Monday, May 27, 2024

15 Popular Street Foods To Try in Guatemala

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If you really want a taste of authentic street food in Guatemala, then this culinary travel guide is for you! It lists the most popular Guatemalan street foods and where to find them.

Gringa street food in Guatemala.
Street food is an important part of Guatemalan culture. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

Where to Find the Best Street Food in Guatemala

If you’re familiar with this blog, you already know how much we love eating street food when we travel.

From roti in Grenada to tlayudas in Oaxaca, Mexico, it’s impossible for us to resist indulging in local food when we’re on the go. While street vendors’ kitchen may be small, the food they deliver is big on flavour.

For decades now, my Guatemala-born husband and I have enjoyed exploring the country’s comida callejera (street food), venturing from the Mayan highlands of Lake Atitlan to the lowlands of Zacapa.

Nowhere has a better street food scene than La Antigua, the country’s original capital. The city’s rich culinary roots are a mix of Spanish, indigenous and international influences.

You’ll find fantastic street food sold by vendors in front of Antigua’s La Merced church, in the Central Market, beside parks and pretty much anywhere people congregate.

The Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in Jocotenango at night.
An evening street food tour is the perfect time to see landmarks such as 300-year-old Temple of Our Lady of the Assumption in Jocotenango. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

While the cobbled streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site are a fine example of 16th century urban planning, they can be confusing to navigate. Especially at night.

So on our latest visit, we left the driving to Cuscun, a cooking school and food tour operator offering off-the-grid, authentic experiences in and around Antigua.

Here’s our review of their evening street food tour and our favourite street food in Guatemala overall.

1. Shucos (Guatemalan Hot Dogs)

A half-order of a shuco Guatemalteco..
A half-order of a shuco Guatemalteco. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

You can’t go wrong beginning a culinary journey into Guatemalan street food with an order of shucos, a Guatemalan take on hot dogs.

Calling them hot dogs doesn’t do justice to their layers of flavour.

During our evening street food tour with Cuscun, we headed to the town of Jocotenango, Sacatepéquez, a 15 minute drive north of Antigua.

We followed the tantalizing scent of grilling meat to Skukos de Blas. He was doing a brisk business but we didn’t need to wait long for our shucos Guatemaltecos.

This hearty street food features grilled beef, pork or sausage on a pillowy soft hot dog bun. The bun itself is brushed with oil and grilled.

Preparing the bun at Shuko de Blas in Jocotenango.
Preparing the bun at Shuko de Blas in Jocotenango. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

Slathered with avocado and/or chimichurri, it comes decked out with your choice of toppings like refried black beans, tomato salsa, chopped onion and/or shredded cabbage.

It’s then garnished with ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.

Temple of Our Lady of Assumption in Jocotenango is an impressive Baroque-style church at night.
Founded in 1541, the Baroque architecture of the Temple of Our Lady of Assumption in Jocotenango makes an atmospheric backdrop to an evening of street food. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez).

It was delicious, the charred bun stuffed with grilled smoky meat, topped with condiments.

2. Gringas (Guatemalan Quesadillas)

Close-up of a Guatemalan gringa snack.
A gringa has it all when it comes to flavour! (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

You can’t claim you’ve tried the best street eats in Guatemala without trying a gringa.

This cross-cultural creation brings a magical mix of international flavours to Guatemalan street food.

We didn’t need to go far on our evening Antigua street food tour to find them. A vendor selling gringas was just steps away on the Plazuela de Jocotenango, the main town square.

Think Turkish doner kebab meets Mexican al pastor quesadilla and you’ll be close to imagining what a Guatemalan gringa is.

To begin, marinated meat (usually pork) is sliced, piled into stacks, seasoned with adobo spices and placed on a huge skewer with pineapple to form a cone-shaped tower of meat.

A street vendor skillfully grills the cheese so it melts for a gringa street food.
Note how this street vendor skillfully grills the cheese so it melts.

It’s then grilled vertically so that the juices from the caramelized pineapple and meat baste the mixture while it cooks.

To serve, the vendor slices off the juicy meat, chops it into bite-sized pieces and piles it onto a soft tortilla along with grilled melted cheese.

The result? The marinated grilled pork and pineapple oozing with melted cheese is a harmonious blend of international culinary traditions.

A person adding hot sauce to a gringa, a popular Guatemalan street food.
Add your own toppings and hot sauces to your gringa. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

A gringa is served open-faced so you can add your own topping such as pico de gallo, chopped onion, guacamole and mayo.

At 22 Q (around $3 USD) gringas are a very economical Guatemalan street food!

3. Mixtas (Mixed Tortilla)

Mixtas with toppings in Ciudad Vieja near Antigua.
Mixtas with toppings in Ciudad Vieja near Antigua. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

Mixtas, meaning “mixed” in Spanish sums up this dizzying combination of ingredients prepared with dramatic flourish while you wait.

The large size of the grill needed for mixtas means you’ll often find them served in streetside shops rather than at carts tended by street food vendors.

That was the case as we followed our Cuscun tour guide to a family-run outfit hidden away in Ciudad Vieja, Antigua’s original capital. Founded in 1524 it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption but has been rebuilt.

As we neared we could hear the boom of salsa music, the sound of chopping knives and the crackle of open flames drifting from entry of this open-air eatery.

3 people making mixtas in Ciudad Vieja. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)
Making mixtas at La Cabinita in Ciudad Vieja. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

Inside a family of three chefs was tending a giant hot grill plate laden with sizzling pork, lomo (beef tenderloin), chorizo, longaniza and chicken.

With the grill front and centre in the small shop, there was a lot of action going on. Sharp knives were flashing. Embers burst into flame as fat from marinated meat dripped onto a charcoal grill.

Onion, green pepper and scallions were splashed with oil and fried to sizzling perfection.

Woman grilling meat for mixtas on a grill.
Lots going on when making mixtas. (Credit: Michele Peterson)

Then the piping hot ingredients were tucked inside a warm tortilla or roll. More magic happened with the toppings.

Waiting customers took turns slathering on fresh guacamole, grated cheese and a choice of house-made salsas.

The elements came together in a messy but oh-so-good symphony of flavours.

You can get your mixtas to go or stay for the show. The grill action has plenty of drama and theatre.

Or, take a look at the historic church. Ciudad Vieja, the former capital of Guatemala.

4. Pupusas (Salvadorean Stuffed Tortillas)

A pupusa at Sam Pedro Las Huertas on a Cuscun street food tour.
A pupusa at San Pedro Las Huertas on a Cuscun street food tour. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

The tiny Central American country of El Salvador has a big ambassador when it comes to food.

Pupusas, the country’s national dish consisting of thick handmade tortillas filled with cheese, beans, and/or chicharron (pork rind), have gained popularity worldwide, garnering fans wherever they’re served.

We’ve enjoyed pupusas Salvadoreñas everywhere from Toronto to San Salvador, but in Antigua they’re generally served as a street food rather than at a pupuseria, a restaurant that specializes in making them.

These handmade corn tortillas are filled with a variety of ingredients, such as cheese, refried beans, chicharron or chorizo.

Sometimes, you’ll also see pupusas of loroco ( a flowering herb also popular in the traditional Guatemalan dish of pollo con loroco) or zucchini squash.

The stuffed tortillas are then fried on a griddle until golden brown. Pupusas are served with a side of curtido (a pickled cabbage slaw) and tomato salsa.

Pupupas on the grill in front of the church in San Pedro Las Huertas.
Pupupas on the grill in front of the church in San Pedro Las Huertas. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

Their delicious combination of combination of textures of the crispy exterior and melted cheesy interior make pupusas a popular street food choice among locals and visitors alike.

During our street food tour with Cuscun, we headed to San Pedro Las Huertas (Google Map), a 15 minute drive south of Antigua, to try the best pupusas in town.

The town square, anchored by the impressive baroque Catholic church dedicated to San Pedro Apostal, is a hub for socializing and street food in the evening.

7. Chuchitos (Mini-Tamales)

Young woman selling chuchitos in San Pedro Las Huertas near Antigua.
Young woman selling chuchitos in San Pedro Las Huertas near Antigua. (Credit: Michele Peterson)

Chuchitos, small parcels filled with savoury ingredients, offer a tidy, compact, and nutritious street food option.

Often referred to as Guatemalan mini tamales, these bundles of masa dough are wrapped in corn husks and steamed to perfection.

Much like their larger counterpart, these mini versions are typically stuffed with a piece of meat (usually chicken or pork) and a lightly-spiced tomato salsa.

They’re a popular street food in Guatemala as they’re very portable and not as messy as shucos, mixtas and pupusas.

Just grab one (or more) to go, pop it into your bag and you’re on your way.

During our Antigua street food tour we enjoyed our chuchitos with a mug of atol de elote, the popular Guatemala drink made of corn masa.

Another Guatemalan snack made with masa dough are chepes. They’re similar to chuchitos but are made with whole black beans and salty white cheese. They’re also very portable and have a long shelf life so are a popular street food among students and workers.

My hubby has fond memories of his student days in Guatemala City when his favourite auntie, Tia Chinda would slice a chepe, toast it on the comal and serve it with butter as an after school snack.

8. Tostadas

A row of tostadas waiting for toppings.
A row of tostadas ready for toppings. (Credit: Michele Peterson)

The simplest street food is often the most delicious and this could be said of a tostada Guatemalteca.

These crispy corn tortilla are topped with refried beans, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cheese, salsa and cilantro.

In addition to being a popular street food in Guatemala, tostadas are a favourite snack or light meal when serving a crowd as they’re super easy to prepare. You’ll see them at birthday parties and festive celebrations.

Tostadas are never assembled in advance as it’s all about crunch and flavour!

10. Garnachas (Guatemalan Street Tostadas)

Similar to tostadas, garnachas also feature a crispy base of fried tortilla. Think of them as a mini-tostada.

But instead of being topped with just refried beans, garnachas are topped with seasoned ground meat as well as shredded cabbage, tomato sauce and the usual fixings.

This street food delicacy is a more satisfying bite than a tostada but you’ll still likely order more than one.

9. Tamalitos de Chipilín

Tamalitos de chipilin in a metal serving dish in Guatemala.
Tamalitos de chipilin, a type of leafy vegetable popular throughout Mexico and Central America. (Credit: Michele Peterson)

Tamalitos de chipilín, small savory tamales, are made with a blend of corn dough and chipilín leaves.

Chipilín is also known as chepil (and longbeak rattlebox in English) and is a small shrub valuable for medicinal and nutritional purposes.

The University of Texas at El Paso reports that chipilín is rich in iron, magnesium and calcium. It’s also a source of several vitamin including vitamins B and C.

One of my favourite leafy vegetables, it has a mild flavour similar to spinach, moringa and callaloo. Its intense forest green colour makes me feel healthy just by looking at it.

Both a traditional Guatemalan dish to enjoy at home and as a street food, you’ll find tamalitos de chipilín sold by roving vendors with baskets or bins rather than at the typical street vendor food stalls.

Head to the Mercado Central in Antigua (Google Map) to try this nutritious street food. Or look for vendors when visiting the market of Chichicastenango, a top thing to do in Guatemala.

Enjoy it with a mug of ponche de frutas (hot fruit punch) or atol de elote, a traditional maize-based Guatemalan drink.

11. Elotes Locos (Crazy Corn)

Fun and messy elotes locos.

Street vendors serve elotes locos, or “crazy corn,” by grilling corn on the cob and topping it with ingredients like mayonnaise, crumbly white cheese, chili powder, and fresh squeezed lime juice.

They’re a popular snack especially at roadside vendors and special events.

Because they’re typically a daytime snack we didn’t see any elotes locos during our evening street tour in Antigua.

But I remember them well from the Giant Kite-Flying Festival an event that takes place on Día de Todos los Santos (Day of the Dead) on November 1st in Sacatapecez near Antigua.

With their bold flavour and colourful ingredients the elotes locos are the star of the show when it comes to Guatemalan street food.

Biting into one of these portable snacks is like a flavour explosion in your mouth. They’re popular with kids and adults alike.

🌟 Pro Tip: They’re very similar to Mexican elotes, a popular (and easy) Day of the Dead recipe to make at home.

12. Tortas (Hearty Sandwiches)

Any food-themed stroll through the streets of Antigua or Guatemala City is incomplete without sinking your teeth into a hearty torta.

These sandwiches feature a crusty roll filled with a variety of ingredients such as grilled meats, refried beans and avocado.

When browsing the local food carts and stalls, be sure to keep a look out for chiles relleno tortas. These are the very best tortas to try.

This traditional Guatemalan dish is made of a charred poblano pepper, stuffed with shredded meat and finely diced veggies, that’s battered and deep fried.

Guatemalan households typically serve rellenos bathed in tomato sauce with fluffy rice on the side.

But in its street food variation is equally delicious. My hubby “el chapin” would even say it’s superior.

A chile relleno torta has all of the same delectable taste but it comes tucked inside a crusty roll slathered with creamy mayonnaise.

It’s the ultimate Guatemalan street food portable feast.

13. Rellenitas de Plátano (Sweet Plantain Fritters)

A platter of rellenitos de platano a popular Guatemalan dessert and street food.
Rellenitos de platano (stuffed plantain fritters) are popular as appetizer, dessert and snack.

Indulge your sweet tooth with rellenitas, fritters of sweet plantains stuffed with pureed black beans.

Rolled in sugar and deep-fried, rellenitos provide a delightful merger of sweet and savoury.

This popular traditional Guatemalan food is street food, dessert and antojitos (appetizer).

An evening food tour with rellenitos at Santa Ana Church.
We wrapped up our evening street food tour with rellenitos at Santa Ana Church. (Credit: Francisco Sanchez)

If you take a cooking class in Guatemala, you’ll likely learn how to make these sweet treats.

During our evening street food tour in Antigua we sampled them in Santa Ana in the southeastern outskirts of town (Google Map).

The plaza across from the church is a popular place for local families to get together and enjoy food or drink from the street stalls.

A mug of steaming ponche de frutas (fruit punch), the traditional Guatemalan drink added a sweet finish to our evening.

14. Buñuelos (Sweet Fried Dough Balls)

Bunuelos on a cart in Guatemala.
Buñuelos on a street vendor’s cart in Antigua. (Credit: MIchele Peterson)

If you like Mexican churros and donut holes you’ll love buñuelos, sweet fried dough balls coated in cinnamon sugar.

These crispy golden pastries are akin to Munchkins and Timbits (donut holes) and Tom Thumb donuts (the popular fair ground food in the USA and Canada).

But buñuelos are so much better as they’re bigger and often deep fried while you wait.

Vendors serve buñuelos warm and then dust them with sugar, creating a delicious burst of sweetness.

However, buñuelos aren’t the easiest Guatemalan street food to find. They often only appear during Guatemalan festivals and celebrations.

So keep a lookout when you’re out and about. If you see some, scoop up a bag.

Trust me, you won’t be able to stop at eating just one.

15. Chocobananos (Chocolate-Covered Bananas)

Guatemalan chocobananas on a plate.
Chocobananas are an easy and popular sweet snack! (Credit: Lorena Sanchez)

Cap off your Guatemalan street food adventure with chocobananos – chocolate-covered frozen bananas.

A sweet and refreshing treat, chocobananos combine Guatemalan’s love for chocolate and tropical fruit. Look for them sold in coolers in tiendas or by vendors with pushcarts.

For another cool treat, try some helados, ice -cream served by street vendors.

They’re the perfect way to conclude your culinary explorations.

Should You Take a Guatemalan Street Food Tour?

From bustling streetside eateries to humble food carts, Guatemala offers a smorgasbord of street food adventures.

Some shot glasses and some Quetzalteca.
We received these cool shot glasses and some Quetzalteca on our Cuscun food tour! (Credit: Michele Peterson)

Taking a food tour is one of the top things to do in Guatemala. Here’s why:

  • Eating on the street in Antigua is much safer than in Guatemala City where the crime rate is higher,
  • Your small group will be accompanied by an experienced local guide who can help you order your food and specify any dietary restrictions.
  • The Evening Street Food Tour with Cuscun includes pick up and drop off at your hotel (convenient and safe),
  • Avoid traffic hassles of parking and navigation. The tour cost includes transportation in a new vehicle with AC.
  • Your local guide will introduce you to hidden gems you likely wouldn’t discover on your own.
  • A local guide will also have the most up to date information about food safety. They’ll steer you to the most hygienic restaurants, food carts and vendors.
  • From antojitos to dessert, you’ll eat so much food you can skip a meal completely.
  • It’s more fun to eat with a group than alone!

Book an Evening Street Food Tour with Cuscun on Viator.com

Learn more about Antigua Food Tours and Experiences on the Cuscun website.

Market in Antigua with pacaya
Don’t miss the food market in Antigua. (Credit: Michele Peterson)

Set in the shadow of the towering Agua Volcano, Antigua is famous for its ancient churches, charming colonial hotels and cobbled streets.

But there’s another reason to visit this atmospheric UNESCO World Heritage Site.

And that’s to sample famous traditional food like pepián, jocón and subanik!

Here are some food experiences you don’t want to miss:

Daytime Street Food Tour with Tortilla Workshop

Bean to Bar Chocolate Workshop

Guided Tour of the Antigua Market

More Travel and Food in Guatemala

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Collage of Guatemalan street foods.

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