The people of Guatemala have fused their culture into their cuisine, and are proud to rely on their own agricultural bounty. Guatemalan food is largely based on corn, which has been a staple crop here for centuries. The corn is ground and then used to make the tortillas that most Guatemalans consume daily. Tortillas are delivered from local tortillerías or made in-house at the front of a restaurant.
In the cities, there are a variety of good food choices, including restaurants, cafés, and fast-food options. European influence has resulted in an array of culinary styles, especially in places like Guatemala City and Antigua. You can find French cafés, sushi spots, and Italian restaurants. There is also fusion food that combines local and international flavors.
In local establishments you’ll have less choice. Meals are often simple and involve fried or grilled meat, beans, eggs, and tortillas. These ingredients can be reformulated into breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Tamales are a traditional Guatemalan dish made from corn meal, turkey, pork, tomato sauce, and olives, which are boiled and wrapped up in a banana leaf. Paches are a potato-based alternative to tamales. Tacos are also eaten in Guatemala — these usually involve a corn tortilla that’s filled with meat and then rolled, fried, and spread with tomato sauce and cheese.
Regional stews also play a large part of the Guatemalan diet. These stews are spicy and often filled with meat. They include pollo en pepián (chicken and pumpkin-tomato seed sauce) and pollo en jacón (chicken in tomatillo-cilantro sauce). Tapado is a seafood stew made with coconut milk and plantains that’s most found along the Caribbean coast.
In coastal areas, ceviche (raw fish covered in lime juice) is popular, as is fried fish and camarones (shrimp). At local restaurants, vegetarians can get by on rice, beans and eggs. In more touristy areas, vegetarians won't have any problems finding a wider array of suitable meals.
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
Guatemalans usually eat a large breakfast of eggs, tortillas, and beans. The eggs are served in many different styles and are often peppered with spices. Pancakes are sometimes made, and cereal is fairly popular as well. In the highlands, breakfast is often a bowl of mosh, which is made with oats and milk and tastes like porridge. In popular destinations there is more variety, with granola, fruit, smoothies, and fresh bread being offered.
Lunch is the main meal in Guatemala. Restaurants offer comida corrida, which is a set two- or three-course meal that is hearty, delicious and inexpensive. These often include a bowl of soup, grilled or fried meat, and rice or a salad.
Guatemalans love refracciones; snacks that are served in the mid-afternoon and often include a small sandwich, tostada, tamal, or pastry.
Dinner is usually eaten later in the evening (around 8 P.M.) and is smaller than lunch. Tacos, enchiladas, and meat dishes are popular. In destinations like Antigua there is a fantastic assortment of cuisine available.
Where to Eat
There are a variety of places to eat in Guatemala that differ based upon their food, price, and quality. Restaurantes are sit-down affairs with table service and menus. Comedores are simpler, faster, and more local establishments. These are inexpensive and will sometimes have menus or a set meal for the day. The street-side stands are humorously referred to as shucos (dirties), and are best avoided.
In touristy places you’ll find café-restaurants, which are aimed at out-of-towners. These are often owned by foreigners and have varied menus that include curries, sandwiches, salads, and more. These places also usually have good coffee, wine, and smoothies.
Another option is to buy groceries from corner store tiendas or at larger grocery chains. All towns also have markets where locals buy fruit, vegetables, and meat. These markets are a fun place to search for food in a colorful environment.
When all else fails, go on a culinary tour of Guatemala to sample a little bit of everything, dine as the locals dine, or learn how to recreate a pleasant family meal when you return home.
Guatemala has a nice range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for travelers to sample. Some of the best include juice, coffee and rum.
Guatemala produces some of the world’s best coffee, but coincidentally it isn’t offered on a widespread scale. Even so, you can find a good cup of coffee in Cobán, Antigua, Guatemala City, and other popular tourist destinations.
Guatemala grows a variety of fruit, and fruit smoothies called licuados are tasty and easy to find. There are all manner of flavor available, but make sure that your smoothie is made with purified water and try to choose fruit that requires peeling (so as not to get sick). Freshly squeezed orange juice is also offered and is ridiculously refreshing.
In terms of alcoholic beverages, Zacapa Centario is rum made in the eastern regions of Guatemala. It has won international awards and makes a great gift for friends or family back home. In more remote areas, you might be able to find local moonshine, which is known as aguardiente or guaro.
For beer, the most common type is Gallo. Gallo is produced by Cervecería Centroamericana, which makes most of the country’s beer from its brewery in Guatemala City. “Gallo” means rooster in Spanish — to find this beer, just look for the label with a rooster. Other beers made by Cervecería Centroamericana include Monte Carlo (a pilsner), Moza (a dark beer), and Dorada Draft. A few competing brands are making their way into the Guatemalan beer market, however, including Brazilian Brahva.