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Guatemala

    Central America  --  Food & Drink

    Guatemalan Cooking Class in Beautiful Antigua

    Food and Culture Around the World

    Location: Antigua Guatemala

    I just sat down and counted up how many cooking classes I have taken in my travels and I come up with a total of 17.  It’s one of my most favorite things to do when I am in a new country.  And the Guatemalan cooking class I took last week in beautiful Antigua was one of my all-time favorites.

    (Note – if you are interested in the recipes read all the way to the end.)

    Okay, so I usually say that after every cooking class.  But I just loved it.  There is nothing that brings a culture to life as well as food and cooking with local people.

    Tortilla maker at the market

    Antigua

    First of all let me tell you what a lovely surprise Guatemala has been, and particularly the gorgeous, historic city of Antigua.  Colorful and alive with cultural events and history, Antigua is a perfect place to experience the best of Guatemala from art, history, religion and museums, to food

    Fresh and local at the market

    and scenery.  It’s perfect little package and I really enjoyed our time there.

    Searching online before we arrived I found the highly rated La Tortilla Cooking School offering several options for classes.  I signed up to do a morning market tour, followed by the full cooking class with six courses.  On arriving I learned I was the only student on this day! Wow.  It was the holiday weekend marking the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) and most people are busy with other events.  So luckily for me, I was the center of attention!  So much fun.

    To Market to Market

    Julio met me on arrival and was my guide to the market and my translator throughout the day.  Julio is from Costa Rica and is the manager at the cooking school.

    Julio took me around the beautiful city and showed me two historic locations for the local market before taking me to the bustling market center.  Since it was a Saturday morning, it was exceptionally busy.

    La Tortilla Cooking School

    Local people packed the market and I only saw a handful of tourists.

    The very authentic market runs seven days a week but Saturday is the busiest day.  Vendors wearing traditional Mayan clothing were selling everything from beans to squash, flowers to pots and pans, dog food to chicken.  Anything you might need can be had at this sprawling market.  I surely would have gotten lost except Julio knew the way.  We purchased a squash for our class and a candied yam to try.

    Time to Cook

    Back at La Tortilla we welcomed a couple from Belgium who have just arrived to serve as volunteers for

    With Chef Sonia

    the next two weeks.  I then met Chef Sonia who would be my teacher today.  Sonia speaks no English and I speak no Spanish and so Julio served as our interpreter throughout the class.  This actually helped me learn a bit more Spanish too!

    Over the next two hours we made six traditional dishes, combining traditional Mayan dishes, Spanish dishes and Guatemalan dishes.  Most of the recipes were simple and all used local, fresh ingredients. Here is what I learned to make;

    Atol Blanco a warm drink made from corn flour is one of the most Guatemalan of all Guatemalan dishes.  Guatemalans drink this more than coffee.  It can be served sweet with sugar and cinnamon or savory with salt, lime juice, chile and roasted ground pumpkin seeds.  I loved

    Atol Blanco

    the savory one!

    Beet Salad was made by boiling the beets with the skin on, then removing the skin and dicing with onion and lime juice, thyme and salt.

    Guatemalan Rice has its roots in Mayan culture but also was influenced by the Spanish who brought many staples to the region like spices and peppers.  Our version included onion and carrot.

    Pepian was the most complicated of the dishes we created. Considered the national dish of Guatemala, this delicious spicy meat stew (chicken or pork usually) uses roasted vegetables and spices to create a rich and flavorful base for the stew.  It was my favorite thing of the day.

    Rellinitos Julio had promised me a surprise ingredient in our dessert and sure enough I would never of thought to include BLACK BEANS

    Spices for Pepian

    with chocolate, and wrap mashed plantains around it.  But that is exactly what we did for our delicious Rellinitos, a favorite Guatemalan dessert.

    Tortillas of course a cooking class in Guatemala would include tortillas and I learned that this favorite

    Making tortillas

    items of only two ingredients (corn flour and water) is a lot harder to make than I thought.  Rolling a ball with your hands and flattening the tortilla to the  perfect size and consistency took a bit of practice.  So delicious fresh off the fire.

    Such a feast

    Time to Eat

    Being the only one in the class I was left to enjoy ALL THIS FOOD by myself as the volunteers and Chef Sonia cleaned up and got ready for the afternoon class.  I hardly made a dent on the quantity of food they set before me so they kindly packaged it up and sent it home for me to share with Arne.

    I would highly recommend La Tortilla Cooking School if you visit Antigua (and you should).  I know I can take what I learned and prepare these dishes again.

    Would you like the full recipes?  All you need to do is leave me a comment IN THIS BLOG BELOW (not on Facebook) with your email address and I will send you the PDF file I received from La Tortilla.

    I am happy to share so you too can savor the wonderful flavors of this magical, colorful country of Guatemala.

    Muy Bien!

     

     

     

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    Adventure Travel  --  Central America

    Learning About Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Location: Central America

    Cultural Travel

    San Andres, El Salvador

    Exploring and learning about ancient cultures is one of the most rewarding things about travel.  Cultivating an understanding of the powerful communities that came before our own, helps us appreciate both historic and modern-day social structures.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Joya de Ceren, El Salvador

    It’s one of the reasons I so often encourage travelers to seek out these experiences and adventures.  Sure, go to the beach, enjoy that Margarita, go snorkeling.  But don’t miss the opportunity when traveling to grasp something about the majesty of the ground you are standing on and the hundreds of generations of people who have walked it, worked it, became part of it in their end.

     

     

    Cradle of Civilization

    Caracol, Belize

    Xunantunich, Belize

    We have spent the last four months in Central America, where several amazing cultures played a significant role, long before the Spanish arrived.  One of the most ancient of these was the Maya people.  Considered one of the six “cradles of civilization” world-wide, the Central American countries of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador were home to this fascinating civilization.  To clarify the term Cradle of Civilization, here is Wikipedia’s explanation;

    “The term cradle of civilization has frequently been applied to a variety of cultures and areas, in particular the Ancient Near Eastern Chalcolithic (Ubaid period) and Fertile Crescent, Ancient India and Ancient China. It has also been applied to ancient Anatolia, the Levant and Iranian plateau, and used to refer to culture predecessors—such as Ancient Greece as the predecessor of Western civilization.”

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Altun Ha, Belize

    Our travels have taken us to ancient lands of Egypt, Jordan, India and Bangladesh.  We have also learned fascinating ancient history about Eastern Europe, Northern and Eastern Africa, China, Southeast Asia, and Greece.  And so it was with great interest that I began to understand that right here in Central America another great civilization thrived.

     

    The Maya People

    But before I go on please understand that Maya is a living culture. More than half the population of present day Guatemala are Mayan.  Though the ancient civilization communities are no more, the Mayan people continue their traditions.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The oldest Mayan findings are in Belize, dating back to 2600 BC.  Ruins of great civilizations are strewn all around this

    Tikal Guatemala

    region, some excavated, many not.  Archeologists don’t all agree as to what caused the demise of the massive Maya communities in approximately 900 AD (well before the Spanish arrived).  But warfare between cities, over production of the land and drought are all thought to have contributed.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The Maya people, like many other ancient civilizations, had an advanced calendar, written language and hierarchical social structure.  They were known as great architects (hence so many temples and entire cities still standing), artists, weapon developers and cultivators of the land.  They used the local raw materials in remarkable ways.  In Guatemala the cultivation of the cacao was (and is) important and cacao was used as currency.

    In addition it is known that they believed cacao offered both a cure and a sacrifice, and drinking cacao mixed with blood was a common ritual as was bloodletting.

    Visiting Mayan Ruins

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    During our time in Central America we visited many interesting ruins; two in El Salvador, four in Belize and the granddaddy of all, Tikal (outside the town of Flores) in Guatemala.  Each offered its own perspective on the rich and powerful Maya tribes.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    Today Maya people in these countries can trace their ancestry back to these ancient societies and be very proud.  Many local Maya work hard to preserve the culture, arts and traditions and share them with visitors.  However, the Maya, particularly in the poorest countries like Guatemala, struggle. During the Spanish occupation and more recent political unrest the Maya have been continually pushed out of their lands…many to the mountainous regions no one else wanted.  Today you will find them subsisting in agricultural communities in the hard-scrabble rocky soil, or in the more populated cities such as Antigua selling crafts or food products.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Colorful Mayan women at market

    I was particularly struck by the beauty of the Maya women, the colorful traditional clothing they still maintain today and the sense that family, hard work and religion is their life’s priority.

    During my short time in beautiful Central America I have been intrigued and surprised by the beauty of the people and the geography and especially intrigued by the history of the ancient people. Muy Bien! A fabulous experience when visiting Central America.

     

     

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