The JT Insider Food Guide: Guatemala
Hailing from Antigua, chef Hector Castro gives us an insight into the diversity of Guatemalan cuisine, as well as what to try and where to go for the best culinary experience.
Food of the nation
‘Guatemalan cuisine isn’t as well documented as many cuisines from other countries, so not many people know about the wonderful dishes we have to offer. Some people describe it as Mexican cuisine with less spice, but that is actually far from the truth. There are similarities between the two but Guatemalan food is as complex and diverse as any other. The two types of Guatemalan cuisine are pre-Colombian and post-Colombian, meaning before and after the Spaniards came. The first is based on ingredients that are native to the region, mostly originating from ceremonial dishes that are still cooked for Mayan events. The second type incorporates ingredients and cooking techniques that came from Europe. Ultimately though, it’s the people who cook and serve Guatemalan food that make it so unique.’
A taste tour
Antigua: ‘Here we have a speciality called pepian, which is a dark brown stew made with roasted sesame and pumpkin seeds, as well as piloyada, a local red bean dish.’
Cobán: ‘In this region you should try kak’Ik, a hot turkey stew, and subanik, which is a tomato based stew with three different types of meat [also a Kaqchiquel Maya ceremonial dish].’
The west: ‘In the west you can try jocón, a traditional light chicken stew made with cilantro, green onions and tomatillos.’
Atlantic Coast: ‘Along this small stretch of Caribbean coast we have tapado, a delicious seafood soup that’s made with coconut.’
Pacific Coast: ‘It’s here on the coast that you can find ceviche. Guatemalan ceviche is different from Peruvian or Mexican, with the addition of our own ingredients.’
Countrywide: ‘You can find different types of tamales around the country, some with dough made from corn and some from potato, with meat or beans, wrapped in banana leaves. Pork crackling is a staple and, of course, our corn tortillas go with every meal. You can also find most Guatemalan dishes at restaurants in Antigua and Guatemala City.’
‘Chocolate is a food trend here. Fernando’s Kaffee in Antigua make their own from scratch, and are very happy to show you how.’
Fernando’s Kaffee, 7a Avenida Norte, 43D, Antigua.
‘Look out for the talented chefs Jorge Lamport [of Camille] and Eduardo Gonzalez [of La Taberna Culinaria] who are based in Guatemala City.’
Authentically local dining experience
‘For traditional home-cooked food La Canche is the best, hands down. Another great experience of Guatemalan cuisine can be had at the Central Market in Guatemala City.’
La Canche, 6a Avenida Norte, Antigua. Central Market, 9a Avenida, Guatemala City.
‘In Antigua private cooking lessons can be arranged through the Spanish language schools, and if you’re in Guatemala City you can go to Cook and Relax with chef Juan Manuel Rossi.’
Cook and Relax, 14 Calle A, 15-09 Zona 10, Oakland II, Guatemala City.
Antigua’s Dining Scene
‘Where I like to go depends on what time of the day it is. For breakfast, I like Fernando’s Kaffee for the great coffee and friendly service, as well as their own Chocolate. At Posada de Don Rodrigo you can get a typical Guatemalan breakfast, the service is super friendly, as well as prompt, and the setting is gorgeous in an old colonial building with a beautiful garden. For lunch and dinner I like H Bistro [also known as Hector’s Bistro, this was originally opened by Hector, before moving on to other projects]. The food, service and ambience is all consistently great. Plus it’s in a great location with a view of the park, if you get the table by the window.’
‘H Bistro is always guaranteed to be a great experience, and I enjoy eating at Los Tres Tiempos for modern Guatemalan cuisine.’
Los Tres Tiempos, 5 Avenida Norte 31, under the Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua.
A stellar setting
‘For the best view of Antigua go to the bar Kafka, Cafe Sky or El Tenedor del Cerro, but for a great setting, go to H Bistro, a fun and cosy hole-in-the-wall bistro, Panza Verde, a gorgeous and spacious dining room with a garden, and La Escalonia and Sabe Rico, which both have beautiful gardens.’
Kafka, 3ra. Calle Poniente, No.4, Antigua. Cafe Sky, 1A Avenida Sur 15, Antigua. El Tenedor del Cerro, Casa Santo Domingo del Cerro, Antigua. Hector’s Bistro, 1ra. Calle Poniente 9A, Antigua. Panza Verde, 5a Avenida Sur, Antigua. La Escalonia, 5a Avenida Sur Final, No.36C, Antigua. Sabe Rico, 6a Avenida Sur, No.7, Antigua.
Chef Hector Castro was trained in the culinary arts while living in the US and has since spent 15 years fine-tuning his kitchen skills. He launched and ran his restaurant Hector’s Bistro in Antigua, before going on to be a chef on private yachts around the world. Hector is soon to open a new restaurant in Antigua.