Guatemalan Food

Pastel de banano is a straightforward yet delightful dessert characteristic of Guatemalan Food. This homemade banana sponge cake offers a gentle banana taste and a light sweetness. Commonly prepared using a mix of both mashed and sliced bananas, the cake also incorporates flour, eggs, butter, baking soda, sugar, and a pinch of salt.

Nestled in the heart of Central America, Guatemala boasts a cuisine that is as vibrant and diverse as its culture and geography. Influenced by its rich indigenous heritage and Spanish colonial history, Guatemalan food is a flavorful tapestry that reflects the soul of its people and the richness of its land.

Historical Context of Guatemalan Food

Guatemalan cuisine has deep roots in the ancient Mayan civilization renowned for its agricultural innovations, particularly with maize (corn). When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they introduced new ingredients such as rice, beef, and a variety of spices, which melded with native foods to create the unique blends that characterize today’s Guatemalan dishes.

Traditional cooking methods are a testament to this history, with many families still using clay pots and comal griddles passed down through generations.

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The Ancient Roots of Guatemalan Food

The region now known as Guatemala was once a core part of the expansive Maya civilization, which extended from Mexico to Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador. This civilization began to wane around 800 BC, and it suffered further during the Spanish colonial period, yet its influence remains deeply embedded in the culture and cuisine of contemporary Guatemala.

The culinary practices and ingredients used millennia ago have merged with those introduced by the Spanish during colonization. Like in many Latin American nations, typical Spanish foods such as empanadas, enchiladas, and guacamole are commonplace in Guatemala.

Similarly, the blending of cultures is evident in how Catholic religious traditions brought by the Spanish have become interwoven with ancient Mayan rituals, influencing everything from ceremonial practices to daily cuisine. Today, many ingredients and culinary methods from the ancient Maya continue to play a significant role in what defines modern Guatemalan food.

Staple Ingredients

Corn is the cornerstone of Guatemalan cuisine, used in everything from tortillas to tamales. Beans, rice, and an array of local vegetables like chayote and yucca also play fundamental roles. Guatemala’s tropical climate allows for a bounty of fruits such as mangoes, bananas, and avocados, which are often incorporated into meals. Herbs and spices, including cilantro, achiote, and various chilies, add distinctive flavors to the dishes.

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Top 25 Guatemalan Foods You Must Try on a Trip to Guatemala

Top 25 Guatemalan Foods

A culinary adventure through Guatemala with our guide to the top 25 must-try foods. From savory stews like Pepian to sweet treats like Rellenitos, discover the rich flavors and unique dishes that make Guatemalan cuisine a gastronomic delight.

1. Pepian

Pepian is one of Guatemala’s most traditional dishes, often considered a national staple. This rich and spicy stew combines roasted spices, tomatoes, and a variety of meats like chicken, pork, or beef, all thickened with ground seeds and tortillas. It’s a flavorful reflection of the country’s blend of Mayan and Spanish culinary traditions.

2. Kak’ik

Kak’ik is a traditional Maya turkey soup that is known for its vibrant red color, derived from spices and herbs, particularly coriander and chili peppers. This hearty soup is typically served with sides of rice and corn tortillas, making it a fulfilling meal.

3. Jocon

Jocon consists of chicken cooked in a green sauce made from tomatillos, cilantro, and green onions. This dish is usually served over rice and is beloved for its fresh, herbaceous flavors that provide a lighter alternative to some of Guatemala’s heavier dishes.

4. Tamales

Guatemalan tamales are distinct from their Mexican counterparts, often wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks. They feature a dough made from corn and are filled with a variety of ingredients, including meats, sauces, and vegetables, making them a staple during festivals and holidays.

5. Rellenitos

Rellenitos are a popular Guatemalan snack made from ripe plantains stuffed with sweetened black beans. They are mashed, shaped into balls, and then fried to create a sweet, savory treat that’s often enjoyed as a dessert or a hearty snack.

6. Paches

Paches are a variation of tamales made with potato-based dough instead of corn. They can be filled with chicken or pork and are a warm, comforting food typically enjoyed during the cold months or for special occasions.

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7. Chiles Rellenos

Chiles Rellenos in Guatemala involve bell peppers or sometimes spicy chiles stuffed with a mixture of meat, vegetables, and spices, then dipped in egg batter and fried. It’s a festive dish often served at gatherings and family meals.

8. Empanadas

Guatemalan empanadas can be savory or sweet, stuffed with a variety of fillings from meats and cheeses to fruits and creams. The pastry is fried or baked and is a common street food found throughout the country.

9. Hilachas

Hilachas is a traditional Guatemalan dish featuring shredded beef simmered in a mildly spicy tomato-based sauce, thickened with potatoes and carrots. It’s comfort food that exemplifies the homestyle cooking of Guatemala.

10. Fiambre

Fiambre is a unique, elaborate cold salad served annually on November 1st to celebrate the Day of the Dead. It consists of dozens of ingredients including sausages, cheeses, and pickled vegetables layered in a way that each bite offers a different flavor.

11. Garnachas

Garnachas are small, crispy tortillas topped with minced meat, vegetables, and a sprinkle of cheese. They are spicy and tangy, often served with a side of curtido, a type of pickled cabbage.

12. Tostadas

Similar to Garnachas, Tostadas are flat, crispy corn tortillas served with a variety of toppings such as guacamole, refried beans, and minced chicken or beef. They are a staple in Guatemalan homes and eateries, offering a crunchy and satisfying snack.

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13. Atol de Elote

Atol de Elote is a traditional Guatemalan beverage made from sweet corn. It is thick, creamy, and often enjoyed warm, serving as both a drink and a comforting snack or dessert.

14. Shucos

Shucos are a type of Guatemalan hot dog served on a soft roll with a variety of toppings, including avocado, mayonnaise, and spicy sauces. They are particularly popular as street food in Guatemala City.

15. Enchiladas

Unlike Mexican enchiladas, Guatemalan enchiladas are more of an open-faced tostada. A crispy tortilla serves as the base for layers of beet salad, minced meat, egg, and cheese, creating a colorful and enticing dish.

16. Caldo de Res

Caldo de Res is a beef soup that includes large pieces of meat, corn, carrots, plantains, and other vegetables, served in a rich broth. It is a hearty and nourishing dish often enjoyed during family gatherings.

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17. Yuca con Chicharron

Yuca con Chicharron combines boiled cassava (yuca) with crispy fried pork belly or rinds. It’s served with a side of cabbage salad and tomato sauce, offering a blend of textures and flavors that are deeply satisfying.

18. Platanos en Mole

Platanos en Mole are ripe plantains cooked in a sweet and spicy chocolate-based sauce known as mole. This dish is a perfect example of the sweet meets savory flavor profile that characterizes much of Guatemalan cuisine.

19. Arroz con Leche

Arroz con Leche is a sweet rice pudding made with milk, sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes raisins. It’s a common dessert in Guatemala, cherished for its simplicity and comfort.

20. Rigua

Rigua is a traditional corn cake, grilled or cooked on a hot griddle, often wrapped in corn husks. It’s a simple, rustic food that showcases the flavor of maize, which is central to Guatemalan cuisine.

21. Pulique

Pulique is a traditional stew made with chicken or beef and thickened with a unique blend of vegetables and spices. It’s often served during communal meals and special occasions, acting as a comforting reminder of Guatemala’s culinary heritage.

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22. Carne Guisada

Carne Guisada is a hearty beef stew cooked with potatoes, carrots, and a rich, flavorful tomato sauce. It’s a popular home-cooked meal in Guatemala, known for its tender meat and comforting broth.

23. Pan de Banano

Pan de Banano, or banana bread, is a sweet, moist cake made with ripe bananas and often nuts or chocolate chips. It’s favorite for breakfast or coffee breaks in Guatemala.

24. Cocido

Cocido is a robust vegetable and meat stew, brimming with layers of flavor from slow-cooked beef, chicken, and a medley of vegetables. It’s a filling meal that reflects the Guatemalan ethos of hearty, home-style cooking.

25. Mole de Platanos

Mole de Platanos is another testament to the versatility of plantains in Guatemalan cooking. This dish features plantains in a rich, savory mole sauce, often accompanied by sesame seeds and served as a main dish or dessert depending on the preparation.

These dishes not only showcase the rich culinary traditions of Guatemala but also offer a window into the culture and history of its people, making Guatemalan cuisine a fascinating journey through flavors and time.

Iconic Guatemalan Dishes

  • Pepian – This complex, spicy stew is often called Guatemala’s national dish. Made with meat, vegetables, and roasted spices, it is thickened with ground seeds and tortillas and has a deeply comforting flavor.
  • Kak’ik – A traditional Maya turkey soup, Kak’ik is vibrant with the heat of habanero chili and the earthiness of coriander, served with rice and corn tortillas.
  • Jocon – This dish features chicken cooked in a flavorful green sauce made from tomatillos, cilantro, and green onions, creating a refreshing and hearty meal.

Street Food and Snacks

The streets of Guatemala offer a culinary adventure with options like:

  • Tamales – Unlike Mexican tamales, Guatemalan versions are often wrapped in banana leaves, with a dough made from corn or rice.
  • Pupusas – Although originally from El Salvador, these stuffed corn tortillas are a popular snack in Guatemala as well.
  • Tostadas – These crispy corn tortillas are a common sight, topped with refried beans, guacamole, and a sprinkle of cheese.

Regional Variations

Guatemala’s regional dishes reflect its geographical diversity:

Coastal regions often feature dishes based on fish and seafood.  In the highlands, where the climate is cooler, meals are more likely to center around grains and meat, including stews and soups that provide warmth and sustenance.


  • Atol de Elote is a sweet, warm drink made from corn, comfort food that epitomizes Guatemalan home cooking.
  • Ron Zacapa – This premium rum, aged in the highlands, is enjoyed worldwide and represents Guatemala’s adeptness at crafting fine spirits.


  • Rellenitos are a beloved Guatemalan treat, consisting of ripe plantains stuffed with sweetened black beans, then fried to perfection.
  • Dulce de Leche – A sweet, creamy concoction that’s a common feature in desserts and pastries.

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The Popular Types of Tamales in Guatemala

  • Tamale Colorado, also known as the red tamale, features a robust red sauce filled with meats such as beef, pork, or chicken, and includes green olives for added flavor.
  • Tamale Negro, often enjoyed during the Christmas season, is made with a sweet mole sauce and filled with chicken, turkey, or pork, along with raisins, giving it a distinctive festive taste.
  • Tamale Chuchitos are encased in corn husks and are known for their thicker masa. These tamales, filled with chicken and tomato sauce, are a common street food in Guatemala and are typically smaller than other varieties.
  • Tamale Tomalitos, which are smaller in size, serve as a side dish similar to bread. They are often dipped into salsas or soups, enhancing the main meal.

Guatemalan Food vs Mexican Food

Creating a comparative table can help highlight the key differences and similarities between Guatemalan and Mexican cuisines. Below is a structured table showcasing aspects such as staple ingredients, popular dishes, and characteristic flavors of both culinary traditions:

FeatureGuatemalan FoodMexican Food
Staple IngredientsCorn, black beans, rice, tomatoes, bell peppersCorn, beans, rice, tomatoes, chili peppers
Signature DishesPepian, Kak’ik, Jocon, RellenitosTacos, Enchiladas, Mole, Tamales
Flavor ProfileSubtly spiced, often with a mild sweetnessTypically bold and spicy with a variety of chilies
Cooking TechniquesBoiling and grilling are predominantGrilling, frying, and complex sauce preparations
DessertsRellenitos, Arroz con Leche, Pan de BananoChurros, Flan, Tres Leches Cake
BeveragesAtol de Elote, various fruit juicesHorchata, Tequila, Mezcal, various aguas frescas
Common Herbs and SpicesCilantro, achiote, cinnamonCilantro, epazote, oregano, cumin
Cultural InfluencesStrong Mayan influence with some Spanish colonial influencesA rich blend of Indigenous, Spanish, and other global influences
Meal StructureSimple, often one or two dishes per mealMulti-dish meals are common, including appetizers and side dishes
Use of TortillasCommonly used but thicker than Mexican varietiesIntegral, used in a vast array of dishes, typically thinner
Regional VariationsLess regional variation due to smaller country sizeExtensive regional variations from Oaxaca to Yucatan

Is Guatemalan Food Similar to Mexican Food?

Guatemalan food shares some similarities with Mexican cuisine due to their common Latin American roots, including the use of staple ingredients like corn and beans, a love for tortillas, and a fondness for rich, hearty stews. However, there are notable differences that distinguish Guatemalan dishes. Guatemalan cuisine tends to be milder, relying less on spicy chilies compared to the bold, spicy flavors prominent in Mexican food. 

Additionally, Guatemalan meals often feature a simplicity in their meal structure, typically consisting of fewer dishes per meal compared to the elaborate, multi-dish meals common in Mexico. While both cuisines enjoy a rich culinary heritage influenced by indigenous and Spanish elements, Guatemalan dishes often exhibit a stronger influence from Mayan culture, whereas Mexican cuisine incorporates a broader range of indigenous, Spanish, and other global influences, leading to more pronounced regional variations across the country.


Guatemalan cuisine is a delightful exploration into the heart of its culture. With its blend of indigenous traditions and Spanish influences, it offers an array of flavors that are as rich and varied as the landscape of Guatemala itself. Whether through the savory richness of Pepian or the sweet comfort of Rellenitos, the flavors of Guatemala invite all to explore and enjoy its culinary heritage.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Guatemalan Food

The flavors of Guatemala with these frequently asked questions about its traditional dishes, ingredients, and culinary practices.

What are some traditional dishes in Guatemalan cuisine?

Traditional Guatemalan dishes include Pepian, Kak’ik, Jocon, and Rellenitos. Each offers a unique taste that reflects the country’s rich culinary heritage influenced by indigenous and Spanish cultures.

Is Guatemalan food spicy?

Unlike Mexican cuisine, Guatemalan food is generally not very spicy. It focuses more on mild flavors, although certain dishes may contain a moderate level of heat depending on the spices used.

What is a typical breakfast in Guatemala?

A typical Guatemalan breakfast often includes eggs, black beans, plantains, and tortillas. This meal may also be accompanied by local cheeses and a cup of Guatemalan coffee, known for its rich flavor.

Are there vegetarian options in Guatemalan cuisine?

Yes, there are many vegetarian options available in Guatemalan cuisine. Dishes such as Jocon (chicken can be substituted with vegetables) and various bean-based dishes like black bean soup provide hearty vegetarian choices.

What makes Guatemalan tamales different from Mexican tamales?

Guatemalan tamales are generally wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks, which impart a different flavor. The masa (dough) in Guatemalan tamales is also typically softer and more moist than that of Mexican tamales.

What are some popular desserts in Guatemala?

Popular Guatemalan desserts include Rellenitos (fried plantains stuffed with sweetened black beans), Arroz con Leche (rice pudding), and Tres Leches Cake, a moist cake soaked in a mixture of three different types of milk.

What are common beverages in Guatemalan cuisine?

Common beverages include Atol de Elote, a warm, sweet drink made from corn, and various fruit juices. Coffee is also a major part of Guatemalan beverage culture, often considered among the best in the world due to the country’s ideal coffee-growing climate.