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.

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.

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.

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.



Delicious Dishes of Guatemala


No trip to Antigua would be complete without digging into Guatemala’s national dish: Pepian. Pepian is a hearty, savory stew that hints of simple flavors, but is in fact, deliciously complex. One of several traditional stews, every cook makes Pepian differently – richer, thicker, more pungent, etc. The stew takes its red hue from the nutty, pepper flavors of the achiote paste. Ingredients, including onions, garlic, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and chile peppers, are first roasted and then blended to join the chicken in a long simmer. The chicken is usually served alongside Guatemalan rice, potatoes, and tortillas.


With its literal translation meaning “small dogs,” Chuchitos are in fact, nothing resembling its English translation. One of my personal favorite dishes in Guatemala, a Chuchito is a type of tamale that consists of corn masa filled with meat, and usually topped with a simple tomato sauce, guacamole, served next to a radish salad and fermented cabbage.  Chuchitos are usually found at any street vendor or cart.

Rellenito de Platano

Utilizing two of the most prevalent foods in Guatemalan culture, Rellenitos are a beautifully simple, unique dessert of mashed boiled plantains stuffed with sweet black beans. Appearing as fist sized brown balls, sprinkled with white sugar; Rellenitos are commonly found at street vendors and are usually eaten as an afternoon snack or dessert. Rellenito comes from the verb rellenar which means to stuff or fill. The suffix ‘ito’ is added as a diminutive, which makes the literal translation ‘small filling.’


Traditionally El Salvadorian, Guatemala has adopted this delicious dish as a staple in its street food offerings. Thick, handmade corn tortillas are filled with either cheese, bean, or pork and then cooked on a flat top griddle. The most common is a pupusa de queso, made with a soft, mild cheese from Guatemala’s Zacapa region. Also delicious, fillings of refried beans or cooked pork meat, called chicharron (not to be confused with the fried pork rind) are great choices for a snack or afternoon lunch. Pupusas will be served with a curtido (a lightly fermented cabbages slaw) and a simple tomato sauce.

Chile Relleno

Literally meaning stuffed chile, the Guatemalan chile relleno is shredded pork and vegetables stuffed inside a sweet bell pepper. The pepper is then dipped in egg and deep-fried. Although usually served on white bread to make a sandwich, we suggest you try the chile relleno on its own with a tomato sauce or picante sauce poured on top.