I’ve recently returned from an amazing and eye-opening trip to Guatemala. And, boy, do I have lots to show and tell!
But what better way to recap than to simply show you a mass of vivid photographs and tell you a compiled version of the “7 Things You Must Know about Guatemala,” according to my own unforgettable experience. 1. Be Prepared to Make Your Liver (and Body) Hate You
You will, whether you like it or not, be drinking. Every. Single. Day. Regardless of the time of day, you will be offered (and required to take, more than likely out of common courtesy) beer, rum, vodka, tequila, and/or kusha (Guatemalan basement-sink ‘moonshine,’ if you will), if you’re lucky.
Going to be in Guatemala to celebrate a birthday? I was! Expect a shot of the strongest tequila you can imagine with your 7 a.m. coffee. I did.
Not drinking? In Guatemala, not an option.
2. Corn is King
Being the true heart of the Mayan civilization, the people of Guatemala have a deep-rooted reverence for and relationship with corn. Based on prehistoric Mayan religious beliefs, the flesh of man was said to have been created by God out of corn. This respect for its culture translates into every day Guatemalan life. Masa is used to make fresh corn tortillas, tamales, tamalitos, and more, which is served with practically each and every meal. Soft corn tortilla is to Guatemalans what crusty, hard bread is to Italians. You just don’t eat without it.
3. If Corn is King, Frijoles (Beans), Queso Fresco (Fresh Cheese), and Platanos (Plantains) are Queens
Like corn, you’ll see frijoles and queso fresco at almost every single meal. Plantains will be served each day, but most often for breakfast. This combination of sides is ubiquitous in Guatemala. It’s a simple staple. It’s comfort food. Not a bean fan? Get used to it. There is no escape.
4. Guatemalan Food is Not Mexican Food
Though there are many similarities between the two, Guatemalan food is not the same as Mexican food. And both sides will repeatedly argue this case. For one thing, guacamole in Guatemala is prepared differently from that in Mexico. Instead of the typical ingredients found in Mexican guacamole, like lime juice, chopped onions, and tomatoes, you’ll find that Guatemalan guacamole is made simply of mashed or pureed avocados and oregano. Another interesting difference is that though Guatemalan chuchitos, wrapped in corn husks, closely resemble the Mexican tamales, Guatemalan tamales are typically wrapped in large green plantain leaves and there are allegedly hundreds of tamale varieties across the country. So, if ever in Guatemala, never make the mistake of calling their food (or people, God forbid) “Mexican.”
5. Everything is Fresh
Whether it be farmer’s queso fresco that is handmade from fresh milk in large bins to yield cheese, crema fresca that is unbelievably rich and buttery – almost cheesey – and completely different from our own sour cream, or pork that is tenderly raised, butchered, and cooked a mere 50 meters from the dining table, you know that in Guatemala, most everything you’re eating and tasting is fresh.
It was a near religious experience just to witness the indigenous and painstaking procedure of butchering, cleaning and separating of parts (where I should mention, nothing is wasted), to try fresh chicharones (from a pig that had been alive just hours earlier), and to enjoy a full meal that was literally from farm-to-table. I was awestruck and dumbfound. It is one thing to be a self-proclaimed “foodie,” but quite another to develop a profound appreciation for and awareness of the food you’re eating, how it got there, and where it came from.
6. In Guatemala, You’re Family
It doesn’t matter if you’re a shorter-than-average Korean girl (like me) or a buffer-than-usual Japanese guy (like the BF of mine). In Guatemala, people treat you with a special kind of hospitality and they welcome you with open arms, a smile, and a kiss. Oh, and how could I forget, more food. Everywhere. Even when you somehow find yourself at a good ol’ commercial, American McDonald’s, you’ll see that the service and genuine kindness there is unrivaled by any you’d find even here in the great Aloha state. At the end of every bill, meal, or house visit, you’ll hear people say “para servirle,” here to serve you or better yet, a pleasure to be here to serve you. In Guatemala, you’re not a stranger. You’re family. And that alone is as good as gold.
7. “Estoy Picado/a”
When all else fails and you’ve managed to learn not a single useful phrase in Spanish (which you really should since the vast majority of people in Guatemala speak almost nothing of English), just remember this: “estoy picado” (m) or “estoy picada” (f). This is a Guatemalan slang term that roughly translates to “I’m thirsty (for booze)” and “I’m getting a buzz, so keep ’em coming.” Use it wisely as it will be followed by laughter and an incessant string of beers and shots. Just pray to God you don’t drink yourself down under. But don’t worry if you do. When you awaken from your drunken slumber, they’ll still be there. They’ll be drinking.