Guatemala is one of the most well-known countries of Central America with it’s stunning culture and a simple but hearty traditional cuisine. Guatemalan food at its core centres around the primary ingredients of rice, corn, tortillas, cheese, port, chicken, beans, or beef.
The single most common ingredient in Guatemalan cooking is corn. With strong ties to the Maya culture and a glimpse in the Spanish traditions, these Guatemalan dishes are steeped in history and cultural identity.
Most Popular Guatemalan Dishes
We take a look at some of the most delicious, traditional and truly authentic Guatemalan dishes eaten by locals. Every exquisite dish on this list was hand-picked by us from our foodie travels through Guatemala. You will also find links to our favorite recipes for each dish so that you can try making them at home.
So without further ado, here are the most delicious foods of Guatemala to try for yourself.
Pepian is a delicious combination of meat, rice, and roasted spices to form a thick stew. This old dish has filled up the bellies of Guatemalan people over the years and is influenced by both the Maya and Spanish cuisines.
It is typically made with chicken, but pork or beef may also be used. Other Pepian varieties may include fruits and vegetables such as potatoes pear, corn, carrots, or squash. Pepian is traditionally served with tortillas and rice.
Guatemalan Tamales can be made either with corn masa or with rice flour. However sometimes they are also be made with mashed potatoes. They are served on banana leaves.
Traditionally, Tamales are enjoyed on a Thursday. The filings may comprise of beef with vegetables or chicken with vegetables. The sweet variety may be filled with dried fruits, nuts, corn, or sugar.
For a bit of color, the Tamales may be include achiote seeds which give it an orange/red color, or with chocolate or black with mole to give it a brown color.
Kak’ik is a traditional dish comprising of turkey, vegetables, and spices typically served as a way to christen a new home. In the good old days, Turkey was the nearest thing to chicken that could be cooked.
Originally, it was consumed in Cobán and even today, you will find it served in several restaurants. The preferred part of turkey for cooking is the leg and Kak’ik is traditionally served with tamales and rice. A dash of chopped mint leaves may be sprinkled on the dish before serving.
Jocon de Pollo
Jocon is a delicious sauce that is usually accompanied by its main; chicken, although other meats may be used. It is made with sesame seeds, cilantro, and tomatillos. It is greatly influenced by the Mayan culture and is most often served with rice.
Chiles Rellenos is a very simple dish comprising of meat or vegetables stuffed in bell peppers. The meat (mainly pork) is stuffed in the pepper then the pepper is breaded and deep-fried. When done, the stuffed pepper may be laid on a bed of tomato and onion sauce. Chiles Rellenos is best served with rice.
Fiambre salad is a colorful dish served once a year in celebration of the Day of the Dead, as well as the All Saints Day. It is a beautiful blend of a variety of cold meats and vegetables. Ingredients include different cold cuts, a variety of sausages, beets, pickled baby corn, chicken, olives, different cheeses, pacaya flower, or even Brussels sprouts.
Preparation may vary from home to home but the gist of it is to have plenty of cold cuts mixed with plenty of cheeses and vegetables.
Hilachas is a dish comprising of shredded beef in a bed of tomato sauce. It can be served with tortillas, rice, or both. Hilachas loosely translates to “rags” and can also be served with Guajillo chiles, potatoes, carrots, and tomatillo.
Elotes Loco is grilled corn with a good slather of ketchup, cheese, and mayonnaise, or any other condiment you choose. Sounds messy to the conservative eater but once you get the hang of it; you will enjoy the delicious goodness! Generally, you get to choose which toppings go on your Elotes Loco.
Rellenitos is a snack consisting of cooked plantain, sugar, refried bean paste, and cinnamon. The mixture is then deep-fried resulting in a hot, sweet, tasty snack.
Enchiladas are a messy street food that comprises of a variety of ingredients placed on a bed of fried tortillas. The toppings can be anything from minced meat, lettuce, egg, cheese, tomato salsa, onions, radishes, or the Guatemalan favorite-cabbage.
Enchiladas are of course also a very famous Mexican dish, but they are widely enjoyed across Latin America.
Walk anywhere in Guatemala and you will find Pupusas. If you are on a budget then you will appreciate this filling dish. The thick corn tortillas are stuffed with several fillings such as pork, cheese, and refried beans. Traditionally though, Pupusas are filled with cabbage and salsa.
Once the ingredients have been identified and stuffed, the thick tortillas are then fried to form a crispy outer surface and a squashy inside.
Guatemalan Tamalitos de Chipilin
Tamalitos de Chipilin consists of a mixture of flavored corn flour and chipilin leaves which are wrapped in corn husks then steamed. When cooked, the husks are discarded before eating the now firm filling. They are usually served with a creamy sauce.
A look at the different dishes or foods in Guatemala would not be complete minus a look at chocolate. The Guatemalans love their chocolate but they don’t generally enjoy it in solid form. They rather sip on it as a hot chocolate beverage.
Pastel de Banana
Pastel de banana is a banana sponge cake that is made with bananas, eggs, sugar, flour, salt, and baking soda. For flavor, vanilla essence may be used. Other ingredients may include chopped nuts, banana essence, or chocolate essence. Pastel de banana is enjoyed as a dessert.
Estofado con Papas
Estofado con Papas is potato stew that may be enhanced with meat. Ingredients used include tomatoes, onions, carrots, oregano, peppers, corn, peas, salt, rosemary, and cilantro. This stew is neither too thick not too runny and is accompanied by tortillas or white rice.
Churrasco is a traditional South American barbecue technique where chops of beef, veal, lamb, pork and chicken are skewered and then grilled over a wood fire. It is a very popular dish in Brazil but is also a widely followed cooking method in many other countries in North and South America.
The meat used to prepare churrasco in Brazil is often from the zebu, a breed of cattle that’s particularly common in churrasco as a cut of meat known as cupim. Foods that are served along with churrasco include farofa grains, rice, fried potatoes, potato salad, steamed greens, black beans, onions, fried bananas and many different chili-based sauces.
In the winter months, you may come across plenty of Revolcado dishes. This comprises of a small pig’s head and a mixture of bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, chiles guaques, tomatillos, and annatto. If you want thick stew, you may add cornflour. It may be served with rice.
Pollo en Crema
Pollo en Crema is chicken breasts with a healthy drizzle of creamy sauce. The sauce comprises of yellow potatoes. Cream, onions, green peppers, and chayote. It is best served with tortillas or rice.
So there you have it, our absolute favorite dishes of Guatemala and our recommended recipes. Of course, it’s preferable to try the authentic versions of each dish by visiting Guatemala, but you can get a good idea of the flavors and cuisine by cooking them yourself at home.