12 Essential Foods to Eat in Guatemala: The Only Guatemalan Food Guide You Need!

Guatemala, a country rich in culture and history, is also famous for its vibrant and flavorful cuisine. The Guatemalan diet is a delightful blend of indigenous Mayan traditions and Spanish colonial influences, making it a must-try for food enthusiasts. 

This guide will take you on a gastronomic journey through the heart of Central America, exploring twelve essential dishes that define the culinary landscape of Guatemala.

Essential Foods to Eat in Guatemala

Key Takeaways

12 Essential Foods to Eat in Guatemala

  1. Pepián
  2. Kak’ik
  3. Jocón
  4. Tamales
  5. Paches
  6. Rellenitos de plátano
  7. Hilachas
  8. Fiambre
  9. Enchiladas (Guatemalan Style)
  10. Shucos
  11. Atol de Elote
  12. Tapado

1. Pepián


This rich and spicy stew is one of Guatemala’s oldest dishes, reflecting the country’s blend of Spanish and Mayan influences.

Pepián is typically made with chicken, beef, or pork. It incorporates various local vegetables and is thickened with ground seeds and spices, including the pivotal guajillo chilies that give the dish its distinctive deep flavor. 

This hearty stew is usually served with rice and tortillas, making it a fulfilling meal that truly represents Guatemalan home cooking.

2. Kak’ik


Kak’ik is a traditional Mayan turkey soup that is vibrant both in color and flavor. The soup features a thin, savory broth tinted with coriander, achiote, and crushed tomatoes, creating an enticing red hue.

Hearty pieces of turkey, potatoes, and vegetables float in this aromatic soup, typically accompanied by a side of corn tortillas. A tribute to Guatemala’s rich indigenous culture, kak’ik is more than just a meal—it’s a culinary journey through history.

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3. Jocón


Jocón or pollo en jocón consists of chicken pieces cooked in a green sauce made from tomatillos, cilantro, and green onions. Wrapped in a soft, comforting blanket of blended herbs, jocon is typically served with rice and tortillas. 

The sauce’s vibrant green color is as appealing to the eye as its flavor is to the palate. This dish is a wonderful illustration of how Guatemalan cuisine often utilizes fresh local ingredients to create simple yet satisfying meals.

4. Tamales


No Guatemalan food guide would be complete without mentioning tamales. Guatemalan tamales are quite distinct from their Mexican cousins, being larger and wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks. 

The filling usually consists of a mix of meats, a rich tomato sauce, and dough made from cornmeal. Eaten typically during festivities and weekends, these tamales are a festive treat that brings families together.

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5. Paches


Paches are a variation of the traditional tamale, but made with potato dough instead of corn. This swap adds a unique texture and flavor, often enhanced with a tomato-based sauce and filled with either chicken or pork. 

Wrapped and steamed in banana leaves, paches are particularly popular in the highland town of Quetzaltenango but are enjoyed nationwide, especially during the holiday season.

6. Rellenitos de plátano

Rellenitos de plátano

Rellenitos de plátano are a delightful dessert snack made from ripe plantains. These are mashed and filled with sweetened refried black beans, then shaped into balls and fried to a golden perfection. The result is a sweet, soft interior encased in a crispy shell, a delicious contrast that makes rellenitos a beloved treat among Guatemalans.

7. Hilachas


Hilachas is a savory, slow-cooked beef stew with a tomato-based sauce that is subtly spiced. The thread-like shredded meat gives the dish its name (‘hilachas’ means ‘rags’ in Spanish). 

The sauce is typically thickened with potatoes and carrots, adding heartiness to this comfort dish. Often served with rice, it offers a warming meal, perfect for any day.

8. Fiambre


Fiambre is a traditional Guatemalan salad served on All Saints’ Day (November 1st). This dish is an elaborate mixture of over 50 ingredients, including various meats, cheeses, and pickled vegetables. Each family has its own recipe, often passed down through generations, making fiambre a personal and special dish reflecting Guatemala’s diverse culinary history.

9. Enchiladas (Guatemalan Style)

Enchiladas (Guatemalan Style)

Unlike Mexican enchiladas, Guatemalan enchiladas consist of a crispy tortilla layered with lettuce, beetroot, ground beef, and vegetables, topped with a slice of hard-boiled egg and a sprinkle of cheese. 

Vibrant and packed with textures, these enchiladas are a common sight at street food stalls and represent the lively, colorful essence of Guatemalan cuisine.

10. Shucos


Dubbed the Guatemalan hot dog, shucos are a popular street food item, particularly in Guatemala City. A typical shuco is made with a lightly toasted bun, filled with guacamole, sausages, and an assortment of meats, and optionally topped with ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. This dish is a favorite among locals for its flavorful and hearty qualities.

11. Atol de Elote

Atol de Elote

Atol de Elote is a traditional hot drink made from sweet corn. It is thick, creamy, and typically sweetened with sugar and sometimes flavored with cinnamon or vanilla. This comforting beverage is often consumed in the cool evenings or early mornings, particularly in the highlands, offering a sweet, warming experience that soothes the soul.

12. Tapado


Tapado is a seafood soup that hails from the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. Rich and coconutty, this soup is brimming with various kinds of seafood, plantains, and yuca. Its unique flavor profile showcases the influence of the Garifuna culture, blending the sweetness of coconut milk with the freshness of the ocean truly a tropical delight.

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Exploring Guatemala through its cuisine offers a vivid encounter with the nation’s deep-rooted cultural heritage and diverse culinary influences. 

From the rich, comforting flavors of pepián and hilachas to the festive complexity of fiambre and the sweet indulgence of rellenitos, Guatemalan food embodies the spirit of its people warm, vibrant, and welcoming. 

Whether you are wandering the bustling streets of Guatemala City or the tranquil highlands, the flavors you discover will stay with you long after your journey ends. Embark on this flavorful adventure, and let each dish tell you its own story of Guatemala.

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