemalan cuisine unique and delicious.
History of Guatemalan Cuisine
Guatemalan cuisine has a rich history, with its roots deeply intertwined with the indigenous Mayan culture. As you explore the flavors and traditional dishes of this culinary gem, you’ll notice the influences of both Spanish and African cuisines, which have formed an exciting and unique blend of flavors.
The ancient Mayan civilization was the foundation for modern-day Guatemalan cuisine. The staples you are bound to encounter in traditional Mayan recipes include corn, beans, and squash, which continue to be the backbone of Guatemalan dishes today. Mayan culture also introduced the importance of using a wide variety of spices, such as achiote, annatto seed, and cilantro, to create vibrant and richly flavored meals.
When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they brought with them new ingredients and culinary techniques that greatly influenced the cuisine of Guatemala. Spanish dishes such as tamales, rellenitos, and pepián were introduced – all of which utilized the traditional Mayan base ingredients, but with the added twist of Spanish flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, and saffron. The incorporation of Spanish ingredients, such as olives, capers, and raisins, also added a new layer of complexity to the cuisine.
In addition to the Spanish influence, African culinary traditions have also played a significant role in shaping Guatemalan cuisine. Africans arrived in Guatemala as slaves during the colonial period, and they brought with them their own culinary techniques and ingredients, like plantains and yucca. These ingredients were quickly incorporated into the local Guatemalan dishes, creating an even more diverse and flavorful cuisine.
Overall, the history of Guatemalan cuisine is a fascinating blend of indigenous Mayan flavors combined with Spanish and African culinary traditions. As you explore these diverse recipes, you will come to appreciate the rich tapestry of tastes, textures, and colors that make Guatemalan food truly remarkable and distinct.
We thought we’d start out with a dish that is wildly popular, not only in Guatemala but in many countries around the globe: the corn tortilla.
Tortillas are incredibly versatile maize-based pancakes that can be topped with a variety of flavorsome ingredients and enjoyed as a wrap.
It’s very common in Guatemala to be served tortillas alongside a meal, so these corn wraps are a very popular staple of Guatemalan cuisine.
Not to be confused with tortillas on account of the same beginning and ending letters, tostadas are a variation of tortillas specifically topped with tomato sauce, fried beans, cheese, guacamole, parsley, and onions.
Tostadas provide a filling meal as well as a vibrant flavor experience – just remember to ask specifically for a tostada and not just a tortilla, or you’ll be presented with the plain wrap.
Technically, this next one is an ingredient and not necessarily a specific dish, but it’s so central to Guatemalan cuisine that it deserves its own spot on our list. That’s right: we’re talking about beans!
Guatemalan dishes use all kinds of beans, prepared in various different ways. We’ve already seen how fried beans are incorporated into tostadas, but beans also feature in desserts and sweet dishes in Guatemala, as we will see later.
If you’ve never tried Guatemalan tamale, you definitely should, and the best kind of tamale you’ll ever taste is the traditional Guatemalan recipe.
You can keep your tamales fully plant-based, or you can incorporate pieces of meat, such as pork, which is the go-to meat-based tamale filling in Guatemala.
The pache is a twist on the traditional tamale recipe where the filling is wrapped in a layer of mashed potato instead of corn leaves. This is a perfect tamale alternative for when you’re craving something a little heavier and heartier.
Paches are most often filled with a chili mix and pieces of pork in a vibrant tomato and bell pepper sauce.
Another variation on the tamale, chuchitos are essentially smaller, parcel-shaped tamales.
Where pork is the traditional meat used in the preparation of tamales, chuchitos normally feature chicken as the central ingredient instead.
Chuchitos are served topped with cheese and tomato sauce, and they make the perfect side dish for big family meals.
Speaking of side dishes, chirmol is a traditional Guatemalan dip that is similar to tomato salsa. In fact, the dish is often referred to as ‘Guatemalan salsa.’
Chirmol is made from tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, and just a pinch of salt. It’s not overly complicated but creates a burst of fresh flavors that go with many savory dishes.
The great thing about chirmol is that you can add as much or as little spice to it as you like, depending on your palate.
Enchiladas are relatively well-known in many countries, but they are traditionally a Mexican recipe that has also become hugely popular in Guatemala.
The Guatemalan enchilada is a tortilla-based dish filled with a combination of meats, cheese, and fried beans as well as vegetables and potatoes. Enchiladas are also topped with a special sauce flavored with cumin and chili, as well as more cheese.
Enchiladas make a really indulgent and flavor-filled meal that we recommend everyone to try.
Jocon is a Guatemalan stew, easily recognizable for its unique flavor combination as well as its beautiful, bright green color.
The stew is usually chicken-based and is flavored with garlic, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, cilantro, tomatillos, and sesame seeds.
Pepian is another Guatemalan stew, and it’s actually the national dish of Guatemala!
In contrast to Jocon, Pepian stew has a rich, red color. Although the color is appealing, the dish smells and tastes even better than it looks.
Pepian is made from tomatoes, chilis, pepitora and sesame seeds, onion, and garlic. It’s thickened with plantain and seasoned with cinnamon.
11. Kak ‘ik
Here we have yet another red stew! Kak ‘ik is Mayan in origin and is made from chili and tomatoes. Unlike Pepian, which is made with chicken, Kak ‘ik is turkey-based.
Cocido is a traditional Spanish dish, also known as cozido.
This stew is popular across Guatemala and is based around chickpeas. Other ingredients include pork, chorizo, chicken, squash, and potatoes. Usually, cocido is seasoned with a combination of saffron, garlic, and parsley.
If you’re a fan of versatile, spicy sauces that can be paired with vegetable and meat dishes alike, you’ll love escabeche!
Escabeche is a citrus and vinegar-based sauce that derives its spicy kick of flavor from pimenton peppers and other spice blends.
Anyone who loves hot dogs will fall in love with the traditional Guatemalan shuco.
A shuco consists of a bread bun, grilled and filled to the brim with sausage and cabbage. It is then topped with ketchup, mayonnaise, guacamole, and mustard.
We’ve seen plenty of chicken and pork-based stews on this list already, and a turkey-based stew, but the Guatemalan Hilachas stew is made with beef.
Hilachas consists of beef stewed in a sweet chili sauce guaranteed to make your mouth water as soon as you smell it. The stew is usually served with potatoes and carrots.
Fiambre is the perfect Guatemalan dish for anyone who enjoys eclectic blends of flavors and ingredients on a single plate.
Fiambre is a traditional celebratory dish prepared to mark the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, as it is called in Guatemala.
This dish consists of pork, sausage, chicken, plus a whole host of vegetables, including peppers, cauliflower, carrots, beetroot, and celery. Fiambre usually always features generous helpings of different cheeses. Boiled eggs and seafood are often mixed in, as well.
Every family’s Fiambre recipe is likely to be slightly different because the dish is so closely linked to tradition and family in Guatemalan culture. Sometimes you may find avocado in the dish as well.
This one needs absolutely no introduction, but we’ll introduce it anyway: chocolate is made from ground and roasted cacao seeds and has been a beloved sweet treat in many areas of the world for centuries.
Cacao seeds and the resultant chocolate are intrinsically linked to Guatemalan culture. Mayan tribes in Guatemala often drank a hot chocolate drink known as Ceremonial Cacao.
You can count on being able to find chocolate relatively easily in Guatemala, including in the hot drink form.
Bunuelos are wheat-based dough fritters made by frying the dough in oil before serving alongside (or topped/filled with) some anise syrup.
The Bunuelo is thought to have originated in medieval Spain during the period between 711 and 1492 AD.
Have you ever heard of Champurradas? If not, you’re in for a treat!
Champurradas are a Guatemalan dessert through and through, having originated directly from the country.
These cookies are similar to a cross between biscotti and sugar cookies. However, they differentiate themselves in the world of cookies by relying on sesame seeds for their sweet yet unique flavor.
Champurradas are actually really easy to make for yourself at home, so if you’re looking for a simple Guatemalan dessert to add to your culinary repertoire, this is it!
While we’re on the subject of cookies, Rellenitos are very interesting cookie-like Guatemalan desserts that will change the way you think about the binary of sweet and savory in cooking.
The recipe for Rellenitos proves what we were saying earlier about the centrality of beans to Guatemalan cooking.
Rellenitos are made from fried beans, plantain, cinnamon spice, and vanilla. It might sound like a strange combination of flavors, but trust us when we say you don’t want to miss out on this dessert.
Marzipan is another sweet treat that you’ve most likely heard of or even tried before but may know little about concerning its popularity around the world.
It is estimated that Marzipan is one of the most popular candies in Guatemala. Marzipan is made from almond paste and, of course, plenty of sugar.
In Guatemala, you will usually find marzipan colored and sculpted into fun and often detailed shapes, including miniature fruits.
22. Arroz con Leche
Finally, we highly recommend trying Arroz con Leche.
Arroz con Leche is sometimes considered a drink and sometimes referred to as a dessert, depending on who you ask. In our opinion, it’s both!
This milk-based drink is similar to Atol in terms of its sweet, warm, milky flavor, but it’s thicker and somewhat resembles the consistency of rice pudding.
Arroz con Leche is made with rice, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon, all boiled in milk.
Many of us enjoy a strong cup of coffee (or 5) in the mornings to get us ready for the day ahead. But did you know that coffee has an important place in Guatemalan history and culture?
Guatemala produces some of the best coffee in the world, known for its especially strong flavor. Coffee was sacred to the Mayan people, who believed that Cacao beans were a gift provided by the gods.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that coffee is in abundance and extremely popular in Guatemala.
If you’re looking for a Guatemalan beverage to provide comfort and warmth on a cold morning or night, you should definitely try Atol!
Atol is made from corn, milk, and sugar. The recipe involves mixing Masa Harina (maize powder) with milk, cinnamon, sugar (or piloncillo) before adding a hint of vanilla.
Ponche is a warm, spiced, festive-feeling drink that is typically enjoyed at Christmas in Guatemala.
The basis of the drink is dried fruit and cinnamon spice, sugared and boiled for a sweet, rich flavor. The fruits traditionally used to make Ponche are oranges, pears, apples, pineapple, papaya, and raisins.
Cloves and tamarind spice can also be added to Ponche for an extra kick.
After all that talk about Guatemalan street food, we’re feeling hungry, so that’s all from us for today!
We hope you’ve managed to take some culinary inspiration from these 25 popular Guatemalan dishes.
Bear in mind that many of these dishes are traditional and have deep cultural and historical roots, so please be mindful of this as you order or replicate them.
With that being said, the range of spices, ingredients, and flavor combinations featured in traditional Guatemalan cuisine leaves plenty of room for culinary freedom.
There is a wealth of popular Guatemalan recipes available at your fingertips. Which will you try first?
Guatemalan Food: Our 25+ Most Popular Dishes (+Guatemalan Hot Rice Atole Recipe)
- 1 cup fresh water
- 1 cup strained rice milk
- 2.5 cups whole milk
- 2.5 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Add rice milk, milk, cinnamon, and sugar to a saucepan, simmering for 15 minutes.
- Stir in the vanilla.
- Pour into mugs and garnish with cinnamon.
Organize all the required ingredients.
Enjoy the food.