In La Antigua and the rest of Guatemala, special dishes are prepared during Lent and Holy Week that highlight the variety of pre-Hispanic and Western elements that converge in a rich and flavorful cuisine.
Some of the dishes are considered to be “seasonal”. Fish is one such food; it’s allowed according to Lenten dietary guidelines (which prohibit the eating of red meat) and so is eaten during this time of year in great quantities.
As with most gastronomic celebrations, although the season’s foods can usually be prepared at home, they can also be ordered from elsewhere. Curtido is one of these dishes; it’s a fresh and colorful combination of vegetables including carrots, beets, and green beans. Bacalao a la vizcaína – a codfish dish with peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and capers – is another. This delicacy requires sufficient preparation time for the dried and salted cod to soak and rehydrate, as well as much care in its preparation because of the large amount of salt which is used to preserve the fish. While some of these dishes are prepared with recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation (and which may include the family’s “secret ingredient”), they can also sometimes be found at food vendors’ stalls located in the plazas and parks outside of churches during holy vigils.
Desserts are one of those things that many people buy from food vendors; these delicious delicacies are infused in sweet goodness, and – assuming that you haven’t given up sweets for Lent – should be enjoyed to the fullest in all their sugary varieties.
Molletes and torrejas (the Guatemalan versions of fried dough desserts) – swimming in a brown-sugar nectar – or buñuelos (a kind of Guatemalan beignet) – served with a lighter syrup – are a tempting treat for anyone who visits the churches and holy vigils at mealtime and takes advantage of the nearby food stalls. Those with a taste for chocolate should immediately look for a vendor who has mole for sale. For the little ones, don’t forget the wandering vendors who have every imaginable color of cotton candy/candy floss (algodón de azúcar) or those who sell chupetes (pointy, conical lollipops).
Among the food stalls you can also find papalinas (homemade potato chips) and plataninas (plantain chips) fresh out of large pots of boiling oil. There are also churros (more fried dough, this time covered in sugar and chocolate syrup), poporopo (popcorn), and other fried foods. Empanadas (fried turnovers with sweet and gooey fillings) should also be on your list of things not to miss. Why should you sample these treats during Lent and Holy Week? Because during other periods of the year, they’re never quite as good (if you can find them at all, that is).
Of course you shouldn’t miss a visit to a “tostada lady”; there are seemingly multitudes of them around the churches (especially during velaciones). These are women of a certain age (who definitely know their way around a kitchen) who sell traditional snacks like these fried tortillas topped with a variety of delicious things. For meat lovers there’s a choice of marinated pork (carne adobada), grilled beef, and various types of sausages (like longaniza and chorizo). Elotes asados (roasted corn), tacos, tostadas, dobladas (savory fried turnovers), enchiladas (which are nothing at all like the Mexican dish of the same name), and panes con pollo (traditional chicken sandwiches) are just the beginning of the incredible variety of food that’s prepared for this time of year and is sold – in many cases – late into the evening and at night.
If you love fruit, make sure to try the various ways that mangoes are served. You’ll find them cut in different forms and at various stages of maturity: green mangoes served with lime juice, salt, and a sprinkling of ground pumpkin seed (pepita) or whole ripe mangoes served on a stick. Fruit lovers should also put fruit salads, coconut water, fruit smoothies (licuados), and fruity ices/snow cones (granizadas) on their nibbling agenda.
And finally – although they’re always on the minds of those who have a sweet tooth – you’re sure to see many different kinds of sweets and candies, in countless flavors and types, that will put a smile on your face.
As you’ve surely deduced by now, food is an integral part of the Guatemalan traditions of Lent and Holy Week. Besides the seemingly ubiquitous street food, many restaurants also offer special menus during this time of year to help you appreciate the traditional flavors of this special season in La Antigua.
Written by: Raul Armas