Guatemalan Bread Sampler Revisited

Guatemalan Bread Sampler

The last time I showed you a sampler of Guatemalan bread was on May 1, 2007. Wow, times flies!

Today’s photo was taken at Panadería Santa Clara, about one block South of Tanque de la Unión. Panadería Santa Clara is one of my favorite places to buy bread in La Antigua Guatemala. The selection goes from quesadillas to empanadas de leche, passing through the entire cornucopia of Guatemalan bread.

Now, please, take a closer look at the first option from the left. That’s right the little sign reads Quesadillas. Obviously, Guatemalan quesadillas are nothing like the Mexican quesadillas. I have told before to be careful with shared names of Guatemalan and Mexican cuisines since quite often they name represent entirely different dishes.

Okay Rudy, what are you talking about, what dishes share the name but are different? Well, I will describe a couple words and I will let other readers tell and describe many more dishes.

Let’s begin with quesadillas. The Mexican quesadillas at its most basic form is just a tortilla, flour or corn, with melted cheese inside and normally folded over one half. Guatemalan quesadilla is a sweet bread made from rice flour and dried cheese.

Okay, here’s the list of other meals that come to mind right now: Tacos, Tostadas, Enchiladas, Quesadillas, Ceviche, Chiles Rellenos, Tamales, Mole, and Pepian just to name a few. Please, describe the differences between these Mexican and Guatemalan meals. Also, what other meals can you tell us that have a shared name?


© 2009 – 2014, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • Rudy, this picture gets me to crave for quesadillas, and the Panadería is closed!!! It is not fair!!! ;O) Anyway, today I bought there some nice croissants, and some other goodies, ;O) It is so far, my favorite panadería, ;O) ;O) ;O)

  • Delicious photo of the yummy breads! I’m going to go find some breakfast in the kitchen after that photo!

  • Diane

    I was surprised when I visited Spain as a teen. I knew about tortillas and so when the family asked if I’d like a tortilla de papas, (although, they called them patatas) I said, Claro. When I was handed a plate, it was nothing like I imagined! Tortilla in Spain is an omlette. It was very delicious and I miss the family that made me learn that a tortilla by any other name is just as tasty!

  • Sonia

    The first time I got an “enchilada” at a restaurant in Xela I was convinced that the woman had heard my order wrong! Even so, I went ahead and ate it. That’s how I discovered one of my favorite Guatemalan dishes.

    I think that “chiles rellenos” and “ceviche” ARE basically the same dish in Guate and Mexico, but prepared with different seasonings or different methods. Kind of like they’re the same food, but prepared with different “accents”.

    I can think of a couple comparisons with foods in American English and British English. “Biscuits” and “Pie” mean completely different things to us.

  • Is there a limit of characters to enter in this field? Anyway, you know me, and your invitation to mention the differences rang me a bell… How can I resist? Anyway, my “comment” turned out a long one, so before posting it, I need your permission.

    • @Erin, your comments can be as long as you want and you don’t need my permission. This goes for everyone; the only moderation that I have in place is to filter out the SPAM, all other comments are welcome.

  • Ok, based on experience I would say that the chile rellenos are very different. In Mexico, they are usually big poblano type chiles, with melted cheese or sauce and a filling of carne molida (hamburger) not my idea of a chile relleno even though the concept is the same with the chile dipped in egg and fried. The Guatemalan ones are usually smaller (I love the picante ones with jalapenos!) and it is more like picadillo inside (pork, carrots, potatoes, seasonings) I don’t eat them with sauce, or cheese and I haven’t seen them served this way at the panaderias I buy from in RI. The Mexican tamales are usually smaller (no bigger than a man’s finger) with pork, beef, chicken etc… inside. and usually wrapped in corn husks. Nope, I want a Guatemalan tamal-which is much bigger and has either pork or chicken (I hate the ones that leave the bones in though, you should have seen my first time biting into one with a bone lol) seasonings and is wrapped in a banana leaf. My husband will be in Guate for Christmas and I will be home in Maine working 🙁 I am thinking of making a trip to RI to buy some tamales for the holiday before he leaves the 23rd. Thanks for the pics of the bread, it just reminded me of the good stuff I buy at the Panaderia Xelapan in RI. I’ve yet to get to Guate, but plan on going in either April or June of next year. I’ve been married about 12 yrs so I guess it’s time to meet the mother in law lol!

  • Let’s see… the differences may be subtle in some cases and in others, we are talking about completely different things. Some of the dishes you mentioned are not exclusive to Mexico and/or Guatemala since you can find a wide variety in most of the Latin America countries.

    For instance, when we talk about ceviche, or cebiche as it is called in South America, it is said that this is a Peruvian typical dish. I have not been able to find accurate information to support this theory; however, what I do have found and taste is a different version wherever I have been in Latin America. To mention a few, in Mexico is a little bit sweeter because Mexicans like to add ketchup and orange juice and they like to serve it with tortilla chips, the Costa Rican version includes bell pepper, and just as in Guatemala, it is served with crackers. The Peruvian version is one of the simplest and by far, one of the best: fresh white meat fish, lime juice, thinly sliced purple onion, salt and a hint of chili (rocoto or yellow ají), and instead of crackers it is served with a thick slice of boiled sweet potato and a piece of corn on the cob. The differences in the Guatemalan version are: the onions (purple or white) are chopped, the chili we use is crushed chiltepes (or jalapeños in this modern times), and we like to add fresh diced Roma tomatoes and fresh chopped culantro, although I have seen some adding Worcestershire sauce (known as salsa inglesa) and ketchup…

    For the rest of the dishes you mentioned, again I have to raise my voice and say that in general Guatemalan food has no international credit at all and unfortunately, many Guatemalans don’t know our gastronomic richness. Mexico is tooooooooo big and popular, and Mexicans are tooooooo many (even I have one at home!) that along decades they have had the opportunity to influence the international perception on some topics. Well, this is another story. Let’s go back to the food.

    Taco: Without mentioning the strict meaning of the word that gives this dish its name, in Mexico is a warm and soft tortilla (corn or flour) filled with something finely chopped and then, rolled or folded. In Guatemala, make tacos is kind of a ceremony because we do have a specific recipe for the filling, the way it has to be poured over the tortilla, the way the tortilla has to be rolled (as the most perfect plug, of course), tied (yes, we tie the tacos with strings made with husks), fried, and served with a very consistent home-made tomato sauce (which obviously has to be made according to a specific recipe), sprinkled with Zacapa cheese and chopped parsley. Wow! Even though a delicious treat and my mouth is watering, lots of work my friend.

    Tostada: I have not seen our most typical tostadas anywhere else. I am talking about the tostadas with tomato sauce, or ground black beans, or guacamol. The tostadas con carne are somewhat common everywhere else with differences in the way the minced meat is prepared.

    Enchilada: The day I eat an enchilada chapina, I would die happy, very happy! Another dish that requires some preparation time; however, for every minute you spent in the kitchen you will receive one of the most glorious rewards ever! Did I mention how much I like enchiladas chapinas? Mexican enchiladas can be as simple as folded tortillas covered with tomato and chili sauce, or depending on how much do you want to spend, can be like Mexican tacos, tortillas filled with something and folded or rolled, and then covered with the tomato and chili sauce. To be fair, Mexican enchiladas can be very good and there is a wide variety of them: red, green, creamy, suizas, enmoladas, enfrijoladas, you name it! Very creative by the way.

    Quesadilla: My mother is from Jutiapa, so probably is not necessary for me to tell you about the quality of quesadillas I have eaten in my life. At this point, not just my mouth is watering but also I am almost in tears! The original quesadillas are made with rice flour, cheese (a combination of dry and fresh), fresh cream and sugar. Not so good if you are on a diet, but if you can eat a good quesadilla, do it without remorse. It is worthwhile! Mexican quesadillas? As you said, as plain as a tortilla filled with melting cheese, or again as the tacos, filled with something mixed with cheese.

    Chile Relleno: Like the Guatemalan tacos, Guatemalan chiles rellenos “have” to be prepared with a specific recipe, in a specific way. Of course, they are to die for; however, here is when I say, how much I like to be eclectic and always open to experiment in the kitchen, among other places. I personally like to roast the chilies in the oven, peel them and remove the seeds. The fillings I like can be the most traditional in Guatemala; or maybe leftovers; or a mixture with rice, minced beef meat, capers, olives and raisins; or a mixture of minced pork meat with caramelized winter fruits, raisins and nuts. About the Mexican chiles rellenos, my only reference is the chiles en nogada, which is another dish to die for.

    Tamal: If only in Guatemala we do have a long list of different versions, shapes, flavors, and colors, can you imagine in the rest of Latin America? In Chile, Peru and Ecuador the tamales are called humitas, and in Venezuela, hallacas. In Peru, I ate some humitas prepared with anise and the flavor is quite similar to our tamalitos de cambray. Trying to describe the differences between tamales guatemaltecos and tamales mexicanos could be a challenging task. Some day we should make an anthropologic research about tamales.

    Mole: In my opinion, one of the most misunderstood dishes in the Guatemalan cuisine. For us, a desert, a luxurious-glorious-magnificent-tons of work desert, and that is it! Why do we use this rich-velvety recado only to cover fried ripe plantains? Anyway, probably the most traditional Guatemalans would like to kill me if I go on… To explain the differences between the Mexican and Guatemalan mole, probably I just have to say that in Guatemala we call recado to any thick sauce and mole, only to the black chocolate-based sauce; in Mexico, any thick sauce is called mole and it can be found in several versions: poblano (very similar to our mole sauce but used mainly over poultry), red, green, brown, among others.

    Pepián: One of my favorites, by the way. The Guatemalan version is a brownish soupy sauce, darkened because most of the ingredients are roasted, with red meat (yummy greasy ribs), güisquil, potato and little bunches of string beans (tied with strings of husks) that can be served with white rice or tamalitos blancos, or both! Mexican pipián (yes, with “i”) is the same as mole verde (yes, it is green) and the ingredients they use in its preparation are more like the ingredients we use to make jocom (another favorite in my family), although the pipián or mole verde, is a thick sauce that can be poured over poultry or pork meat.

    • @Erin, I think I may turn this comment into an entry with your permission, of course. I just have find the photos to go along with them. I believe I have them all. 😉

  • If this is the Panaderia on 2 avenida sur (which I believe it is) then it’s the best in town!! 😉

  • @Laura, it is indeed the Panadería you have in mind ;O)

  • Sonia

    Ha, ha, Erin, your comment about the ceremonial way that Guatemalan food is prepared and the lengthy steps involved is so true!

    I always say that in order to estimate the amount of effort it takes to make tipica Guatemalan food you need to multiply the number of steps that you THINK are involved by three!

    Like, when making pepian, it’s not enough to simply add flour/breadcrumbs to the sauce. No, no, no. First you have to TOAST the flour/breadcrumbs, then you can add them to the sauce.

    Or, when you make a recado, it’s not enough to simply blend the ingredients together, then add it to your dish. No, no, no. You have to “freir” the recado in oil before adding it to the dish.

    And don’t even get me started on tamales or enchiladas!

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  • S Morical

    I am also looking for a recipe (or even a name) of the bread that is fourth from the left, shaped like a croissant with hatch marks in it, with a layer of almond paste rolled into it. I love this bread and buy it all the time, but it just has the ubiquitous “Guatemala bread” label. Anything would be helpful! Thanks!

    • Cristina

      Those are cachitos.  Sorry to burst your bubble but that´s not almond paste.  It´s just a paste made from flour and obscene amounts of sugar and shortening (yeah, most things that taste good are extremely fattening! like champurradas). 

      • Are you sure champurradas are fattening?