Guatemala, a Tasting Tour with Diego Télles
Guatemala is a land of contrasts, colours, culture and overwhelming landscapes, but little is known about its cuisine elsewhere. The cultural heritage of this country derives from Mayan culture and shares roots with Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador. There is no doubt that the Guatemalan culinary scene is rapidly evolving.
Fine Dining Lovers recently talked to the chef Diego Télles some tips for exploring the Guatemalan gastronomy. The young chef cut his teeth in kitchens like Noma and Mugaritz, where he is remembered for his talent. At his restaurant, Flor de Lis, he offers a refined spread where ancestral techniques go hand in hand with modern ones, and he is perhaps one of the most daring and avant-garde chefs of this Central American country. Tellés also helped coach his colleague Marco Saénz for the latest edition of the international Bocuse D'Or championship. Télles, like the others in his team, is part of a young Guatemalan generation well versed in the use of local ingredients.
Whether you are a traveller who stays for a few days in the capital Guatemala City, or one who takes refuge in the mystical colonial city of Antigua Guatemala, you can benefit from chef Diego Télles’s advice on how to enjoy flavours like a local.
But first (a great) coffee
“Having been a country that grew and exported the best coffee beans back in the nineties, producers went on to learn how to roast and keep the best coffee yields for national consumption. Here, people no longer speak of Guatemalan coffee in general, but tend to refer to specific estates, regions with designation of origin such as Antigua and Acatenango”. This is Tellés’ explanation as he indicates his favourite coffee shops.
El Injerto Coffee
"Try the Café León. They have a menu with traditional cuisine that changes every day. I recommend the chuchitos (maize tamales cooked on the cob and filled with red salsa and pork) and the paches (potato tamal with red salsa and chilli, cooked in maxán and banana leaves, accompanied with coffee from a pot sweetened with panela, unrefined whole cane sugar)."
San Martín Centro Historico
"I like the San Martín a lot because it is an 18th century house where I order Eggs Florentine or a typical Guatemalan meal: eggs with tomatoes, onions and beans, fried bananas with cream and cheese."
"Mercado 24 by Pablo Díaz is a venue you cannot afford to miss – they have a super honest kitchen inspired by market cuisine. The setting is relaxed and casual, and here I would recommend: fish tostadas, fish tiradito (a kind of ceviche), a plate of tongue and craft beer."
La cocina de la señora Pu
"I really like La cocina de la señora Pu by Rosita Pu. She is an anthropologist and a cook who interprets recipes from Mayan cuisine. It is a snack bar for 10 people facing the domestic stove where Rosita does her cooking in front of her customers. You need to have patience as the food takes time, but her dishes are worth the wait. My suggestion is not to ask too much about the recipes, but to just tuck in and enjoy them!"
"7 caldos, is a particularly leisurely place where you can try out the most traditional recipes of Guatemalan cuisine such as pepián (a pumpkin seed sauce), jocón (a chicken stew with green salsa based on miltomate, green tomato, green onions, coriander and chilli), suban ik (a dish fit for a king, cooked in maxán leaves with three different meats), kak’ik (a soup of pre-Hispanic origin with chunto (turkey) and a spicy sauce typical of the Verapaces region, and my favourite, la chicha, a chicken recado (soup) containing fermented maize, which is highly aromatic thanks to the cinnamon and panela that goes into it."
"EN restaurante is a pop-up project featuring Guatemalan cuisine, with very characteristic flavours and at times unexpected combinations. A free and unique offering, which always contains an element of surprise."
"Ambia is a restaurant which can count on its own R&D kitchen, and whose fusion of Asian and Guatemalan flavours is combined with molecular cuisine techniques."
© Courtesy of Quiltro
"In Antigua, I recommend Quiltro, which is the most recently opened restaurant in which to explore Guatemalan ingredients. It is run by Rodrigo Salvo, former executive chef of the Flor de Lis."
"The typical Guatemalan fast food can be found in the carts of the shucos, who sell a type of hot dog, with guacamole, cabbage, sausage, chorizo or longaniza sausage and ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard. You can find them at different points in the city and throughout the country. For me, Pan David in the city’s Zona 1 is the best bakery. I remember it from when I was a child, because my father would bring us sourdough conchas and cuernos (sweet bread). In order to get some, you need to be there by 2 pm, when the bread has just been put on sale. Any later and it is all sold out!"
"I usually do my shopping in the Mercado La Terminal, the distribution centre for the city’s markets. But I also go to the Central Market, and whenever I can, to Doña Mela’s stall, which is now run by her daughter, Carmen. There, I like eating tortillas with pacaya (the flower of a plant with a characteristic bitter taste) and tomato salsa and bananas in mole, made of plantain and chocolate which, not to be confused with Mexico, is a dessert here in Guatemala."
"El Portalito is a bar with a great history and a lot of cheer. It is here that draught beer was first sold in Guatemala. Ideal for nibbling at tortillas and pork belly washed down with a glass of beer."
"XQ No is a tiny picturesque bar, where the owners serve you. At the entrance, there are tables for drinks alone, while food is served on the first floor. Thanks to its special atmosphere, this venue is frequented by chefs visiting the country."
La casa del Ron
"La casa del Ron is an old house with an underground cellar that is ideal for tasting the world’s best rums. I recommend Zacapa 23 and Botran colonial of Guatemalan origin."
"At Café sky you can enjoy a beer as you watch the sun going down in Antigua, since this is the only place with a terrace on the second floor offering a spectacular view of the colonial city."