Travel

A culinary guide to Guatemala

Guatemalan cuisine is packed with memorable dishes, from on-the-go snacks to classics that draw on centuries of tradition. To help navigate the nation’s restaurants and food stalls, we’ve pulled together a list of the nation’s gastronomical highlightsSunday, May 19, 2019

By Visit Guatemala
Sunday market in front of the Santa Maria de Jesus

Mesón Panza Verde, Antigua
Ceviche

Antigua’s winding alleyways are full of places to eat, from small, buzzy street food joints to high-end establishments. First up on the city’s culinary bucket list is Mesón Panza Verde, considered to be one of the country’s top restaurants. Candlelit and elegant, with crisp tablecloths and smooth service, it offers retro French dishes (duck à l’orange, coq au vin), along with a clutch of reinvented Guatemalan plates and a sublime shrimp ceviche that doesn’t stint on the lime, chilli and coriander. 

El Injerto, Guatemala City
Coffee

When it comes to coffee, one thing is for certain — Guatemalan farmers certainly know their stuff. And if you’re a fan, well, you’re in the right place. Once upon a time, the good stuff was exported, but today that’s changed, and there’s an increasing number of excellent coffee shops employing new-wave techniques to brew up a storm across the country. For a great cup of coffee, try El Injerto in Guatemala City — its namesake plantation in Huehuetenango is one of the world’s top coffee farms.

Los Tres Tiempos, Antigua
Pepián

If Guatemala had a national dish, it would probably be this rich, meaty stew. The thick sauce is pepped up with roasted spices and, more often than not, chicken, beef or pork. You’ll find it bubbling away on street food carts, bus station kiosks and in homestays across the country. But if you happen to find yourself in Antigua, head to the hugely popular Los Tres Tiempos for a great-value pepián. This stylish, modern cafe has a bustling terrace and a menu of classic Guatemalan dishes that’ll leave you stuffed to bursting point.

Food stalls, Flores
Rellenitos de platano

A staple in local cooking, these delicacies can be found in markets, restaurants and kitchens across the country. Plantain is mashed and stuffed with sweetened, refried black beans before being deep fried until caramelised and deliciously crunchy. In the northern town of Flores, follow the scent of smoky meats and grilled corn as 4pm hits — it’ll lead you to the lines of street food stalls strung along the shoreline. The stalls around Calle 15 de Septiembre are your best bet for rellenitos.

Tamales

Kacao, Guatemala City
Tamales

These delicious snacks are just about as Guatemalan as you can get. A host of fillings are mixed together, then steamed in banana leaves. They’re sold everywhere, from markets to lakeside shacks and city food trucks. At Kacao, a popular spot in Guatemala City, they’re served up to a soundtrack of marimba. Make room for desserts too — Kacao specialises in the likes of cassava fritters with honey, bananas smothered in chocolate, sesame and cinnamon sauce, and sweet ripe plantains filled with refried beans.

Food stalls in San Pedro la Laguna, Lake Atitlán
Tacos

Head to the town of San Pedro for enchanting sunsets over Lake Atitlán, thrumming bars and good food. The colourful street food stalls around Main Street are abuzz at lunchtime with traditional, tasty morsels. Fill up on tacos (corn tortillas rolled up around fillings and fried) and chiles rellenos (bell or jalapeño peppers stuffed with minced meat, carrots, green beans, and spices, covered in batter and fried). Round off your ditch-the-diet meal with caramelised rellenitos (cooked plantains with refried beans, sugar and cinnamon).

Xkape Koba’n, Coban
Kakik

Kakik is a hearty turkey soup with plenty of chili, coriander and spices. For a guaranteed great bowl, head to Coban, an increasingly gentrified city with a dynamic foodie scene that’s the urban base for the spectacular outlying pools of Semuc Champey. There are dozens of hole-in-the-wall eateries and cafes here with thoroughly traditional Guatemalan menus, but arty cafe Xkape Koba’n excels at turning out classic plates with flair. Order the kakik and you can be sure that no one will be going home hungry.

Buga Mama, Livingston
Tapado

The breezy, good-time beach town of Livingston is all paddleboarding in late morning, snoozing in the shade, and strumming to Caribbean rhythms as happy hour hits. But wait until you’ve tried the Garifuna stew tapado, a winning combo of seafood, coconut milk, spices and plantains, piled up over coconut rice. Cheap eats can be found throughout the tiny town, but the tapado at rough-around-the-edges Buga Mama, takes some beating.

Essentials

Getting there
Virgin Atlantic, Delta Air Lines, Air France and American Airlines fly indirect from London Heathrow to La Aurora International Airport.       

To find out more, visit our Guatemala hub

visitguatemala.com

Published in the June 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller Food (UK)

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