Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Fri June 12 2015

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | June 12, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    Grazing in Guatemala: 5 Classic Dishes

    Grazing in Guatemala: 5 Classic Dishes

    PHOTO: Joco'n gets its color from tomatillos and bunches of cilantro. (Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates)

    Traveling through the mountainous towns of Guatemala, many visitors mistakenly assume that the tamales, tortillas and empanadas that fill tables and street stands mean that Guatemalan cuisine is just like its Mexican neighbor. Although there are some similarities, Guatemala claims distinctive food traditions that you won't find anywhere else.

    Influenced heavily by Mayan heritage as well as Spanish preparation techniques, Guatemalan cuisine relies on fresh local ingredients and a gracious, informal presentation. Here are five essential Guatemalan dishes that every traveler should try:


    Stepping into a traditional Guatemala City restaurant, Kaq-Ik was the very first authentic Guatemala dish that I tried and it was love at first bite. A heaping bowl of turkey stew served with rice, tamales steamed in banana leaves and tortillas, Kaq-iq is a hearty dish with deep Maya history. 

    Considered the unofficial national dish, the stew is connected to the Q'eqchi Maya group who say that the red color represents the blood shed in rituals by their ancestors. Q'eqchi women continue to kill, clean and cook the turkey using traditional methods and the dish is a popular feature at wedding banquets.

    “Ik” means spicy in Mayan and the stew's flavor builds with Cobanaro chili, achiote, coriander and other spices. A fat turkey leg is served on the side and I was instructed to dip the meat into the stew along with the tamale and rice. It's a huge, filling meal but I loved the taste so much that I felt compelled to finish almost every drop.

     Chicken Pepi'an

    Another mainstay dish that's served in every region of the country, Pepi'an is a thick stew of roasted chicken in a sauce accented with ground pumpkin seeds or pepitas, sesame seeds and chiles. The stew can feature beef or pork as well, but traditionally it's served with chicken or turkey. The flavor is generally mild with the nutty taste of the pepitas a prominent feature. There's also the light green squash, guisquiles, carrots and tomatoes in the mix. Warm tortillas typically accompany the dish, to lap up every bit.


    This bright green dish gets its color from tomatillos and bunches of cilantro. By now, you probably notice a pattern; lots of stews and lots of chicken. Joc'on is also a stew with chicken simmered in the tomatillos for a slightly tangy taste. Rice and tortillas are also served with this dish, which is a little lighter than the other two.


    A ceremonial dish of the Kaqchiquel Maya, Subanik's elaborate mix of chicken beef and pork is sometimes called “God's meal” because it includes everything. The complex preparation in highland villages involves hours of roasting and steaming in brilliant, green mashan or palm leaves. I didn't find this spicy stew on as many menus as I did the other dishes but some restaurants do offer it so if you find it, don't hesitate to sample it.

    Jugo de Pepita

    This isn't a dish but a drink made from roasted pepitas or pumpkin seeds, a hallmark of Guatemalan cuisine. I loved the roasted, slightly salty and sweet flavor of the drink and I discovered that I was fortunate to sip the beverage in Guatemala City because I didn't see it in any other town. It's apparently a regional drink so if you spot it, definitely try it. Guatemala's food culture is an important aspect of the country that helps supply a richer travel experience.

More Guatemala


You may use your Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook information, including your name, photo & any other personal data you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on Click here to learn more.

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
Journey on an Avalon River Cruise

Cruise Lines & Cruise Ships