Updated: Jul 24, 2019
Guatemalan cuisine is similar to that of other Central American countries, relying heavily on black beans, white rice, and corn tortillas.
In addition to meat, fish, and poultry, other popular dishes include chiles rellenos(chilies stuffed with cornmeal, beef, and cheese) and tamales (a mixture of meat and cornmeal wrapped and steamed in banana leaves).
Typical fare is most often served in comedores, the Guatemalan version of diners, or simple neighborhood restaurants. There are international restaurants and fast-food chains in most touristy locations. Perhaps the most impressive fare is to be found along the Caribbean coast, where the Garífuna serve up a mouthwatering mix of seafood, coconuts, plantains, and spices.
Guatemalans tend to eat three meals a day, in similar fashion and hours to North Americans. Breakfast tends to be served between 6:30 and 9am; lunch between noon and 2pm; and dinner between 6 and 10pm. Most meals and dining experiences are quite informal. In fact, there are only a few restaurants in the entire country that could be considered semiformal, and practically none require a jacket or tie (they'd be in the capital), although you can certainly wear them.
Breakfast -- The typical breakfast in Guatemala is quite simple, usually anchored by some scrambled or fried eggs and accompanied by refried red or black beans and corn tortillas. If you order a desayuno Chapin, or Guatemalan breakfast, you'll also be served fresh fruit, a slice of local cheese, and some sautéed sweet plantains. Pancakes are often an option, though they might be oilier and crispier than the pancakes you're used to. Guatemalan coffee is world renowned, and you'll often get good strong coffee with your breakfast.
Sandwiches & Snacks -- Guatemala's light menus show a heavy Mexican and American influence. Many simple eateries feature tacos, burritos, and tamales. Empanadas, small, deep-fried pastries stuffed with meat or potatoes, are ubiquitous. You can also get traditional sandwiches, often served on sliced white bread, as well as American-style burgers.
Meat & Poultry -- Guatemalans eat a fair amount of meat and poultry. Chicken is the most popular, and in some remote places they'll serve it with the feet still attached. You might even get to pick the bird you'll be eating. Hunting iguanas for meat is illegal, but that does not mean it doesn't happen. Note: Do not order wild game unless you are certain it is farmed rather than hunted. Keep your eye out for kac ik, a savory turkey soup native to the Verapaz region. The dish is either served spicy or with chili on the side, and is spelled any number of ways on menus across the country.
Seafood -- Seafood is often available inland, though it's most plentiful and best on the coasts, especially the Atlantic coast, where shrimp, lobster, and a variety of fish are always on the menu. You're best off sticking to simple preparations, either grilled or fried.
If you're in a Garífuna region, don't miss the chance to try tapado, a fish stew or mixed seafood preparation served in a spicy coconut milk broth, often accompanied by mashed fried green plantains.
Vegetables -- On the whole, you'll find vegetables surprisingly lacking in the meals you're served in Guatemala -- usually nothing more than a little pile of shredded lettuce topped with a slice or two of tomato. Fresh garden salads are rare and hard to come by. Most restaurant meals are accompanied by a simple slaw of grated cabbage, a potato, or beet salad.
Fruits -- Guatemala has a wealth of delicious tropical fruits. The most common are bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, and watermelons. Other fruits you might find include the carambola (star fruit) and the guanabana (soursop -- a misleading name), whose white pulp makes for fabulous fruit shakes.
Desserts -- Guatemala doesn't have a very extravagant or refined dessert culture. Flan, a sweet custard, comes in coconut and caramel flavors, and tres leches is a very sweet, runny cake that almost falls into the custard category.
Beverages -- Most major brands of soft drinks are available, as are fresh shakes (licuados) made with papaya, pineapple, mango, or my personal favorite, guanabana. Ask for them in milk (en leche) or water (en agua pura), and sin hielo(without ice) if you want to be extra sure you're not drinking tap water.
Water -- Do not drink the water in Guatemala, even in the cities, as disease-causing organisms are endemic. Ask for bottled drinking water (agua pura or agua purificada) at your hotel, and whenever you can, pick up a bottle of spring or purified water (available in most markets) to have handy. You would also do well to brush your teeth with purified water.
Beer, Wine & Liquor -- The Cervecería Centroamericana's Gallo (Spanish for rooster) is the national beer of Guatemala. More than a mediocre lager, Gallo is a cultural force. Gallo T-shirts and other merchandise are everywhere. When Pope John Paul II came to Guatemala in 2002 to proclaim the first Central American saint, Gallo helped sponsor his visit. Other beers include Dorada and Moza, both produced from the same brewery as Gallo.
The region is not known for wine production, but some of the best rum in the world is distilled in Guatemala. Try the 23-year-old Ron Zacapa Centenario or the 12-year-old Zaya Gran Reserva, which have both won numerous awards and claim to be the best rum ever made.