Guatemalan cuisine reflects the multicultural nature of Guatemala, in that it involves food that differs in taste depending on the region. Guatemala has 22 departments (or divisions), each of which has very different food varieties. For example Antigua Guatemala is well known for its candy which makes use of many local ingredients fruits, seeds and nuts along with honey, condensed milk and other traditional sweeteners. Antigua’s candy is very popular when tourists visit the country for the first time, and is a great choice in the search for new and interesting flavors.
Many traditional foods are based on Maya cuisine and prominently feature corn, chiles and beans as key ingredients. Various dishes may have the same name as a dish from a neighboring country, but may in fact be quite different for example the enchilada or quesadilla, which are nothing like their Mexican counterparts.
There are also foods that it is traditional to eat on certain days of the week – for example, by tradition it is known that on Thursday, the typical food is “paches” which is like a tamale made with a base of potato, and on Saturday it is traditional to eat tamales. Certain dishes are also associated with special occasions, such as fiambre for All Saints Day on November 1 and tamales which are common around Christmas.
There are reportedly hundreds of varieties of tamales throughout Guatemala. They key variations are what is in the masa or dough (corn, potatoes, rice), what’s in the filling (meat, fruits, nuts), and what is it wrapped with (leaves, husks). Tamales in Guatemala tend to be wrapped in green leaves, (mashan), while Chuchitos — which resemble Mexican tamales — are wrapped in corn husks. The masa is made out of corn that is not sweet, such as what is known as feed corn in the U.S. In Guatemala, this non-sweet corn is called maize and the corn that Americans are used to eating on the cob (sweet corn), Guatemalans call elote. Tamales in Guatemala are more typically wrapped in plantain or banana leaves and mashan leaves than corn husks. Additionally Guatemalan tamales use cooked masa, something that takes a lot of time and work.
- Tamales colorados (“red tamales”) owe their name to the tomato and achiote (annato seed) that give them their color, enveloped with corn masa and are stuffed with tomato recado, roasted red bell pepper strips, capers, green olives, and chicken, beef or pork.
- Tamales negros (“black tamales”) are darker and sweeter than their red counterparts due to the chocolate, raisins and almonds which are added to them. Other black tamales are not sweet but are simply made out of blue/black corn.
- Tamales de elote (“sweet corn tamales”) do not use the typical masa but instead are made out of sweet corn. These usually contain whole kernels of corn in the masa and do not generally contain meat.
- Chuchitos (“little dogs”) are a very typical kind of Guatemalan tamal made using the same corn masa as a regular tamal but they are smaller and with a much firmer consistency and wrapped in a tusas (corn husks) instead of plantain leaves. These tamales are smaller than the tamales above because they are usually very plain with no filling and are used instead to dip in other things such as soup or salsa. Chuchitos are often accompanied by a tomato based sauce and sprinkled with a hard, salty white cheese, from Zacapa. Chuchitos are a very common and are commonly served at luncheons, dinners and celebrations. The masa can be mixed with tomato recado or with a meat broth, if available.
- Tamalitos de chipilín and tamales de loroco are other varieties that have said ingredients added to the mix.
- Paches are a kind of tamal made from potatoes instead of corn