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Guatemalan Food 


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When I went to Guatemala, I was 20 years old. I had married a Guatemalan, and we moved to his country. I knew no Spanish. I had never tried black beans (didn't even know what they were, the first time I saw them), a dish ubiquitous there. I knew nothing of so many of the vegetables and fruits found down there. A midwesterner, at age 20 I had never yet gotten out to explore the world. I lived in Guatemala for 12 years, and had adequate time to become fairly knowledgeable about the foods there, and learned a lot of the recipes.


On the drive to Lake Atitlan
Beautiful scenery on the drive to Lake Atitlan
  Loquat Fruit Chayote Squash
Loquat Fruit, lower left ("Nispero" in Guatemala)
Chayote Squash, upper right ("Guisquil" in Guatemala)


I recall one day, alone at our house, someone knocked at the door.  I answered, with trepidation, because I never knew if I would understand what someone said or not!  So a young Mayan man stood there and asked if I wanted "chuchitos?" 

I really could not interpret most of what was said; the different Mayan dialects are very prevalent in Guatemala, and some of them were the first language.  Spanish was their second language also, and the accents could be quite strong!  I believe this was the case, in this instance, but the only thing I understood was that he was selling "chuchitos."  

At this point in my language skills, I knew that chuchito was a slang word for "puppy" - the correct term being "perrito."  I certainly did not want a puppy, so I told him no, thank you.  The following week, at home alone, the same man came to the door, selling "chuchitos."  I wondered if he just didn't understand me?  I told him last week that I didn't want any puppies! 

Only much later did I come to find that "Chuchitos" are also a name for a little tamale-like snack in Guatemala, and quite similar to what are called "tamales" in Mexico!  Oh dear!

Mayan girl weaving
A young Mayan girl weaving a typical textile

I was thrown into the culture and the foods, at the deep end, so to speak. The first time I went to Guatemala was at age 19, with my Dad. He accompanied me to see what kind of country, what kind of people and what kind of family I was going to marry into. It was over Christmas and New Years that we visited. Christmas time in Guatemala is when tamales are served. Guatemalan tamales and tamales from other countries really have little resemblance to one another. I learned to love and make them in my years there, but at age 19 - I just didn't like them!

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My future husband and family introduced my Dad and me to a lot of new fruits. Some, like Chicos and Zapotes, I have found in Mexico to be called just the opposite! I saw Mamey, Nances, Prickly Pear (not cleaned well enough, I got the little nearly transparent barbs stuck in my tongue and lips!), Loquats, Papayas and Mangoes, Manzanillas and Caimitos. At the time I had never heard of any of these, and so many more!

Some vegetables I had never heard of were Yuca (root) and Guisquil (Chayote Squash). And the chiles! I had not grown up in a household where chiles were ever used. These were an eye-opener! Most particularly the tiny (small pea-sized) Chiltepe chiles, were amazing and delicious.

I developed a lifelong love for Chiles Rellenos, when introduced to them at the market in Escuintla.  They are filled with a meat and vegetable mixture and served with a little tomato sauce between two corn tortillas.

I did get married and moved there, and then I was on my own. It was a while before I was remotely intelligible in Spanish. At around my second year there, I was fluent enough to be able to manage if someone came to call when I was alone. But still, slang words in any culture can trip one up!

My daughter
My daughter with one of a litter of "chuchitos!"

Three of my children watching the chickens

GUATEMALAN recipes, page 1


Bacalao
     Good Friday traditional salt cod stew
Caldo Gallego
     actually from Spain, but also made in Guatemala
Carne Fria
    A meatloaf with a twist!
Chancletas
    a dessert made with Chayote Squash
Empanadas
    a dessert type pastry filled with pudding
Frijoles Volteados
     black beans evaporated down to a solid mass
Guatemalan Mole in the RAW
     a totally RAW version of this amazing sauce
Horchata
    a very delicious and refreshing beverage
Platanos en Mole
    Plantains in Mole Sauce, a healthy dessert
Quesadilla
     a coffeecake made with cheese!
Rellenitos de Platano
     dessert of mashed plantains filled with beans
Tamales Quetzaltecos
     the best tamales - yum!


GUATEMALAN RECIPES, page 2


Carne en Jocon
     easily made with chicken for Pollo en Jocon
Cauliflower in Egg Batter
     I never liked cauliflower till I tasted this version
Chimichurri
     a delicious marinade or cooking sauce
Chopped Radish Salad OR
Chopped Radish Salad with Meat
     chopped radish salad alone or with meat
Enchiladas
     no resemblance to the style known in the U.S.
Pepian de Res (Beef in Pepian Sauce)
     unusual
ly delicious flavor combination
Pollo en Jocon
    
use Salsa Verde and this dish is a snap
Polvorosas

     little shortbread cookies "bursting" with flavor
Rosa de Jamaica
    refreshing, healthy Roselle/Hibiscus beverage

Salsa Verde
    green sauce used for many recipes
Tostadas
     snack of three fried tortillas with different toppings


I had 4 children while living there, and for the last 6 years there we lived outside the city, in a very small town called Villa Nueva. The house was a good size, but the best feature was the very large yard; something we never had while in Guatemala City proper. I kept chickens for a couple of years, so we had fresh eggs. We had ducks for a little while, and watched eggs hatch. There were many orange trees in the yard, so we always had fresh oranges. There was a pomegranate tree and a lime tree, so limes were always available. We had a papaya tree, avocado tree and mango tree, but we lived at too high an elevation for those to bear usable fruit. There was a loquat tree and two guava trees. I learned to make preserves from those abundant fruits.

I gardened. I grew fresh herbs and used them.  I learned about cilantro - unheard of in Ohio at that time. I learned that I had a fairly green thumb. I grew broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, a variety of squash called Guicoy that when young, resembled zucchini in flavor, and when allowed to mature, was the closest thing I had to being able to make a pumpkin pie! Chayote squash, leeks, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, peppers; you name it and I tried planting it! I learned to cook all the typical Guatemalan dishes I could, and in doing so, established my lifelong love of fresh herbs and spices, baking from scratch, and a complete love of learning to cook recipes that has continued to this day.

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My father-in-law owned a couple of coffee plantations, about 3 hours away in the southwest coastal town of Coatepeque. We visited there many times and I got to see firsthand the process of how we get our coffee. From a water bath to get the fruit off the seeds, and repeated washings, to workers walking up and down huge cement "patios" pushing the beans back and forth under the sun all day long to dry them. I learned to love coffee while there. More on my coffee and tea journey under Beverages.
 
I am blessed to have the ability to read a recipe and be able to "taste" it in my mind, so more often than not, the recipe turns out exactly as I anticipate.  Guatemala is a beautiful country, the people are interesting and welcoming, the food is absolutely delicious and I am ever grateful for the time I was able to spend there and the many things I learned.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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