Becoming a Guatemalan Citizen


During the 47 years that I have lived in Antigua, I have co-founded and participated in many committees, associations and foundations to improve the quality of life for our residents.


Ranging today from education to micro-credit and promoting cultural activities, many of these meetings usually relate to finding solutions to problems that we have identified over the years. Four-plus years ago, I was attending one of the group association meetings (where a number of local committees meet), and mentioned that I didn’t vote—but I did enjoy having a voice. It was right before the 2007 elections.

While no one commented, it struck me like lightning that I should become a Guatemalan citizen, particularly since the U.S. allows dual citizenship. And the process began.

Many thought it was a “no brainer” since I married a Guatemalan (widowed), have two Guatemalan children, a Guatemalan business and have lived here so long. It was more work than I thought!

First to Migración, then to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, then to Gobernación in Guatemala City, back to Migración, Relaciones Exteriores (countless times).

Since it is a presidential decree, the paperwork was then sent to former President Colom—oops, they needed more flight information—back again—oops, they didn’t notice a stamp in my passport. Back again to the president’s desk.

Much to my dismay, Migración does keep track of all the airport paperwork we fill out —over 43 years, that was quite a few items. (I thought they made firecrackers out of old paperwork as they did in colonial times!)

This time, President Pérez Molina did sign it on April 9th and the presidential decree was published in the Diario de Centro América. I could have written a book and a half with all the paperwork and certainly have the side-stories to share.

All in all, at least now we can call the government offices and they find the information on their computers! I joined 18 other foreign nationals at Relaciones Exteriores on May 30th to be sworn in as a Guatemalan. I didn’t hire a lawyer and there were no fees (except for the Spanish language test). If “time is money,” it is priceless!

While I missed voting in the 2011 elections, I can now call it my country. That is priceless.

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.


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.


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!



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


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.


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.


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.


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!


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

  • Chicken and Epazote Stew
  • Recipe by Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard
  • (

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)

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


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


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.