Street food junkies on the hunt in Guatemala

Posted on 11. Jan, 2011 by in Central America, For foodie travelers, Guatemala

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The Globetrottergirls are street food junkies, and we were not afraid to shout it from the proverbial rooftops during our 11 week stay in Mexico last summer. Embracing the local cuisine, in its most local forms, deepens the traveler’s relationship with the country and its culture, and it is fun to sample foods from food stands which essentially form an unofficial outdoor buffet in central parks throughout Latin America. Plus, for those of us nomads out there traveling year round, street food is the perfect break from the lengthy and expensive process of eating out in restaurants day in and day out.

So great is our love of vegetarian street food that we were bursting at the seams to sample Guatemalan street food, and were especially excited when we arrived in Antigua and discovered street food vendors galore lined up in front of La Merced church. This excitement was quickly put in check, however, as street food in Guatemala is very meaty. Lucky for the veggies, however, there are also loads of vegetarian options. Find a round-up of our street food favorites below:

Pupusas

This El Salvadorian staple is very popular in Guatemala. The thick corn tortillas are stuffed with either refried beans, cheese, a bean-cheese combo, or cooked pork. A marinated cabbage and tomato salsa are added on top. Despite their popularity in Guatemala, this street food doesn’t begin to compare to the delicious originals made in El Salvador, where the cheese is tastier and the shape and quality are far better than most in Guatemala. But if you’re veggie and in a hurry, a pupusa will fill you up easily. Price: Q12/US $1.50.


Elote

Another typical dish is elote, or corn on the cob. In Guatemala, elote it is not served with mayonnaise and chili powder as in Mexico, but rather salsa, salt and sometimes lime. Corn is the basis for the Guatemalan diet, and this cheap and not entirely unhealthy snack can be eaten any and everywhere. Price: Q10/US $1.25

Tacos

The word ‘taco’ in Mexico and Mexican cuisine means something different to what the word means in Guatemala, where a ‘taco’ is similar to the Mexican ‘Flauta’. One major difference is that in Mexico, corn tortillas are stuffed, rolled and then deep fried. In Guatemala, the rolled corn tortillas are first deep fried, and then stuffed with either potatoes or meat. This makes a difference as they are usually stuffed with more inside than in Mexico. As almost everything in Guatemala, tacos are topped with cabbage and cheese. No matter how they serve ‘em, or what they call them, tacos or flautas are one of our favorite street food items. For the best we found in Guatemala, head to Lake Atitlan’s village of San Pedro la Laguna, where, just up the road from the Pana dock, a little street vendor sells the best tacos in the country.*  Price: Q8/US$1

*the exclusive opinion of Globetrottergirls and though not official, trust us in judging their awesomeness.

Tostadas

Tostadas are very similar to the Mexican ones – a crunchy, fried corn tortilla topped with refried beans (though in Guatemala, these are black beans, not pinto beans) and/or delicious guacamole plus lots of lettuce, tomoatoes, onions, white cheese ‘powder’, plus beets, cabbage, and, sometimes, a slice of a hard-boiled egg on top. A salad on a tostada for under a buck! Price Q6/ US$0.75

Rellenitos

Literally meaning ‘little fillings’, a rellenito is just that – boiled/fried plantains stuffed with refried black beans and sometimes cheese. Mixing the sweet plantains with the savoury black beans might seem a little exotic at first, but plantains and black beans are major elements in both breakfast and dinner dishes and it is very common to eat them together. These little wonders are delicious, filling and very veggie friendly. Price: Q6/$0.75

Corn Tamales

Tamales are familiar to any fan of Mexican food, but the Guatemalan version varies slightly. These tamales are just plain old tamale corn flour base with pieces of corn inside, wrapped in a large green leaf. They normally come all wrapped up, dry and with no sauce. Dani hates corn tamales, and won’t eat them. They are certainly not my food of choice, but they do the trick, plus they are everywhere. Price: Q10/$1.25

Buñuelos and other sweet street food

Guatemala is big on sweets. There are the multi-colored popcorn balls, biscuit rings, something similar to peanut brittle, and loads and loads of donuts, but Dani’s absolute favorite are the Buñuelos. We’ve come across this word a few times to describe very different dishes. In Guatemala, fried dough balls, usually three, are served up with lots of warm, if not overly watery, syrup. Apparently they are a typical Christmas dish, but we found them already in early October. Price: Q10/US $1.25 for three

For the meat-lovers out there, the street food options in Guatemala triple. The meaty varieties include salchichas (sausages), chicharrones (fried pork skin), cheveres – hot dogs (apparently there is a delicious type with avocado). What’s more, cheap fried chicken, burgers and fries rule the streets of Guatemala. Sandwiches are another popular item, with baguette-like white bread stuffed with lettuce, mayo, onion and usually fried, breaded pork.

It has been especially recommended to us that you sample the garnachas, small fried corn tortillas which are stuffed with shredded meat and cheese and usually topped with cabbage, and the chile rellenos. The smaller sweet red peppers (similar to bell peppers, but smaller) are stuffed with beef, dipped in egg and deep fried, squeezed flat and then put on French white bread, to which cabbage, beets, carrots and a special sauce are added. Of all the meaty street food, we most wanted to try these chile rellenos, but there is never a cheese variety, always meat only.

Note: We did find eating street food in Guatemala a bit riskier than in other countries in terms of belly aches and less ladylike bowel issues. It is especially important in Guatemala to pay attention to who is eating where – seek out the popular food stands. If 20 locals are surrounding the street food vendor, jump in line there too. Locals want clean, healthy food as much as visitors do. Do not feel deterred by this warning, but do make sure you choose your street food wisely.

Have we missed any delicious Guatemalan vegetarian street food items? Feel free to make suggestions for others in the comments below. What are your favorite Guatemalan foods?

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18 Responses to “Street food junkies on the hunt in Guatemala”

  1. Ayngelina

    12. Jan, 2011

    Nice round-up. You know I didn’t have a single post about food in Guatemala. I don’t know if it was because I had just come from Mexico but I found food to be really underwhelming and couldn’t find anything that wasn’t a play off another countries food (i.e. pupusas).
    Ayngelina recently posted..Parades are for suckers- unless you want to change the world

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    • jess

      15. Jan, 2011

      Hi Ayngelina, we should have added an important fact on the end of this article: Nothing beats Mexican Street Food. You’re totally right. It’s always exciting for veggies to be able to belly up to a street food stand with the meat eaters, and so we were happy to find options in Guatemala. But it does not compare to Mexico. Viva Mexican Street Food!!!

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  2. Ooooh, this makes me hungry. I had a rellenitos once during a festival in Santa Barbara and loved it, but haven’t been able to find any here in the Bay Area.
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted..Let’s Be Nosy- Simon and Erin from Never Ending Voyage

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    • jess

      15. Jan, 2011

      Hi Jill! We actually had our first pupusa of the trip at the KFOG Kaboom festival in San Fran way back in May 2010, but no rellenitos. I am so so sure though that if you hit the Mission District in San Fran you’ll find many of the street food items on our Guatemala and Mexico list. We could eat in the Mission District for weeks on end, you’re so lucky to be based in the Bay Area!!!

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  3. Erin

    12. Jan, 2011

    Awesome post! This is just what we need for when we get to Guatemala. It makes me very happy to hear there are so many street food options. In South America the street food is not great for vegetarians- corn with cheese and fruit are the main options.

    We did try buñuelos in Colombia last week but I think they are different here. Dough balls with curd cheese inside. They had a weird taste and we weren’t fans.
    Erin recently posted..Overrated Tourist Attractions

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    • jess

      15. Jan, 2011

      Hi guys! Hm, interested to try these different buñuelos in Colombia…we’re glad that you like the post, and the street food in Guatemala is good, but like Ayngelina says, Mexican street food is the best, and Mexico is a dream for veggie street food. Of course you can use our post on that as a reference :-) Also, in El Salvador the pupusas really are great, though always beans, cheese or beans and cheese. Now we’re hungry…. :-)

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  4. Andi

    13. Jan, 2011

    OMG you guys are my soul sistas!!! Veggie street food is the BEST! Delicious pics. :)
    Andi recently posted..Happy New Year!!!

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  5. Rebecca

    16. Jan, 2011

    Yuuuummmmm! I know you can have this anywhere in the world (and I know you girls are vegos) but I had THE best fried chicken and chips in a back alley at the Chichicastenango markets.
    Rebecca recently posted..Look mum- it’s a lion! Tips for responsible animal encounters

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  6. Erica

    16. Jan, 2011

    You know, I’m sitting here trying to diet before we head out and was doing FINE until I read this post. Now I’m hungry. And I want fried pork.
    Erica recently posted..Travel Photography January 14

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    • jess

      16. Jan, 2011

      Sorry Erica…but we havent been able to stay on any sort of diet while travelling, so I guess the diet will go sooner or later anyway. That said – go get your fried pork :-)

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  7. Akila

    25. Jan, 2011

    Goodness, these photos are awesome and making me hungry. We love street food, too, and can’t wait to experience more of it in Mexico and central America.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      25. Jan, 2011

      Oh you will love the Mexican street food – much better than the Guatemalan street food, and much more veggie friendly! There is so much to try! We are still thinking about it and miss it… El Salvadorian pupusas are another favorite of ours – look out for a post on them this week :)

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  8. Samantha Dermot

    27. Jan, 2011

    I enjoy eating street food in any places. Why? Since its more cheaper than eating in restaurant of course! Then, there are so many choices. You can eat different kinds of foods within a budget. Something that food trippers can really enjoy!
    Samantha Dermot recently posted..Night Mouth Guard For Teeth Grinding

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  9. Jenica

    22. Aug, 2011

    It’s fun to trot the street for savory street food. Guatemala has almost the same cuisine as Mexico and I love Mexican cuisine.
    Jenica recently posted..Most places…If you want service…play tennis.

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    • Dani

      22. Aug, 2011

      Thanks Jenica! Mexican cuisine is our favorite as well :) And we have to say that Mexico has the better street food!

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  10. sonia

    30. Oct, 2012

    Agreed Dani….I am in Meixco now and have spent the last month trying so many different amazing foods. I am heading to Guatemala Friday and expect after being here I am going to be a little disappointed. I dont think any food will ever top Mexican food….although Vietnamese is close!

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      31. Oct, 2012

      Oh you will miss the street food so much, Sonia! Guatemala doesn’t have anything that compares to Mexican street food.. but I am sure you’ll still love Guatemala – so beautiful!

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