Before arriving in Guatemala, I had no idea what this country’s food would be like. So many travellers had told me that when we left Mexico, the food throughout Central America would be a bland blend of rice, beans and plantains with meat. None of those things inspire me at all and after spending 2 months stuffing my face with treats like barbacoa tacos, ceviche and enfrijoladas, I knew I’d need to take matters into my own hands. So, before crossing the border into Guatemala, I made sure that I had some extra habanero sauce on hand for the sake of emergencies!
When we arrived at Lake Atitlan, I was invited to take part in a traditional Guatemalan cooking class. I was intrigued: would I be learning to cook rice and beans or is there more to Guatemalan cooking than I’d been led to believe?
Turns out that, actually, Guatemalan has a lot of rich, intense, flavourful dishes but they’re relatively unknown. Still, if you’re ever in Guatemala, I really recommend you take the time to visit a traditional restaurant or do a cooking class like the one that I did. Honestly, once you see how much work goes into these dishes, you’ll have a whole new appreciation for them.
Here’s everything that we made!
To Start: Tamalitos with a tomato sauce
One of the foods that I got addicted to in Mexico was tamales: a breakfast treat made from corn dough, steamed in a banana leaf or corn husk. When I left, I was worried I hadn’t eaten enough of them while I was there. Would I be deprived of my favourite breakfast treat forever?
I was soon to find out that Guatemala, much like Mexico, is big on the tamales. Woohoo for me!
We stuffed our little baby tamales with some herbs and cheese and then got down to making the tomato sauce. Rather than making them with a spicy sauce, as they’re often served, we made ours with a regular tomato sauce, similar to an Italian marinara.
Making tamales is actually really fun. Once all the ingredients have been mixed together, you take it in your hand and roll it into a little sausage shape. They’re then wrapped in either a banana leaf or corn husk before they’re left to steam with some more corn husks on top to trap in the heat!
Main Course: Pepian
For our main course, we made pepian; a traditional Guatemalan stew. When we first went through the ingredient list for pepian, I was prepared to really hate it! With chocolate, chilli, nuts and seeds, it sounded far too similar to mole; a classic Mexican dish that I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy due to its sweetness. However, since it was nowhere near as sweet it was a lot more enjoyable!
The process for making pepian is pretty long which gave me a whole new appreciation for it. It involves toasting a lot of different aromatic ingredients then stewing them and finally straining them. The outcome is a smooth sauce that’s eaten with rice and tortillas. Pepian is traditionally made with a meat like chicken but the Guatemalan cooking class also gives the option for vegetarians to use tofu.
Dessert: Plantain Empanadas with a Chocolate and Black Bean Sauce
It’s hard to go wrong with dessert- especially when it involves Guatemala’s rich cacao! Our dessert was empanadas which we made by mixing cornstarch together with boiled plantains. Inside these, we put a delicious chocolate and black bean sauce that reminded me a lot of Korea’s red bean desserts.
The black bean and chocolate went perfectly together with the empanadas. We topped these off with more chocolate- this time cooked with a cinnamon stick. It wasn’t too rich or sweet making it easy to enjoy after 2 courses.
About the Guatemalan Cooking Class
I took this class at CECAP, an amazing project run on Santa Cruz run by local graduates. To learn more about CECAP, click here! I thoroughly recommend popping in if you’re ever on Lake Atitlan. Even if you don’t go for a cooking class, at least go by to try some lunch, see their textiles and enjoy their unrivalled view!
If you love foodie travel experiences, check out these posts!
- An Afternoon at Lazat Cooking School in Kuala Lumpur
- Learning to Cook the Italian Way with Ristomama in Rome
- Indulging in the Sights and Street Food of Guanajuato
- Exploring Stellenbosch: One Winery at a Time
- Discovering Kuala Lumpur through its Street Food
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Disclaimer: I was invited to take part in this cooking class and so my experience was completely complimentary. As always, all opinions are my own.