Antigua Foodie Tours

Antigua Foodie Tours creates distinctive culinary adventures taking visitors through colonial Antigua and beyond.

One of the best ways to understand a culture is to experience its cuisine. And with over 250 restaurants and food-related businesses in town, La Antigua Guatemala has evolved into a melting pot of casual and sophisticated dining experiences catering to an array of culinary lifestyles.

Whether you choose to go on a tasty stroll through the charming cobblestones of Antigua, check out a local organic farm and restaurant, or head to the beach for a gourmet feast at sunset, Antigua Foodie Tours will take you on a unique adventure and introduce you to some of Guatemala’s most intriguing hotspots.

Antigua Foodie Tours

I couldn’t wait to go on my gastronomic tour of Antigua, which was so easy to book online at antiguafoodietours.com. Soon after booking, I received a confirmation email with meet-up information. I was also asked about any food allergies or preferences. And I was good to go!

On a beautiful Wednesday morning in Antigua, we met Jamila and Kwame, founders of Antigua Foodie Tours and our guides for the two-hour culinary adventure. It was warm that day, and members of our tour group appreciated the welcome gift of chilled bottled water in a lovely holder that was handcrafted from colorful Guatemala textiles.

Kwame, an avid food aficionada and cook, has been plugged into Antigua’s culinary scene for several years now. “I gained so much experience showing visitors and relatives around town and enjoying it, that they encouraged me to start my own business,” he said. That’s when in November 2016, he and his partner, Jamila, created Antigua Foodie Tours with the express purpose of supporting local restaurants, promoting tourism and sharing both Guatemalan and international cuisine with locals and foreign visitors.

The Antigua tour consists of approximately 10 stops of carefully vetted venues where you savor samples that are at once delectable and delight the senses. Almost as mouthwatering as the memorable eats you sample are the behind-the-scenes tidbits of information you become privy to while visiting these unique eateries.

At several stops, owners took part in the samplings, explained some of their secret ingredients and shared colorful stories about how they got started in their businesses.

To whet our appetites, we started at Summu Hummus where we sampled four different hummuses: coriander, red pepper, jalapeno and regular. Daniel, one of the owners, explained that while they always have four flavors on hand, they have made 12 varieties thus far. The best part is their pita bread, made fresh to order and served warm. We were in Hummus Heaven!

“The stops on this tour are designed to provide visitors with a balance of culinary experiences that range from the urban/modern to more typical Guatemala fare such as the roasted meats at Rincon Tipico and at Randy’s for their exceptional sausage,” said Kwame. “We want people who appreciate food to leave with a greater understanding of Guatemala’s gastronomy and flavors as well as its history and culture,” he emphasized.

Complementing the Antigua Foodie Tour is the Organic Tour that takes visitors to an organic farm where Maya permaculture and modern techniques meet to provide the local community with organic fruits, vegetables and herbs. “This is probably my favorite,” said Jamila, “because visitors get to roam through a huge organic farm with breathtaking vistas, interact with the animals and feast on a delicious meal consisting of all fresh ingredients grown right there on the premises.”

If you’re looking for adventure outside of Antigua, sign up for Beyond Antigua – Your own Black Sand Beach, which is an all-day excursion to El Paradon on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast. This trip is especially suited for foodies who appreciate local ingredients and fresh herbs because their gourmet lunch is prepared by chef Kwame, using vegetables and herbs from his own organic garden.

Everything is fresh and from scratch, even the tahini used in his famous hummus sandwiches, made with fresh sesame and chia seed, a bit of goat cheese, with arugula and basil on a freshly baked roll. Feast on sandwiches made with boneless chicken breast that has been marinated in nispero wine with sundried-tomato spread; fresh guacamole; fruit salad with colorful and exotic star fruit, and to quench your thirst, freshly pressed green, watermelon and pineapple juices.

After a fun-filled afternoon on the black sand beaches of El Paredón, participants enjoy a delicious Thai dinner served at a table that is brought out for your dinner right on the beach at sunset.

It’s easy to book your tour at antiguafoodietours.com or you can go to their Facebook page, Antigua Foodie Tours, for more information. If you know the date that you’d like to go on your culinary adventure, it is recommended you book in advance, as each tour has a limited capacity and doesn’t run every day.

For each tour booked, Antigua Foodie Tours donates a portion of its proceeds to two established NGOs in Guatemala: Niños de Guatemala and Semilla de Esperanza y Amor, both of which support children in need.

Joy in the Kitchen during the Holidays – Amalia’s Kitchen

People sometimes tell me they feel that cooking is difficult or intimidating, especially if you put the word gourmet in front of it. I say cooking can be as easy as you want it to be, just take a little time to think about what you enjoy.

My philosophy in the kitchen has always been practical and healthy. Like many other people, I multi-task and quite often I resort to doing what’s quick, delicious, and easy. What I find really helpful is to create what I call a kitchen map, sort of a Mise en Place, or a plan.

Planning is not just for business or big projects. It is beneficial anytime and especially during the holiday season when stress levels can increase because of family traditions and social gatherings.

Amalia_s Kitchen

When planning small, medium, or large get-togethers, the principle is the same. Start with the number of guests you will be serving, and then follow that with your menu plan.

If you make a habit of sitting down at your kitchen table or counter to plan your menu and from here you create a shopping list, then what follows is how you will be serving that meal. My plan often includes thinking outside the box on how I will present the food, what dinnerware I use, and so on.

I am not always thinking about uniformity at the table, but rather to create something eclectic with a global flair. I opt for bringing elements together that include not just food, but dishes and utensils that may not necessarily be used for the purpose I choose. I think in terms of color and texture, and everything usually falls into place.

It’s relatively simple for artistic minds, but it may be challenging for those who don’t have this ability, so the plan becomes more important as it allows anyone to be competent in the kitchen.

Next time you plan your next soirée, think about minimizing stress for yourself. Making a plan may seem overly simplistic to some, but if your goal is to prepare something special for your dear ones, then take it seriously and have fun while doing it. With proper planning, you’ll soon discover that you are able to enjoy the year-end festivities with family and friends even more.

Here’s a super easy first course that it simple, elegant and straightforward to help your creative mind get started!

Buen provecho!

Amalia_s Kitchen

BRAZILIANA
Recipe by Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard
(AmaliaLLC.com)

This salad can be modified according to your taste. You can start with the lettuce of choice plus other ingredients that you may prefer. You can also make the salad below into a main course by adding more ingredients and a protein such as grilled salmon or chicken.

Serves 2

1 head Bibb lettuce, separated, washed
10 cherry tomatoes (red, yellow, orange)
½ cup celery hearts, finely chopped
1 avocado, pitted, in cubes
1 can hearts of palm, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
½ lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Divide ingredients in half.

Assembly. Begin with the lettuce and layer the rest of the ingredients sparingly on top.

Add olive oil, lemon, juice, kosher salt, and pepper to taste right before serving.

Amalia_s Kitchen

Wake up to a Guatemalan Breakfast

Guatemalans consider breakfast and lunch to be the most important meals of the day. These meals are usually larger than the evening meal. Families with school-age children pay special attention to serving nutritious breakfasts. Balance and quality are both important.

Guatemala food

Because fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant and varied in Guatemala, it’s easy to make a nourishing meal during a busy morning. Guatemalan breakfast dishes are simple but tasty and wholesome.

Mosh (creamy whole oats with cinnamon and milk) is a favorite of the young and the old. Eggs are prepared in many styles depending on the day of the week. On weekdays they can be soft-boiled, hard-boiled or scrambled. On the weekend, they can be huevos estrellados con chirmol frito (eggs sunny-side up with tomato and onion pan sauce) or huevos revueltos con tomate y cebolla ó tortilla (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions or corn tortilla bits).

The typical accompaniments for eggs are black beans in any style and either corn tortillas or Guatemalan-style French bread (an elongated crusty loaf divided into bun-like sections, with a delicious gummy core).

Another breakfast option for the weekend or for brunch is panqueques con miel de abeja (pancakes with honey). These are medium-thick crepe-like cakes that can be made in minutes. Pan fried plantains are a good complement to any meal. For heavier appetites, Guatemalan chorizo and longaniza sausages make a great side.

In my grandmother’s town in the countryside, tamalitos de elote (fresh corn and butter mini-tamales topped with fresh cream) were a very special treat. She made them especially when we had visitors.

Guineo mojoncho con leche was another favorite breakfast dish. This is red-skinned bananas grilled over charcoals, peeled, cut into chunks, mashed, and added to hot milk in a bowl. We ate this dish like cereal. At school, whole (not rolled) oats were cooked in milk.

Traditional breakfast drinks include freshly squeezed orange juice and licuados (blended drinks made with seasonal fresh fruit and milk). Guatemalan café con leche (coffee with hot milk) is also popular.

Here is an easy and delicious recipe that is very near and dear to my heart.

Guatemala breakfast

HUEVOS REVUELTOS CON TOMATE Y CEBOLLA

Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes and Onions (recipe by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard)

Guatemala food

This recipe is as Guatemalan as corn tortillas. Try it when you’re getting tired of the same old scrambled eggs. Guatemalans modify the recipe in many ways. For example, sometimes people add corn tortilla bits or cooked chorizo instead of tomatoes and onions. Accompany the eggs with Frijoles Chapines (Guatemalan black beans any style) and Tortillas de Maíz (corn tortillas).

Or serve the eggs atop a panfried corn tortilla with beans on the side. You can also modify this recipe by making the eggs sunny side up and using the onion and tomato comb.
Serves 2 people

2 large or 3 small eggs
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 1/2 tablespoons finely diced Roma tomatoes
1 tablespoon finely diced yellow onion
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Beat the eggs until fluffy and set aside.

2. Add the oil to a heated medium nonstick skillet. Add the tomatoes and onion and season with salt. Cook at medium heat until saucy and thick, (about 3 minutes). Taste and adjust salt, if needed.

3. Add the eggs and combine well with the sauce. Continue to cook until eggs are cooked and smooth (2 to 3 minutes).

Dulces Típicos, Traditional Guatemalan Candy

Dulces típicos began very shortly after the Spanish arrived in Guatemala in 1524.

Candy brings back memories of our childhoods and a sense of joy. It is engrained in our cultural heritage. We always associate candy with sugar, which may have originated in the Polynesian Islands over 5,000 years ago. It migrated to India, Alexander the Great took it to Ancient Greece and then Rome, and the Arabs took sugar cane to Spain and Portugal as a highly profitable crop.

Introduced to the island of Hispaniola by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the crop flourished as he reported it grew faster there than any other place in the world! It was first cultivated in Guatemala by the Dominicans at Hacienda San Jerónimo in the 1550s. It is in all of the dulce típicos (popular candies) of Guatemala today.

Dulces TípicosDulces Típicos de leche. photos by Luis Toribio

Dulces típicos began very shortly after the Spanish arrived in Guatemala in 1524. Many of them are of Arabic ancestry, including bocadillos, nuégados, cocadas (cononut candies), mazapanes, (marzipans), canillas de leche (milk legs), colochos de guayaba (guava curls), huevos chimbo (candied eggs), frutas cristalizadas (candied fruit), zapotillos (zapotillo plums), tartaritas (tarlets), quiebradientes (hard taffy), pepitorias (pumpkin seeds), suspiros, paciencias, africanos and besitos, all known as “dry confectionary.”

References to a Confectionary Guild (Gremio de Confiteros) go as far back as 1613. Throughout Latin American, nuns (particularly those from Santa Clara and Capuchinas) made popular candies and other fabulous desserts for sale. With the arrival of coffee to the country in the 1870s, caramelos de café con leche were added.

Dulces TípicosHigos / Figs

Popular candies are also sold in front of churches for the local fiestas and fairs. After a visit to the local church, traditional Guatemalan candies are purchased. These include maletas de higo (candied figs), sweet potato, chilacayote (pumpkin), melcochas (pulled taffy) and batido (taffy).

These are only a few candies, as 224 recipes are included in a cookbook manuscript from 1844 dedicated to Dolores Zelaya de O’Meany. More than 90 varieties remain popular today.

While in La Antigua Guatemala, visit the famous store of doña María Gordillo (4a calle oriente #11), whose family received the CNPAG Diego de Porres Gold Award for maintaining the traditional of candy-making in Guatemala. Other popular stores are La Casa (7a calle oriente #20-A) and El Sombrerón (4a calle poniente #11 and 4a calle oriente #24). Dulces típicos have been made the same traditional way for centuries.

Dulces Típicos

Guatemala Key Flavors – Amalia’s Kitchen

When people ask me to describe Guatemala key flavors, I focus on what makes it stand out from the group of Latin cuisines.

Dried

All of them are delicious, but it’s important to know the nuances.

There are commonalities throughout Latin America, and this makes the cuisines easier to like but challenging to understand. One key ingredient is corn, which is not only a staple in Latin America, but the Americas too. Corn is a gift that Latin America gave to the world and today it is widely used in a variety of industries.

The triad corn, beans and squash, is well known in food anthropology. If we add tomatoes and chili peppers to this group, we realize that these ingredients are present in almost all Latin cuisines in one way or another. What really changes by country is the preparation technique and cook’s style.

Vegetables and fruits combined with herbs, spices and even condiments is where Latin cuisines diverge. Through my adventures in the Americas, I have taken to heart to really understand what these key differences are, and there are key seasonings per country and region within country. The deeper you dig, the deeper it gets.

In Guatemala, fresh herbs such as cilantro (referred to as culantro although this is a different plant), mint, parsley, zamat, epazote and many more are used interchangeably in numerous recipes. This wide spectrum of flavors complements sauces, soups and stews.

Key-spices

Spices such as canela, allspice berries, pepper, cumin, anis, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and others are what differentiate Guatemalan cuisine from other cuisines. Bay leaf, thyme and oregano are often present alone or together in one single dish. There are similarities with Mexican cuisine because of the common ingredients, but it is the unique preparation, style and culture that make it unique.

I can name star dishes in Guatemalan cuisine. I consider the Mayan stews, pepián, mole, jocón and overall Mayan stews, the very essence of our cuisine because the dishes and accompaniments allow us to showcase key ancient ingredients, seasonings and other flavorings blended with foreign influences from colonial times and beyond. When you enter the realm of tamales, you are entering a different dimension of the cuisine.

There are simple, medium and more complex dishes in every cuisine, and Guatemala has them all — from the very rustic and exotic to the refined. The cuisine varies from region to region and the reason is local culture as well as native ingredients and foreign influences through time. All cuisines are delicious yet different.

The more I learn about the cuisine, the more I discover there is to know and taste. And that is what makes it more fun and unique to me. Here is a recipe to celebrate Guatemalan colors, textures and flavors. ¡Buen provecho! Happy eating, indeed!

Amalia-Piloyada-Antiguena

PILOYADA ANTIGUEÑA

La Antigua Red Bean and Chorizo Salad

Piloyes are red beans native to Guatemala. They are rounder, flatter and bigger than black beans. Piloyada, a dish from La Antigua Guatemala, is beautiful and tasty fare that serves equally well as a main meal, a side or a snack. Some of the traditional toppings are the Guatemalan sausages chorizo and longaniza.

Serves 4 to 6 people

– 2 cups dried piloyes (or red kidney beans), free of debris and rinsed
– 1/2 pound pork loin, cut into 2-inch cubes
– 1 whole medium yellow onion, peeled and t-scored
– 1 whole unpeeled garlic head
– 5 cups water

Vinagreta (Vinaigrette)

– 1 ounce (1/8 cup) champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
– 1 teaspoon minced garlic
– 1 whole bay leaf
– 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
– 2 ounces (1/4 cup) olive oil
– Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Adorno (Garnish)

– 1/4 cup Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced on the diagonal
– 1/4 cup strips (2 inches long) of boiled ham
– 1/4 cup bite-size pieces of Serrano ham (or diced boiled ham)
– 1/4 cup finely diced Roma tomatoes
– 1/2 cup crumbled Guatemalan queso seco (or Cotija cheese)
– 1/4 cup julienned red bell pepper
– 1 tablespoon julienned red onion
– 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Guatemala FlavorsPiloyada Antigüeña

Combine the beans, pork, onion, garlic and water in a medium Crock-Pot set on high. Cover and cook until the beans are tender, about 3 1/2 hours. (Alternatively, soak the beans in the water overnight, then cook them in the same water with the pork, onion and garlic on the stovetop over medium-low heat until tender, about 1 1/2 hours.) Discard the onion and garlic. Let cool.

Combine all the vinaigrette ingredients in a blender and process to a fine consistency.

Transfer the beans and pork to a serving bowl with 1 1/2 cups of broth. (Save the rest of the broth for another recipe.) Add the vinaigrette and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. The beans are unseasoned, so you may have to work a bit to reach the right sazón with salt and pepper. Let the mixture stand at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Top the salad with garnishes in the order listed. Distribute the garnishes attractively and evenly over the dish.

Amalia’s Note

This dish can be eaten either at room temperature or cold. A cold temperature can weaken the flavors, so when you serve it cold, taste and adjust the seasonings before garnishing. Eat with crusty French bread or corn tortilla chips.

Expat Food Cravings

Expat Food CravingsGooseberries

Ask any extended traveler or foreign national what s/he misses most from home and food is almost certain to top the list — at times beating friends and family into first place.

I know England is not exactly the gastronomic capital of the world, but there are occasions when I yearn for the most mundane culinary items from back home.

I miss curry, cider, Cadbury’s chocolate, marmite and a cereal that won’t spark diabetes. As a fussy tea drinker, I consider sipping Lipton Yellow Label to be a punishment, so as soon as anyone mentions coming out to visit I send a grocery list — with Twinings English Breakfast Tea starred at the top. Friends have carted tubs of hot chocolate for me from Bolivia, and others have kindly kept their clothing to an absolute minimum to fit in my requests, for there really is no substitute for comfort food.

Expat Food CravingsCadbury Chocolate

 

Here are a few other treasured cravings from expats in Guatemala:

Silvia (Argentina): “Coming from Argentina, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that one of the things I miss most from back home is red meat. I miss entrana asada cooked on a parrilla and eaten at a noisy table with friends and red wine. And it’s not a party unless you have Fernet (a bitter Italian liquor) and Coke. Although I don’t miss it that much, every time I skype with friends who are drinking mate (a tea-like beverage), something in my brain asks me why I’m not doing the same. Then there are those things that you don’t realize how much you miss until you see them again. A few months ago, an Argentinian friend gave me some ‘havannets’ (chocolates), and I almost cried with happiness.”

Arnout (Netherlands): “I really miss our junk food, such as chips with mayo, curry-ketchup and chopped onions, frikandellen and kroketten (typical Dutch deep-fried snacks). However, a friend of mine here in Guate actually makes them and they’re brilliant! We usually get a few Dutchmen together and have a munch session with beer and Dutch music. I’ve just been back to the Netherlands after 2½ years and I took an extra (foldable) suitcase with me, which I filled with all kinds of Dutch goodies.”

Alycia (United States): “I really miss soft pretzels, and when I tried making my own here, I wasn’t aware of how to adjust the leavening ingredients for high-altitude cooking, so they almost exploded. The first time I went to a decent restaurant and ordered something that contained sausages, I was surprised to find cut-up hot dogs in my gourmet dish. Other things that I used to order at restaurants, which I can’t find here, are toasted ravioli (a St. Louis favorite), Scotch eggs, fried pickles and finally, Italian beef with all its cheesy gooiness and hot peppers.”

Expat Food CravingsFrikandellen

Asmena (Kenya): What I miss is a wider variety of lentils and pulses. Not just the frijol negro, but split mung beans with skin (or even without skin), adzuki, black-eyed peas, split yellow lentils, split red lentils, toor dal (split pigeon peas) and chana dal … to name but a few! These wonderful little power houses, eaten with a cereal such as rice or tortillas, create a very tasty balanced meal. I also miss lamb — although it is now available at exorbitant prices. A good traditional lamb, beef or chicken donair or charwarma would be awesome!”

Aleksandra (Poland): “I miss some fruits like gooseberries, sweet cherries and blackcurrants — although in Guatemala I have discovered a lot of new ones, so it somehow recompenses. I miss soups; we prepare hundreds of different types, and my favorite one is made from soured salted cucumbers (you can’t buy those here). But I have discovered repollo acido, which you can buy to make bigos, a very typical Polish dish.”

Expat Food CravingsGooseberries

Beck (Australia): “Even though I haven’t lived in Australia for the past six years, I still miss the traditional meat pie, a popular savory snack with minced meats and gravy inside a delicious pie crust and topped with tomato sauce. In all my travels I have never seen them quite like the ones they make back home, so it’s always on my list of foods to eat when I go back to visit.”

Expat Food CravingsAustralian Meat Pie

Tomas (Czech Republic): “We lived in Manhattan for 20 years before moving to Antigua and, like in Manhattan, new restaurants are always opening up. But, unlike in Manhattan, many of them deliver to your door. There is so little to miss here. The plentiful supermarkets in Guatemala City and the fabulous Antigua market stock just about everything you would want to cook that you might miss here. Just this week I was a guest at a luncheon for 15 in someone’s house and I brought them German potato salad. They made Bohmischen rouladen, which in Germany are called ‘Czech ruladen,’ but in Czech are called ‘Spanish birds.’ The week before we had 20 people over for an Indian pot-luck dinner and everyone cooked something. What is there to miss from home?”

Kira (India): “My absolute favorite dish from my motherland is idli sambar. It’s a breakfast food and one that is virtually impossible to duplicate here (although I did bring some idli flour in my suitcase and it’s almost gone). Idli sambar are super yummy rice cakes that are steamed and served with a savory sambar stew. Recipes vary by region and family; however, I make mine with chana daal (large split yellow lentils), urad daal (black lentils) and additional spices. Once you adopt this for your breakfast, even tortillas and black beans leave you wanting more.”

Expat Food CravingsIdli Sambar

So, what is a food-craving expat to do?

Globalization has not yet managed to homogenize taste buds, but it has given us some solutions. If you are a good cook, you can try being creative, or if you aren’t, you can ask for food parcels from back home. You can schedule indulgence trips, search for good substitutes, or contact one of the handful of online stores that specializes in reuniting salivating expats with their cravings.

Expat Food CravingsSoft Pretzel

Whichever way you satisfy your culinary cravings — ¡Buen provecho!

Amalia’s Kitchen – Family Unity

AmaliaGuest

Family Unity, an exceptional Maya trait

This February, I ventured into another culinary tour of the amazing Guatemalan Maya highlands, situated in the midwestern part of the country. I had been to this area many times before and now my purpose was to dig deeper into the nature and way of life of the precious pluri-cultural people living on this land.

This journey was meant to be. My fortune turned out for the best. I was wholeheartedly invited into the homes of many families and had the opportunity to exchange views to better understand daily routines, including agriculture and cooking, religion and herbal medicine practices, marriage culture, children, schooling and beyond. My adventure began at the villages around La Antigua Guatemala and Lake Atitlán, Chichicastenango, the Cuchumatanes Mountains, Nebaj and many of the smaller towns in between.

collecting

Checking the garden for fresh ingredients.

Under the Maya umbrella there are some 24 indigenous groups (about half of the country’s population) with their own inherent language and traditions and distinctive commonalities and nuances per community, mostly appreciated in language and cooking styles. Guatemala also is home to other non-Maya groups such as the Xinca and Garifuna, in addition to the mestizo (blend of Maya and Spanish) and other smaller populations of immigrants.

By design, our visits centered around the kitchen and started by gathering greens, herbs, vegetables and fruits right from their home gardens. While grinding corn manually or wrapping tamales in native leaves, we blended flavors and techniques with lively food discussions (at times through an interpreter). The usual cooking crew included grandma (the matriarch), her daughter and/or daughter-in-law, and her granddaughters, many of whom were also weavers. In two separate instances a dad and a husband assisted in the chores – this is rare and special treat, as men usually work in the fields most of the day.

cooking

Amalia sharing cookinAmalia sharing cooking tips.

Within the Maya languages there are dialect subsets in the order of dominance such as Quiché, Cakchiquel, Kekchi and Mam, plus others to a lesser extent. Even though each group does not necessarily speak the language of the other, communication with the Spanish-speaking Ladinos (Spanish-Maya people) and other people is possible through a combination of broken Spanish or broken English (in marketplaces), the magnificence around the culture of textiles and vegetable markets, and the universal language of food. There really is very little need to talk when the surroundings speak loudly for themselves.

While toasting cocoa beans on a comal (clay griddle) or roasting whole ripe plantains immersed in bright red coals, we often communicated by pointing, smelling and tasting. Fresh ingredients, a poyo (primitive wooden stove), combined with innate cooking savvy, were all we needed to establish common ground to produce simple yet delicious and nutritious food — in most instances naturally vegetarian and gluten free.

There is one single special trait that stood out during my wholesome experience with the Maya people: family unity. During our time together, I felt welcomed, appreciated and included in the strong family bond. They were proud to share their traditions and treated me with utmost respect, specially dressing the dinner table and spreading pine needles on the floor (a sign of special celebration). I came full circle. There were so many unique happenings and déjà vu that I traced back to my childhood and teen years living in Guatemala. My connection to my homeland is today stronger because of the humble, caring and giving spirit of its people.

eating

Amalia’s Kitchen – Family UnityFamily unity at the dinner table.

From corn-based foods to soups and stews, one dish kept reappearing as I traveled from kitchen to kitchen, each time different yet uniquely delicious. Pulique is a basic vegetable Mayan stew that can be made with any meat or chicken and even using eggs as substitutes. The unifying element was corn masa, used to thicken and add authentic flavor and a smooth texture and finish to the dish.

Pulique also changed in ingredient content and style according to the socio-economic status of each family. The trail of pulique proved an interesting point. Recipes travel across cultures staying true in some way with basic unifying ingredients, yet they morph according to the customs, traditions and possibilities of each maker.

In celebration of the Maya people of Guatemala and Mesoamerica, this is my special rendition to pulique, which has come to occupy a special place in my heart because it has a remarkable story behind it, the story of family love and unity.

¡Buen provecho!

Pulique

Amalia’s Kitchen – Family UnityPulique. Chicken and Epazote Stew

  • PULIQUE
  • Chicken and Epazote Stew
  • Recipe by Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard
  • (AmaliaLLC.com)

Pulique or pulik quite possibly started as a pre-Hispanic dish made mostly with few native ingredients. Today throughout the central Mayan highlands people make pulique using chicken, beef, turkey, pork or other ingredients. Pulique differs from other Mayan stews because the sauce starts out raw and then combines with cooked meats.

Serves 4 to 6 people

4 skinless chicken thighs, visible fat removed
1 small whole onion, peeled and t-scored
2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup quartered Roma tomatoes (about 2 large tomatoes)
1/2 cup husked, quartered tomatillos (3 to 4 large tomatillos)
1 small cup yellow onion, cut into thick slices
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped epazote (or 1/2 cup chopped cilantro)

Thickener
½ cup of corn masa dissolved in ½ cup of cold water OR
1-1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) rice soaked in 1/2 cup hot water for 20 minutes

 

Seasonings
1 bay leaf
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground achiote dissolved in a little water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup güisquil (chayote squash) cut into 1-inch cubes, cooked al dente
1/2 cup carrots sliced on the diagonal, cooked al dente
1/2 cup peeled, sliced potatoes, cooked al dente

 

Garnish
Epazote (or cilantro) sprigs

 

In a medium pot, cook the chicken and the onion in the stock until the chicken is tender (20 to 30 minutes). Remove and reserve the onion. Set aside the chicken and stock.

In a blender or food processor, purée the tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, garlic, epazote, masa mixture or soaked rice and liquid, and the reserved onion.

Add the purée, bay leaf, achiote, salt, pepper and al dente vegetables to the pot of chicken and stock. Simmer covered for 8 to10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Serve the stew garnished with epazote.

Amalia’s Notes

To t-score an onion, make a 1/2-inch-deep cross-shaped cut at the narrowest end of the onion. The onion remains whole.
Epazote is available fresh at most Latin stores. It is an earthy herb with a strong, unique flavor. If you’re unfamiliar with it, use just a little at a time. Taste and add more, if you like.
Peel tomatillos under running water if you find the husks hard to remove.