The relatively small Central American nation of Guatemala may warrant the attention of nature- and food-loving travelers considering their next vacation location.
The name derives from the Nahuatl term Quuahtlemallan, which means “land of trees” or “place of many trees.” It aptly captures the nation’s highly forested sections and its numerous mountain ranges, making a trip there worthwhile for adventure enthusiasts.
With its 25 ethnic groups, 25 languages, and four distinct cultures (Ladina, Xinca, Garifuna, and Mayan), Guatemala is also known for its ethnic, cultural, and linguistic variety.
The country’s diverse population, long history, and geographical location have all combined to produce a unique blend that results in a mouthwatering cuisine.
Best 12 Traditional Guatemala Dishes to Look For
There are plenty of wonderful restaurants and foreign cuisine in tourist hotspots like Antigua, but if you’re searching for something more authentic, we’ve got you covered.
Here are 12 of Guatemala’s most popular traditional dishes.
Although there are many different toppings for tostadas, traditional Guatemalan tostadas are typically topped with guacamole, tomato salsa, or refried black beans. Depending on the recipe, additional ingredients could include chopped pork, onions, sweet peppers, adobo seasoning, herbs, and spices to give the tostadas a flavor boost. The base of Guatemalan tostadas, also known as tostadas Guatemaltecas, are corn tortillas that have been deep-fried or oven-toasted.
2. Jocon de Pollo
Another popular cuisine from Huehuetenango, a city and municipality in the western highlands of Guatemala, is called jocon. Due to the dish’s strong Mayan influences, it is well-liked among the Mayan populace.
The dish, also known as Jon de pollo, calls for stewing chicken in a tomatillo and cilantro-based green sauce. After adding ground pumpkin and sesame seeds to thicken it, it is served with corn tortillas, rice, and slices of avocado.
3. Caldo de Res
Guatemala’s caldo de res is one of the national soups that serves as a symbol of the nation’s culture and cuisine. One of Guatemala’s most popular dishes, this beef broth is sometimes referred to as cocido or “cooked” in Antigua. Consequently, it frequently appears on the menus of restaurants and other eating places in Guatemala.
Its ancestors were a meal resembling this one from Andalucia known as puchero, which was served throughout Latin America and the Philippines during the colonial era.
In addition to being one of Guatemala’s intangible cultural heritage foods, kak’ik is one of the most well-known Mayan dishes in the nation. This particular turkey soup is made in a red broth with hints of spice.
The dish’s name is a reference to a pre-colonial Mayan Q’echi ritual. Traditional methods for making this well-known Guatemalan dish include using native turkeys, tomatoes, cilantro, chiles, and achiote, which gives the soup its vivid color.
Spain’s nearly 300 years of colonial control (1540 to 1821) had a significant impact on the nation, especially on its cuisine. Hilachas, the Guatemalan version of shredded beef stew, is one of its mouthwatering offerings. Hilachas is shredded beef stewed in a silky sauce with pieces of soft potatoes.
Hilachas is fairly similar to the Cuban dish ropa vieja because they have colonial Spanish roots. The name “old clothes” is derived from the appearance of ropa vieja, which is a dish comprised of shredded beef and vegetables that looks like a pile of vibrant rags.
6. Atol de Elote
A typical beverage made from maize called atol de elote is sweet and creamy. Atol de elote is a warm dish that is frequently spiced with cinnamon or vanilla. It is comparable to Arroz con leche in flavor and could be compared to a hybrid between horchata and corn chowder.
Traditionally, maize is ground using a grinding stone or metate to get the silky-rich texture. The delicious mixture is heated in a big pot with milk, sugar, and spices before being served in cups.
From 8,000 to 5,000 B.C., tamales were a common cuisine throughout Mesoamerica. To give them a rich flavor and scent, they are either made with corn masa or rice flour and cooked in fresh plantain leaves (or corn husks). They may be stuffed with a variety of meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, maize, tomatoes, bell peppers, roasted chiles, or other ingredients.
There are four main varieties of tamales in Guatemala: tamale colorado (red tamales), tamale negro, chuchito, and tamalito. Tamales are popular throughout most of Latin America, including Mexico, Belize, Peru, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic.
8. Pepian de Indio
Pepian de Indio merits a spot on our list since it has earned recognition as one of Guatemala’s national foods. The best Guatemalan comfort dish, according to legend, is this chicken stew. It’s hard to disagree when the dish features delicate chicken pieces cooked in a mildly spicy tomato sauce with toasted pumpkin seeds and chili sauce.
Its roots can be traced back to the pre-colonial era when the Mayans produced the staple foods of their diet, including corn, beans, chiles, squash, and tomatoes.
9. Mole de Platano
You probably expected a chocolate dish to be included in this introduction to Guatemalan cuisine because it is the origin of chocolate. Here is where the dazzling mole de platano first appears.
For chocolate lovers, Mole de platano is a typical Guatemalan delicacy. It is made with mole, which is a chocolate sauce combined with fried plantains, cinnamon, chili, and bell peppers, then topped with sesame seeds.
The dish was accorded Intangible Cultural legacy classification by the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sport in 2007 due to its significance in the nation’s culinary legacy.
Crispy, buttery empanadas are the ideal pastry for a quick lunch on the go. These often have a meat filling across Central America, but in Guatemala, the majority are vegetarian, filled with potato and/or spinach, and topped with a variety of ingredients like guacamole, tomatoes, onion, and cilantro.
11. Chicken pepián
Pepián is arguably the closest thing Guatemala has to a national cuisine. However, Guatemala doesn’t truly have one. One of the oldest foods in Guatemala is this fiery stew, which was created via the blending of the Spanish and Maya cultures. Despite being cooked most frequently with chicken, it can also be made with beef or pork. All variations of the dish include a generous amount of spices in addition to fruit and vegetables (often pear, squash, carrot, potato, and corn). It is typically served with tortillas and rice.
Pepián is arguably the closest thing Guatemala has to a national cuisine. However, Guatemala doesn’t truly have one. One of the oldest foods in Guatemala is this fiery stew, which was created via the blending of the Spanish and Maya cultures.
Despite being cooked most frequently with chicken, it can also be made with beef or pork. All variations of the dish include a generous amount of spices in addition to fruit and vegetables (often pear, squash, carrot, potato, and corn). It is typically served with tortillas and rice.
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Visitors who enjoy food will enjoy Guatemala. They will not only get to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the nation, but they will also get a sense of its rich history by savoring the delicious Guatemalan foods on this list. How intriguing would it be to hear that Guatemala’s best cuisine has been handed down through the generations by its Mayan ancestors? That is a mouthful of fascinating old history.