The meaning of Avocado is WHAT?

Although it was only discovered in the 15th century, archaeologists date the origin of the avocado back to 5000 BC and believe the fruit was cultivated and eaten by the Mesoamericans.

In fact, the months on the Maya civil calendar (dating back to 800 BC) are based on seasonal and agricultural events, which features the avocado as the glyph for the 14th month.

Once the “New World” was discovered by Spain, it was in 1519 that Martin Fernandez De Encisco wrote that he had discovered a fruit which “looks like an orange” but turns “yellowish when it is ready to be eaten.” He goes on to explain the “marvelous flavor” of the insides of the fruit, which tastes “like butter” and is “so good and pleasing to the palate.”


Spanish conquistadores loved the fruit but could not pronounce it (ahuácatl). They changed the Aztec word to a more manageable aguacate, which eventually became avocado in English. Funny enough, the original Aztec word means ‘testicle.’

Today, there are 400 varieties of avocado found all over the world. With a high fiber content, rich in potassium (more so than bananas) and high in vitamin E, the avocado is considered one of the most nutritious fruits. More so, the oil possess anti-aging benefits for the skin.

What’s not to love about the avocado?


Tapado: a Seafood/Coconut Soup

Tapado is a seafood stew from Guatemala that is unlike any other stew in the country. If you are familiar with Guatemalan food, then you know Guatemalans retain their Mayan heritage by using corn and beans in their dishes; and most stews incorporate similar ingredients and spices (tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomatillo, etc). Tapado is entirely different; a soup made with a seafood broth and coconut milk with crab, fish, shrimp, and green plantains. Its uniqueness has to do with it originating within the Garifuna culture.


The Garifuna originated in South Nigeria where they were taken as slaves by the British, and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. While at sea, a storm shipwrecked their vessel and they found themselves on the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent. The slaves mixed with the local indigenous Caribs and a new culture (stemming from West African and Caribbean) and traditions emerged. The Caribbean Island was later colonized by the British and the Garifuna were taken to the island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras; then spreading to the mainland of Guatemala in the early 1800s to the town of Livingston, where they still reside today.


One dish you can’t miss in Guatemala is Tapado. The rich coconut seafood broth makes this soup creamy but still light. Plantains thicken the broth, and crab, fish and shrimp make up the body of the soup. Usually served with coconut rice, Tapado is a hearty meal to be eaten on any occasion.

Cacao - the Drink of the Gods

Cacao’s importance in Guatemala can be traced back to the time of the Maya, when it was referred to as sacred food, most notably the “food of the gods.”

During that time, chocolate was mainly consumed in drink form. The cacao beans were ground to a fine powder and mixed with cornmeal and chiles to create a thick, spicy, bitter, chocolate drink consumed for its health benefits. Before the Spanish arrived, cacao provided the only source of caffeine.


Cacao proved to be a valuable socioeconomic commodity, such that Mayan communities managed cacao plantations which awarded these cities a privileged status from the cacao trade.

Cacao also played an important role in marriage, ceremonies, and was used as offerings during funeral rites. The prestige of cacao even awarded the bean to be used as a form of currency among Maya cities.


After the conquest by the Spanish, when chocolate was exported to Europe, it became a drink exclusively consumed by the royal court and not available to the general population

Today, Guatemala produces approximately 10.5 tons of chocolate, with over 9,000 cacao farms.

M is for Maize

Native to Mesoamerica, corn was first found in Guatemala around 3,000 BC. The crop was cultivated alongside squash and bean crops in the Peten region of Guatemala.

With 25 recognized varieties of corn found around the world, Guatemala has farmed 13 varieties, of which white, black, and yellow corn being the most widely consumed.

More than just food, corn was revered among the Mayans as a sacred diety. Within mayan culture, corn is consumed in 4 ways: the corn tortilla, the tamal, atole (a warm corn drink) and pozole (a soup). There is evidence to suggest that these 4 meals were prepared in ancient times, due to the excavation of cooking tools like the comal and grinding stone.

To this day the vast majority of corn grown in Guatemala is used to make masa (dough) for tortillas and tamales.


A Guatemalan tortilla is entirely different than its Mexican brother. Tortillas in Guatemala are smoky tasting and thick while still being fluffy.

So next time you are enjoying a Guatemalan tortilla, give thanks to the industrious Maya who created such a tasty staple.


The Green Gold of Guatemala

When you think of Guatemalan agriculture I bet you imagine fields of corn and beans, coffee and cacao trees, and tropical fruit trees. Would you believe that this country is also famous for producing some of the world’s best cardamom, known as the ‘green gold’ of Guatemala.

Often interwoven with coffee plants, the crop native to India was first brought over to Guatemala by German coffee planters after the first World War.

In 1980 Guatemala surpassed India in worldwide production of cardamom, currently making Guatemala the world's largest producer and exporter of cardamom, with a large proportion of it exported to the Middle East. After saffron and vanilla, cardamom is the third most expensive spice by weight.

Cardamom is the fourth largest agricultural export product of Guatemala by value. Local consumption of the spice is negligible and therefore supports the exportation of the majority of cardamom that is produced in country.

Mango Madness

The mango is one of the most popular fruits in the World and it is no wonder why.

You can eat them in a variety of ways. Enjoy green mangoes with salt, lime juice, and sprinkled with ground pumpkin seeds or chili powder.  Or indulge in the sweet and salty mango margarita. Mangoes have natural tenderizing properties, making them a perfect ingredient for marinades. And of course the versatile mango is wonderful in smoothies, salads, salsas, chutneys, on fish, chicken or pork, as a dessert or just as a plain delicious snack.

Mango variety

With over 500 varieties, mango season in Guatemala begins mid-march. Around 90% of Guatemalan mango exports are sent to the U.S., with the remainder shipped to Europe. When weather conditions are favorable, Guatemala harvests around 50 million pounds of mangoes per year.

Surprisingly, skin contact with oils in mango leaves, stems, and sap can cause dermatitis and anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals. Beware next time you're climbing a mango tree.

Don’t judge a mango by its color – red does not mean ripe. Squeeze gently to judge ripeness. A ripe mango will “give” slightly and a firm mango will ripen at room temperature over a few days. To speed up ripening, place mangoes in a paper bag at room temperature. Once ripe, mangoes can be moved to the refrigerator to slow down ripening for several days.


There are some Guatemalan fruits that are impossible to translate into English; jocote is one of them.

Jocotes are a member of the cashew family. The fruit tree is indigenous to Central America and grows wild throughout Guatemala. They are green and red fruit the size of a very small egg. Although small, jocotes pack a punch and are flavorfully addicting.

Jocotes are a fruit that can be enjoyed at any stage during the ripening process. When the skin is yellow/red the jocote will be sweet and ripe, tasting of citrus and mango. You can also enjoy a jocote with a green skin signaling that it is not fully ripened. The green jocotes are mouth puckeringly tart and most Guatemalans will add a dash of salt in an attempt to balance the acidity and tart flavors.

The skin is the thickness of a plum skin but it is very tender, making it easy and pleasant to chew. There is a seed inside, so be mindful as your teeth tear through it. Jocotes can be enjoyed fresh or in dish like Jocotes en Miel which consists of the fresh fruit soaked in a spiced syrup.

Where the Local Expats Eat Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Antigua has an endless list of restaurants (the Trip Advisor restaurant listing for Antigua is a nightmare) which make it difficult to truly suss out which establishments are worth eating at and spending money. Often times the most popular spots on certain sites are the ones most frequented by tourists, serving below average food at high tourist prices. Expats who have lived in Antigua for a while know the town well and have their favorite haunts. Here are a select few of those expat favorites.


This quaint, laid back spot is located right next to a hostel so it receives a good amount of tourism traffic, but rest assured that Y Tu Pina is a go to spot for expats. It is connected to the hip/rowdy Café No Se Mezcal bar across the street, and Y Tu Pina prides themselves on whipping up breakfasts to cure any hangover. Your typical fare of a tipico breakfast, pancakes, and American eggs are standard here, with show stoppers making an appearance on the weekend. Their version of an Egg McMuffin has a English muffin/egg sandwich speared on top of a Bloody Mary cocktail. While Y Tu Pina is also open for lunch, their main performance is at breakfast, with the menu varying from weekday to weekend. 


Where to eat in antigua


A favorite in Antigua, Cerro San Cristobal boasts of dishes made from fresh organic ingredients (grown on the property’s own farm) and stunning views of Antigua and its surrounding valley. Technically a meat free establishment, the restaurant does offer a variety of shrimp and fish dishes at extremely reasonable prices. What really makes this place special are its stunning views. While sitting at a table outside, high above town, you can sip your Michelada and eat ceviche soaking up Antigua’s monuments far below.




Porque No is always hopping, which is a testament to its funky vibe and tasty food. Filling up quickly on the weekends, this 6 table establishment surrounds diners with graffitied walls and antique knick knacks. Their small, but widely varied menu gives both vegetarian and meat options. From a beef tenderloin to shrimp curry, or pizzas and burritos, it's guaranteed that you will leave full and satisfied. Beware, 5 out of 6 tables are located upstairs via an extremely steep staircase.


Where to eat in antigua


The Popular Sesame Seed

Sesame seeds appear in a spectrum of colors from white to black. Most commonly, the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Nicaragua grow white sesame seeds, while most of the black sesame seeds come from China and Thailand.

Guatemalan cuisine incorporates a lot of white sesame seeds into its dishes. Toasted with vegetables and chiles to make broths for stews, or sprinkled on top of breads and cookies, Guatemalans have included sesame seeds in the country’s dishes since their introduction by the Spanish. While these seeds flourish here today (Guatemala is known for growing some of the highest quality sesame seeds in the world), sesame seeds did not originate from these soils. 

Most often seeds are incorporated into dishes after they are toasted. Toasting sesame seeds brings out the oils and adds a strong taste and aroma to the dish. For a stew broth, after the sesame seeds are toasted alongside other ingredients, they are put into a blender with chicken broth and blended until a rich aromatic broth is produced. 

The Guatemalan Tortilla

Tortillas are a central component to eating in Guatemala. At every meal pipping hot tortillas are served alongside grilled meats or used to dip in stews or simply as an accompaniment to beans.

 Tortillas are so much more than a form of nourishment here in Guatemala. Corn is the foundation of the Mayan diet and culture. In the Mayan creation story, it is believed that man was formed from maize. The myth is such that when the gods decided to create man they tried various mediums like wood and clay; however, corn proved to be the perfect material for fashioning man.

Maize was in fact domesticated over 10,00 years ago and is now the third most popular plant in the world, supplying 20% of the world’s calories. Maize is one of the few plants that does not reseed itself and requires humans to plant it. The Maya also understood that maize must be cooked with lime (food-grade calcium hydroxide) in order to increase the plant’s nutritional value as well as make for easier digestion.

Not only are Guatemalan corn tortillas wonderfully delicious and doughy (unlike the thin Mexican tortillas) but they are often times the only food source for many rural families. It is hard to imagine a Guatemala without the necessary tortilla.

A Getaway to Lake Atitlan

I personally think Lake Atitlan is one of the most gorgeous lakes in the world. The image of volcanoes towering over the rippling water, the fisherman waking early to set off in their wooden boats and the sun setting between the volcanic peaks are experiences not to be missed (and why would you since the lake is only 3 hours from Antigua). Lake Atitlan also offers the explorer many thrilling activities from hiking to paragliding, or cultural experiences like boat tours and visiting local deities.

Boat Dock at Casa del Mundo

Boat Dock at Casa del Mundo

The lake is surrounded by many villages in which Mayan culture is still the predominant custom. Head to these communities to see the traditional dress and view colorfully authentic textiles and fabrics produced by these towns. Santiago Atitlan is most notably known for housing Maximon, an idol created from a fusion of traditional Mayan deities, Catholic saints, and conquistador legends. Panajachel (Pana) is the usual tourist town boasting of restaurants, shopping, and an abundance of hotels. Pana is the most common destination for visitors heading to the lake. While Pana is worth checking out, I think it detracts from both the serenity of the lake, as well as the appreciation for the traditional lifestyle of those who live there. If staying overnight, look at places that are a little farther removed from the tourist scene. My vacations to the lake always involve a stay at La Casa del Mundo in Jaibalito. Trips also include hiking and kayaking. One of my favorite hikes is the San Pedro Volcano which gives way to incredible views from the top. 

View on the way to the top of San Pedro Volcano

View on the way to the top of San Pedro Volcano

Even if you are in Guatemala for a short time, head to Lake Atitlan (if only for a day trip). Whether it's a weekend or 1 day, you will be awestruck at the serenity and beauty of this incredible lake.

Guisquil (you might know it as Chayote)

Guisquil is the wonder vegetable of Guatemalan cuisine. This green, pear-shaped squash is prominently used in Guatemalan soups and stews, but can also be found in other forms as well. 

Guisquil was one of the many foods introduced to Europe by early explorers. Originally grown in Southern Mexico, the conquest of Mesoamerica spread the plant south of Mexico, eventually causing it to be integrated into the cuisine of many other Latin American countries.

Today, Guisquil has found its way into the cooking of non Latin American countries. In Australia, the squash thrives and can be found on vines climbing up fences and houses. In the United States, Guisquil was appreciated as a cheap and hearty commodity during the Depression and War era. It was even used as a substitute for apples in apple pie. 

The flavor of Guisquil is rather bland, and therefore it is added to dishes where it can soak up the flavors around it. The squash is a great source for Vitamin C and fiber, and it is especially known for its high water content, with water making up nearly 93% of a Guisquil’s total weight.

While this vegetable (technically all members of the squash/melon/gourd family are fruits, but we will call it a vegetable since it acts like one) has fallen out of vogue in the United States and elsewhere, down here in Guatemala we appreciate the Guisquil in all its forms. Keep an eye out for the squash in Guatemalan stews, like Pepian or Jocon.

Have you heard of Zacapa Rum?

When trying to figure out what local spirit to try, don’t miss the chance to indulge in some Zacapa Rum, Guatemala’s most notarized alcohol. The rum is named after the area where it is produced. Zacapa is a small town in eastern Guatemala founded in 1876 and is the location where current rum production takes place. 

This area is Guatemala’s ideal location for producing quality rum. Zacapa uses the solera method which is traditionally reserved for sherry production. Pressed sugar cane juice is passed through several different types of barrels, finally resting in a barrel previously aged by an extremely sweet, dark dessert sherry from Spain. The barrels are stored at 2,300 meters, or 7,500 feet. The high altitude and low temperature slows down the aging process allowing more time for the aromas and flavors to blend and mature. 

One can find a Zacapa rum to satisfy any pallet. Whether young and mixed with Coke for a Cuba Libre, or aged and consumed neat, Zacapa can be enjoyed in all forms. For those rum connoisseurs, keep an eye open for Ron Zacapa Centenario. This premium rum was created in 1976 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Zacapa. It was the result of the hard work and dedication of a doctor and chemist named Alejandro Burgaleta, who mastered the blending, stabilization and maturing processes of long-aged rums. The rum won first place in the premium rums category for 4 years in a row at the International Rum Festival in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. And, it was the first rum to be included in the International Rum Festival's Hall of Fame.

The Mayan Trifecta

Based on the ancient agricultural methods of the Mayans, milpa is a crop growing technique that produces maize, beans, and squash. These three food staples are compared to three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together.

The benefits of interplanting corn, beans, and squash are numerous and include long term soil fertility and a healthy diet.

“Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years. Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans.”

These three crops were among the first to be domesticated by Mesoamerican civilizations. Corn, beans, and squash provide a wide array of complimentary health benefits. Corn has the carbohydrates, the beans are high in protein, and squash contains necessary vitamins and oil from the seeds.

A Visit to Tikal

Tikal was the capital of one of the most powerful Mayan kingdoms. The site reached its peak during the Classic Period that ranged from 200 to 900 AD. The city of Tikal was extremely important politically, economically, and militarily. For many people, Tikal is a must visit while in Guatemala. And if you have the time to do so, then Tikal is absolutely worth the effort to get to its remote jungle location.

Historians place the existence of Tikal to go as far back as 400 BC, reaching its peak in the Classic Period at which point the city fell in 562 AD. Tikal was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979 and even today, archaeologists are still uncovering some of the temples. 

Tikal is one of the most captivating and enjoyable of the Mayan sites to visit. Getting to Tikal is relatively easy and most tourists are provided with the option of either bus or plane. If flying is not in your budget then simply hop on a bus to Santa Elena which run daily and depart in the morning or at night. The trip is long so stock up on movies and books (and snacks).

Once you have arrived in Santa Elena spend a day or so checking out Flores and its surrounding lake. Flores is colorful and quaint and a wonderful spot for a brief R&R. Most visitors choose to stay in Flores and take day trips to Tikal (which usually include a sunset or sunrise tour). However, if you have the option, it is worth spending the money to stay in the park. Accommodations range from camping, to mid range, to luxurious. By being in the park you can take advantage of sunsets and sunrises (and hopefully get that beautiful shot of the sun peeking above the canopy while exquisitely illuminating the temples). You will also get the opportunity to experience the park after the hoards of visitors have returned to Flores.

Tikal is sunny, hot, humid, and over run with mosquitos so dress accordingly (you are in the jungle after all). While weather conditions may not be the most pleasant (unlike the beautiful weather of Antigua), Tikal is a sight like no other and if given the opportunity, it is a must visit. The magic of the place with surround you. Bring mosquito spray and take lots of photos! 

A Look at Guatemalan Chiles

The Chile Pasa and Chile Guajillo are two of the most commonly used chile peppers in Guatemala. Both are found in the country’s famous Pepian stew, as well as sauces for Guatemalan tamales.

Chile Pasa

The Pasilla pepper is the dried form of the Chilaca chile. The peppers are often used in sauces, producing a flavorful taste of berry, raisin, cocoa, and smoky overtones. Beware, often times in the United States, the Pasilla or “little raisin” is incorrectly used to describe the Poblano pepper, of which the dried form is properly called an Ancho Chile.

Chile Guajillo

 These moderately hot chiles are smooth, shiny, and reddish-brown. Four to six inches long, Guajillo chiles are a variety of chili of the species Capsicum annuum.Guajillos have a sweet heat with a hint of pine. The Guajillo, pronounced gwah-HEE-yoh, means "little gourd" for the rattling sound the seeds make in the dried pods. In certain parts of the world, you may also find these chiles under the name Chile Guaque.

Guatemala's Secret Ingredient

Achiote is a staple in Guatemalan cooking, widely used in sauces, stews, meat marinades, and desserts. Achiote is technically a product of the Annatto seed, harvested from the Annatto tree; but when used in cooking, the seeds are referred to as Achiote. The seed is mainly used for adding a rich red/orange color to dishes, and is in fact, not used for flavor or aroma. Many Mayan dishes would lack visual appeal if not for achiote. The Annatto tree is grown in Guatemala and is a native tree to the tropical regions of the Americas.

Since Achiote is mostly used for coloring dishes, it is important not to overuse the spice, or else the result will altar the color and the flavor will taste overly “earthy” and bitter. The amount used correlates to the desired color you are looking for. A small amount results in a yellow color, while tablespoons will result in a thick rich red coloring. Achiote pairs well with dishes that incorporate oregano, cloves, cumin, allspice, paprika, and citrus.

Achiote can be found at most grocery stores (even in the United States)! It is available whole, ground, or in paste form. The ground form can be used as a rub for meats or dissolved to make a paste. The achiote powder only needs to be mixed water, lime juice, or vinegar to form the paste.

Eat Street Food and Support the Local Economy

Street food can be found in every country around the world. These foods are inexpensive, provide nutrition for a large majority of people, and are available in both urban and rural areas. Street food is the foundation of any strong culinary heritage. For me, a big part of the memories of a country are usually mouthwatering flashbacks of dishes I ate on the street. In 2007, the Food and Agriculture Organization reported that 2.5 billion people eat street food daily.

Considered part of the informal sector, the importance of the street food industry is often ignored since vendors operate without a license and do not report income. However, street food operations have considerable potential for generating income and employment. This industry often engages entire families and provides income potential for those involved in the buying of materials, all the way to the cooking and selling of food. What’s more, the street food industry gives women the opportunity to earn income in countries where they often have trouble finding employment.

When you buy a tamale from a street vendor in Guatemala, you are not only buying a delicious lunch, but you are giving money to support the women vendors and their families. You are also helping the family of the farmer she bought the ingredients from and all the others who are involved in the production activities of transforming the raw ingredients into edible foods.

Small businesses are an integral part of a developing country’s economic sustainability. Choose wisely, and do not be dissuaded from indulging in street food. Selling street food changes lives. Support those who need it most.

Guatemalan Tamales

Tamales are typical of Guatemalan cuisine and are basically flavorful mixes of dough, meat, and sauces steamed in large leaves.

Tamales are at the core of the Mayan diet; the Mayans made tamales for their warriors and travelers in order provide food for weeks on the go. When the Spanish came to Guatemala, they introduced new flavors to the region, inspiring a mix of New World and Old World ingredients that are incorporated into tamales found in Guatemala today.

There are numerous versions of Guatemalan tamales. The differences can be found in the size, the leaves used for steaming, flavors of sweet or savory, and the ingredients of the dough (or masa). 

What Exactly is a Tamale?

The dough of the tamale is called ‘masa’ and it is dried ground up corn made into a fine flour and then mixed with water. The corn used is not the sweet yellow corn used for consumption in the U.S., but a savory, non-sweet corn called maize.

When it comes to variety, tamales will differentiate in three main areas. The ingredients for the masa can either be corn, potato, or rice based. The filling can consist of savory tamales with meat and sauces, or sweet tamales that have fruits, nuts, and sugar. And while the traditional tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, there are certain variations of tamales that are wrapped in corn husks.

Most Commonly Eaten Tamales

The main types of tamales that one finds in Guatemala are the Tamale Colorado, Tamale Negro, Chuchitos, and Tamalitos.

The Tamale Colorado is the most popular and many Guatemalans eat them every Saturday. Tamale vendors will place a red flag outside their store to signal to people there are fresh tamales available for sale. The Tamale Colorado (or red tamale) has a dark red savory sauce and contains chicken, pork, or beef alongside green olives.

The Tamale Negro is usually found during Christmas time. These tamales are made with a sweet mole sauce alongside turkey, chicken or pork, and raisins.

Chuchitos are a different version of tamales that are wrapped in corn husks, with a thicker masa consistency, filled with a simple tomato sauce and chicken. Chuchitos are a popular street food and are smaller than the traditional tamales.

Tamalitos are small, simple tasting tamales that usually accompany meals. They are often used in place of bread, and used for dipping into soups or salsas.

Make Tamales at Home

For those feeling brave enough to tackle the intricate world of tamale making, here is a great recipe to check out.