Guatemalan Cuisine: The Kak’ik

Guatemalan Cuisine: The Kak'ik

Your comments and feedback are very important and often show me the way for future posts or follow ups. Such was the case about telephones, wifi (wireless internet access) and more recently the ik word (hot or spicy in Maya) which Manolo was kind to share its meaning and etymology. Furthermore, I normally try to have entries that need further development with background information or first-hand experience and that’s where you come in and fill the missing information. See this site is as much mine as it is yours and the whole experience is much richer if we all contribute to it. I am only planting the seed; it is up to you to make grow and produce fruits. Got it?

If there was a Guatemalan national dish, then Kak’ik would be it. Wait a minute, this Guatemalan meal has the word ‘IK’ as part of its name, so, now we know why. Along the sidebar, there is section of other Guatemalan links that I think might further help understand this effusive thing they call Guatemalanness. From those links, I extracted the following information:

The Kak’ik is a turkey soup-stew which features a number of spices from which achiote, coriander, and a number of chilies stand out. Following is a visual homage to the cultural traditions kept alive by Mayan women of the Q’eqchi’ ethnic group who still kill, clean, and cook the turkey as has been done for generations.

Deemed intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture and Sports in November 2007, the Kak’ik is an ancestral dish of Pre-Hispanic origin largely cooked and consume among the Q’eqchi’ Mayas of Guatemala. “The red coloring evokes memories of the blood used in rituals and ceremonies by their ancestors.” (1)

Source: Ancestral Cuisine: The Kak’ik by James Rodrí­guez’ World (

Warning: if you decide to follow the link to Ancestral Cuisine: The Kak’ik, you will find the ritual of the preparation of Kak’ik which includes the killing, cleaning and cooking of the turkey through a series of photos. These are extremely graphical and may offend and disturb most people. Think of the entry as being rated NC-17. Vegetarians, please, do not follow the link.

Where can I get kak’ik in La Antigua Guatemala?
There are quite a few places from gourmet versions like La Fonda de la Calle Real to daily menu diners. One sure place to try kak’ik is San Felipe village which has over 20 restaurants around its main plaza that serve a wide range of authentic Guatemalan dishes, including kak’ik, on the weekends. The photo above was taken at one of those restaurants.

Pavo is just one way to say turkey in Spanish; others forms include chompipe and guajolote. What other words do you know?

© 2008 – 2013, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • Ale

    The reason I found this blog was becuase I was searching for Guatemalan recipes and found all of these great food pictures and posts. This is just one more post to add to the experience. The Kak’ik looks so delicious and I should try to make it soon.

    One thing I would LOVE to know is what is in the dish- I see a Guisquil, aquacate, maybe a chuchito?

  • Raquel

    I’m sure I’ve had this soup before…. I lived in a Q’eqchi village for a little while and we ate this amazing (what we thought was chicken) soup. We called it caldo but it was red and very spicy. It had small potatoes in it too and for some reason we called it wedding soup. Are Caldo and Kak’ik the same thing?

    Also, I loved pepian soup when I lived in Antigua. Yum!
    Haven’t been able to visit the site for some time, but still appreciate it as much as ever. Thanks Rudy!

  • My wifes mother still does the turkey thing on her coffee farm in Michicoy. Those were great pictures of the process.

  • coltrane_lives

    Hey Rudy, How’s it going in the land of the volacano? I’ve been getting caught up on the many photos I’ve missed since work has taken me away. Great as always with fab commentaries and dialogue starters. Loved the recycling photo of the grill in front of “Claudia’s.” Brings back wonderful memories. It’s hot as hell in the Midwest USA right now (over 105F heat index yesterday), but we are surviving. At least we don’t have the California fires and lack of rain to deal with. Hope all is well with you in the land of LAG. Miss everything about LAG but have two beautiful daughters who remind me each day of your city and how blessed our family is. Good health to you, amigo, and best of days!

  • emromesco

    Caldo is an umbrella term for a stew. So you can think of kak-ik as a kind of caldo. I am not sure if it HAS to be turkey so even if it is red but it is chicken it could still be called differently and not kak-ik. I believe (in my limited knowledge/experience) that the main ingredient is the “cobanero chile” (does anyone know if there is such thing as a cobanero pepper?) which I know it only in its powder form. Oh the memories of a field trip back in the undergrad with the Q’eqchi’ in Panzos, near El Estor.

  • Gillian

    Seeing this makes me homesick for the wonderful Sopa Xichotl?? you can get in the Cafe Condesa served with home made brown bread on the side. I make a version from memory with chicken stock, vermicelli, tiny red chillis (like the picture yesterday), shredded chicken, lots of lime juice, sliced avocado and cilantro – but it’s not as good as the original. If there were any way to get a photo of that, I could drool over it! I adore this website and have been meaning to write and say so for over a year – apologies for the delay. I spent a year in Antigua 2001-2 and get back on average every 2 years for a visit and being able to open up the mails with the great discussions and pictures keeps me feeling linked. Thank you so much and keep up the good work

  • Juanfran

    Lots of stories have been told to newer generations about Kak-Ik, when I was a young boy, my father, who was born in Tactic, Alta Verapaz, told me that the stew was the Mayan King’s Dish. It was prepared only for him and for the court he wished to share with.
    It was also the ceremonial lunch for the Rabin Ajau, (The king’s daughter, as far as I remember the meaning).
    I agree with emromesco, Dried chile Cobanero is the main ingredient, the suffix –IK- means that. There are some other “secret ingredients”: two or three heads of garlic, including their dried tails, and an aromatic leave called Samat. That herb grows mostly in Alta Verapaz, but cilantro can be used instead. Well, Thank you Rudy for that “taco de ojo”, if Ale, or someone else would like to have a recipe, which is in fact, simpler than imagined, I will be glad to share.

  • @Juanfran, please, by all means share the recipe for kak’ik.

  • Herber

    Well, I think the cobaneros call this “caldo de chunto”, so, I guess chunto is another way to call the turkey 🙂

  • Herber

    I just went back to see the picture and forgot to comment about the tamalito de chipilín in it! mmmmm! tamalitos de chipilín with caldo de chunto!

  • Juan Fran

    This is the recipe I would like to share. Kak-ik

    12 servings.

    A small turkey (3 pounds aprox.)
    1 pound of tomato
    Two fresh chiles dulces (red sweet pepper, )
    1 dried chile guaque (You can find them in Guatemalan or Mexican stores.)
    1 dried chile pasa ((You can find them in Guatemalan or Mexican stores.)
    Chopped Chile cobanero ( dried hot red pepper)
    2 cebolla (10 ounces aprox.)
    2 cabezas de ajo con trenzas. (garlic heads with dried tails included)
    Chicken base (consomé de pollo powdered)
    Fresh Cilantro (coriandro)
    Fresh Hierbabuena (peppermint)

    Cook the turkey and the garlic heads and tails, in enough water, add salt and chicken base at taste.
    In a separated bowl, cook tomato ,onion, chile dulce, chile pasa, and chile guaque, (do not add salt.) When those vegetables are cooked, you must mix them in a blender until well mixed.
    When the turkey is already cooked, add the vegetable mix to the stew. Add chopped cilantro and hierbabuena.
    Bring to boil for about ten minutes.

    Serve when ready.
    Pochitos (tamales on the side)
    Get some corn dough, (Mexican Maseca Works well for making the dough)
    Add a little bit of chicken base to the Dough, and a Little salt to taste. Add vegetable oil to soften the dough. Some people add a teaspoon of baking powder to avoid hardening when cooked. When all ingredients are combined, make some dough balls, about five ounces each; then wrap them in plantain or banana leaves, (you can use aluminum foil instead). Put them in a bowl with a small amount of water.
    All wraps are cooked for about an hour until they are well cooked. Keep watching the water level, because if it evaporates, tamales could get burned. Remember the pochitos bowl must be covered.
    Serve as a Kak-Ik side.

    To get the original Kekchi taste, you could add some dried chopped cobanero pepper to each dish, (just if people like that hot), do not add potatos, güisquil or any other kind of stuff different from the recipe. Ceremonially you could serve them in “escudillas” Guatemalan native-made deep plates.
    Hoping you enjoy!

  • Raquel

    Oh yum! Thank-you Juan Fran!
    Actually, that reminds me – my house mom used to make a green soup from guisquil – is there an english name for it? Is it possible to find guisquil anywhere in Canada??
    Definately keeping this in the recipe book!

  • emromesco

    @Raquel I don’t know if out West you can find guisquil… however it is usually called “chayote” since it is the name it has in other Latin American countries where they know of such vegetable. It is relatively easy to find here in the centre of the universe… I mean… Toronto. 😉

  • I have been living in Coban for 18 years and have read many recipes for Kaq Ik, but the one I make is the one my father-in-law taught me and is the one you usually be served when you travel to the most far away places in Coban.

    1 turkey, (better if you use heritage or free-range for an excellent flavor)
    1 garlic head
    1/2 cup chives
    1/4 cup peppermint
    1 cup Samat (traditional leave and a must for the real flavor) or cilantro
    achiote (annatto)

    You put the turkey with water, the garlic head and salt to boil until it is tender.

    Then, you add the chives, peppermint and samat, let it boil for 5 minutes, then you add the achiote to give the traditional red color.

    You serve it with rice, dried cobanero pepper, and white tamales; made of corn flour, water, salt and manteca (pork´s grease),you can use oil, wrapped in tamale leaves.

  • @Flor, muchas gracias por compartir la receta. Thanks so much for sharing the Kak ‘Ik recipe with us.

  • Byron Herrera

    Si fuera tan amable de enviarme la receta del kakik que quiero hacerla para compartir con amigos desde los Estados Unidos. (

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  • Brek Thornton

    Caldo and Kak’ik are not the same. Caldo is more of a stew and Kak’ik is more of a gravy like soup. I also lived in a Q’eqchi’ Vilage for two years

    • Thanks Brek for the feedback and follow up.

      • Brek Thornton

        Where did you live and for what reason? And did you learn Q’eqchi?