Tag Archives: Guatemala

Antigua Market – Guatemala

Central American local markets are fascinating places.  They are usually dark, cramped rabbit warrens that sell everything under the sun at much cheaper prices that you can get in the supermarkets and shops elsewhere in the town.  Antigua’s local market in Guatemala is no exception.

The main reason I keep coming back to the local markets is to buy fresh produce.  It is usually about ½ the price of what you would find in the supermarkets, usually excellent quality (especially if you come on the specific “market days”) and really unbelievably cheap.

antigua market - food

The markets are typically arranged in “sections” so that it is relatively easy to do the rounds of a particular category of product.  All the larger markets have a section for fresh flowers for example.

antigua market - flowers

There is also a vast array of dried products on offer including grains and legumes, chillis and dried seafood.

antigua market - dried food

And, of course you can also buy fresh meat and seafood as well.

antigua market - meat

In addition, you can always get all manner of clothing (except exercise clothing for women – that’s quite difficult to find), shoes, kitchen goods, plastics, piñatas, and the Antigua market had a surprising number of material and candle shops.

antigua market

So if you are up for some authenticity and cheap buys, and you don’t mind getting lost (the Masaya market in Nicaragua is one of the most difficult to navigate in my opinion), I highly recommend checking out the local markets.   Just stay alert while you are wandering and perhaps avoid the main markets in the capital cities which tend to be more dangerous than those in the regional towns.

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The Kids Restaurant – Antigua

My first week in Guatemala I’d read about the Kids Restaurant.  As the name suggests, this is a restaurant that is run entirely by kids (under adult supervision), but it only opens its doors every second Friday.    Luckily I was there on one of the Fridays it was open so I decided to try it out.

It is one of the initiatives of an NGO called TESS, which offers the opportunity for kids from poorer neighbouring communities to come to the centre after normal classes to obtain computer and hospitality skills as well as English classes.   This gives them amazing opportunities in Antigua – which is the foodie capital of Guatemala and now almost entirely revolves around hospitality and tourism.

The restaurant was a little out of town, but they provide transport out for the patrons.  Once we arrived, we were met by the kids who introduced themselves in English and led us in to seat us at our tables.

Kids Restaurant Antigua Guatemala

The menu for the day was:

  • Rainbow smoothie
  • Black beans with bacon soup
  • Chicken Pitta Bread
  • Apple Crepe

All of which was really quite good, and there was heaps of it!

Kids Restaurant Antigua Guatemala

On this night, the older kids were in the kitchen cooking with their mentors.

Kids Restaurant Antigua Guatemala

Kids Kitchen Antigua Guatemala

The younger kids were waiting tables

Kids Restaurant Antigua Guatemala

And we were there on their special Fathers Day dinner where half of the patrons were actually the dads of the kids (table on the left), which was really cute.

Kids Restaurant Antigua Guatemala

 

Recommendation:  If you are in Antigua when the Kids Restaurant is running, it’s a very different and worthwhile experience, and all for a very good cause.   The kids are lovely and the food is good.

Cost:  100 Quetzales for 3 course meal plus the drink they prepare.   Beer, softdrink, etc is extra.

Time: About 3 hours from pickup to drop off

 

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Tanque de la Union – Antigua

The Tanque de la Union is one of the most famous landmarks in Antigua, Guatemala.  Originally a public “laundry” where the women would use the basins to wash clothes, it is now mostly a “lovers lane” for highschool kids.

It is absolutely gorgeous at night when it is lit up

Tanque de la union - Antigua, Guatemala
Tanque de la union - Antigua, Guatemala

And we also shot there on a Street Photography tour I did with Rudy Giron while I was in Antigua.  Love these kids sitting in the basins 🙂

Tanque de la Union - Antigua - Street Photography

 

My favourite street photography shot I took just after we’d finished the tour and right opposite the Tanque de la Union.    A very common sight in touristy areas 🙂

Tanque de la Union - Street Photography - Antigua, Guatemala

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Backstrap Weaving workshop – Antigua

As soon as you arrive in Guatemala you can’t help but notice all the incredibly beautiful textiles that the country produces.  They are absolutely everywhere, as are the women sellers who wander the main parks and streets (particularly in Antigua) to sell these items for ridiculously low prices.

While I’m sure that some fraction of them are actually mass produced, traditionally they are weaved with a backstrap loom and take an amazingly long time to create – even for an expert.   To get a little taste of what is involved, I decided to do a backstrap weaving working shop in Antigua through Tintos y Arte.

There were 2 of us in the workshop with Angelica as our very patient (and tiny) teacher who started off by explaining the multi-stage preparation of the yarns.

backstrap weaving antigua

Then it was time to sit down at our looms which had already been strung up for us.  Yes, those are individual threads running up and down, and you pass more thread from side to side to create the fabric.  We were going to make 2 bookmarks each as our handiwork.

Let me just say – it is incredibly complicated to do even the most basic weaves!   All those dowls have a purpose, and their position depended on whether you are doing the normal weave (most of mine was normal weave, and I did finally get the hang of it towards the end) or putting in accents (I had a few of these in my finished product and no, never got the hang of them).  In particular, the positions of the two smaller dowls towards the top of the loom had a very big effect on what was happening in the weave.

backstrap weaving antigua

The following image is pretty much what it looked like most of the time, with Angelica and another lady helping us constantly.   And although it’s called a backstrap loom, you actually sit on it -and you have to pull it really tight.

backstrap weaving antigua

backstrap weaving antigua

It took several hours to produce a very small item, using only the most basic of techniques (Angelica finished one of my bookmarks off by twisting the ends).   As you can see from my handiwork, keeping the tension correct in the weave is difficult, and there are actually a few “missed strands” in some of my weaves, where I didn’t quite get all threads sorted correctly before passing the thread through.

backstrap weaving workshop antigua

The workshop was really interesting and I have a whole new appreciation for just how much work goes into making the beautiful textiles in Guatemala.  Given the labour invested in just these two measly and simple bookmarks, I can’t imagine how the ladies can sell their work for so little in the street and in the artesania markets!

 

Recommendation:  Really worthwhile to get an appreciation for what all those ladies you see walking around do!

Cost: Eeek – can’t remember – I think $20, which also includes free coffee, wine or water

Time: About 3 hours.  We stayed and chatted with the ladies for another 2 hours afterwards!

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Choco Museo Chocolate workshop – Antigua

Although I’d done a cacao tour back in Nicaragua where I learned about growing and processing cacao, I decided to also do the chocolate making workshop at Choco Museo while I was in Antigua.  And although the first part covered the same information as what I’d had before (much better to do this part in Nicaragua), this workshop introduced me to some of the history of chocolate and allowed me to make my own.  Sergio was my guide and (once again) I was the only person!

During the spiel about the history of cacao, and cacao growing and processing, Sergio was showing me how roasted cacao was traditionally ground into a paste using a metate.  The idea is to get the paste smooth and silky.

chocolate metate chocomuseo

From there we headed off to the kitchen to roast our own beans, remove the cascara (skin/casing) when roasted, and ground the beans to make our own paste.   He was quite a fun guy and suggested a competition between us to see who could get to the best paste.   Second shoulder workout of the day!  Of course he was better at it than me but he claimed I won and my prize was a piece of chocolate from the shop 🙂

chocolate chocomuseo workshop

We gave the shoulders a rest after this though and made a lot more paste using a hand-cranked mill that always reminds me of watching mum and Nanny making minced meat.

chocolate chocomuseo antigua

From the casings of the cacao beans, we then brewed a chocolate tea.   Quite yummy actually, though you do have to add a bit of sugar.  Ended up buying a bag of casings to make this myself as a change from normal black tea and to supplement my last few teabags of Rooibos.

chocolate tea chocomuseo antigua

Then we prepared a Mayan style hot chocolate.  Cacao, water, honey and chili – and it had to be poured from clay jug to jug to aerate it before it was ready to drink.  Sergio’s efforts look more impressive than mine, but he had a horrible mess on the table to clean up as well 🙂

mayan hot chocolate chocomuseo antigua

Next up was preparing a Spanish style hot chocolate with cacao, sugar, milk, cinnamon and clove.   This one we stirred to mix it through rather than the messy jug to jug pouring technique – clearly the Spanish weren’t as confident/practiced in this as the Maya.

spanish hot chocolate chocomuseo antigua

Finally, we came to the chocolate creation stage – which turned out to be the least interesting part of the whole thing.  You got 250g of either dark chocolate or milk chocolate, a mould and a variety of nuts, cacao nibs, coconut and spices to add to your chocolates.   You create your masterpieces (mine were quite messy on the back as you can see), they put it in the fridge for you, and you come back in 2 hours to collect.

chocolate chocomuseo antigua

Was very happy with my little bag of goodies, but the next day I went to Quetzaltenango in a minivan and put a bag of stuff on the floor for the ride.  Turns out, I put that bag of stuff directly over the engine which was very hot – and all my beautiful individual chocolates melted into one massive pile of chocolate 🙁    Still ate it, but it wasn’t quite the same.

 

Recommendation:   Even if you’ve done a cacao tour before, this was an interesting few hours, and you get chocolates at the end of it.  The Choco Museo is just a nice place in general as well and of course you can buy without doing the workshop.

Cost: USD$24

Time:  About 2 hours plus setting time for the chocolate

 

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Antigua’s Volcanos – Guatemala

Antigua in Guatemala really is a gorgeous city.  The entire place is UNESCO protected, it has been really well restored, and although it is very touristy – it actually works (this coming from a person who doesn’t generally go in for really touristy places – hello Granada, Nicaragua).   It also has a really lovely climate (I escaped the heat finally!) and is surrounded by 3 amazing volcanoes.

The most photographed of the three would have to be Volcán de Agua, simply because the city sits right at its base and you can get a shot like this through the Arch – one of the most famous landmarks in Antigua.

Volcan de Agua - Antigua, Guatemala

The other two volcanos are Volcán Acatenango (right) and Volcán de Fuego (left).

Acatenango and Volcan de Fuego - Antigua, Guatemala

Acatenango is the most popular volcano hike in the area (no, I have stopped climbing volcanos for the moment because the views are not great at this time of year during the rainy season) as it has the best view of the very active Volcán de Fuego next to it.   When I come back to Guatemala (hopefully next year) I’ll come at a different time of year and do the overnight camping trip to Acatenango.

A couple of days after I took the above image, the view looked more like this:

Acatenango and Volcan de Fuego - Antigua, Guatemala

Yes, Volcán de Fuego had put on a spectacular show the night before, gushing fresh lava, ash and sundry.  As luck would have it – that was the night I decided to hang out on the rooftop terrace of the Airbnb I was staying at (highly recommend staying with Evelyn at Taanah) – and I even captured a lightning strike to top it all off  🙂

Volcan de Fuego - Antigua, Guatemala

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Antigua’s Doorways and Walls

There is a reason Antigua, Guatemala is a UNESCO protected city.  It is absolutely gorgeous and a lot of work has been put into restoring it.  This trip, I had a particular fascination with the vast varieties of door knockers around the city.

antigua doors

And also the gorgeous walls.   There are many, many buildings painted solid, striking colours, but I really love these walls where you can see all the different layers of colour that the building has been painted over the years.

antigua walls

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Cooking workshop – La Tortilla

After Taste Antigua’s Street Food Tour on one day, followed by the cooking workshop at El Frijol Feliz (The Happy Bean) the next (and with leftovers in the fridge), I was really thinking I should have left at least a day in between before embarking on another cooking workshop at La Tortilla Cooking School.  Oh well….

Turns out that again, I was the only student at this workshop (very nice of them to put it on for just me) and the menu was:

  • Pepián (main: chicken stew)
  • Beet Salad (side)
  • Guatemalan Rice (side)
  • Tortillas (side)
  • Rellenitos (dessert)

My teacher was Cristina, we had Javier from Argentina helping us and I got to choose the music we listened to while we worked (hello Juanes).

La Tortilla cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

As seems to be common amongst the Guatemalan stews, we started off by roasting the dried chillies, tomatos, tomatillos and other seeds to form the base of the Pepián stew.  Ideally, once this is all ready and blended up into a liquid (with stock), you would slow cook the chicken (or other meat) for several hours so it falls apart.   Obviously we didn’t have time to do this in a 4 hour cooking workshop but I will definitely cook it that way when I make this again.  The Pepián was nice, but not as incredible as the Pepián I had at La Canche on the Street Food Tour, I have to admit.

La Tortilla cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

The Beet Salad was not particularly different to others I’ve had, I preferred the Guatemalan Rice we cooked at El Frijol Feliz, but Cristina gave me some key tips on the tortilla making so I was much more successful in getting them to look even remotely round this time J   Turns out I was being too heavy handed earlier and my hands were too wet as well.

La Tortilla cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

The highlight of the dishes from this cooking school were the Rellenitos – I even thought they were better than the ones I tried on the Street Food Tour!    Essentially, they are mashed plantain filled with a chocolate and refried bean paste.  No, it doesn’t sound fabulous, but trust me – these things are truly amazing!   Will absolutely be making them again if ever I settle down somewhere for a period of time 🙂

La Tortilla cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

Once again, had way too much food for 1 person and ended up with even more leftovers for the fridge back at El Hostal.   Kept me going for a few days anyway!

 

Recommendation:  Another great activity if you like cooking and want to try some of the traditional dishes of Guatemala.   I would probably choose El Frijol Feliz over La Tortilla though – mostly because you get to choose the dishes you want to cook.

Cost:  US$45 to cook the 5 dish set menu.

Time:  About 4 hours all up.

 

 

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Cooking Workshop – El Frijol Feliz – Antigua

Arriving in Antigua, Guatemala I was so happy to discover that I didn’t have to look far to find foodie workshops.   I started my gastronomy exploration with Taste Antigua’s Street Food Tour and then signed up for two cooking workshops – one with El Frijol Feliz (The Happy Bean) and the other through La Tortilla Cooking School – over the following days.

El Frijol Feliz cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

El Frijol Feliz was first and the great thing is that you got to choose which dishes you wanted to prepare.  I chose those that I hadn’t tried before and that I wouldn’t be preparing the next day at La Tortilla and ended up with:

  • Jocón con Pollo (main: chicken in a spicy green stew)
  • Chilaquilas de Güisquil (side: chokos and cheese thing)
  • Picado de Rábano (side: radish salad)
  • Mole de Plátanos (dessert: bananas with mole)

Then the other girl who did the class with me added

  • Traditional Guatemalan Rice (side: type of fried rice)
  • Frijoles Volteados (side: refried beans)
  • Tortillas (side: “bread”)

Felisa was our cooking instructor and Armando was translating (the other girl didn’t speak Spanish), but we were right in there preparing everything with Felisa, starting with the Jocón de Pollo.

El Frijol Feliz cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

Jocón de Pollo is apparently one of the hottest dishes in Guatemala, but for a person who uses lots of chili in everything, it barely registered on the heat scale.  It was a really good flavor though, and you can’t beat that luminous green colour!

El Frijol Feliz cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

The Chilaquilas de Güisquil was actually my favourite of the dishes!  Took me ages to figure out what Güisquil was as there are lots of different types and everyone kept telling me it was type of squash, but it didn’t really look like any squash I’d ever seen.   It was only once we started peeling them and I uncovered the sliminess that existed under the tough outer skin that I realized these were Chokos!   Finally, I have found a use for the cheapest vegetable in Australia beyond Granny-Pearl’s chocko pickles J

El Frijol Feliz cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

Nobody else in the world knows what a Choko is.  Turns out it must be an Aussie term… and even though I doubt many Aussies know what it is either.   It’s that green thing you can often find for 99c in Coles/Woolies and you always wondered what the hell to do with it.   To make the Chilaquilas you basically slice the Chokos relatively thickly and form a “sandwich” with cheese in between two slices.  Then you coat this in well beaten eggs and shallow fry.  It is usually served with a tomato sauce.

The Guatemalan Mole for the Mole de Plátanos turned out to be a little different to the Mexican Mole, although the base ingredient of chocolate is common between the two.  It’s not often that I say that something is too sweet for me, but this dessert was seriously, seriously heavy duty rich – couldn’t eat too much of it and no, you can’t taste the banana at all.

El Frijol Feliz cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

The Picado de Rábano is basically radishes, mint, coriander, onion and lemon juice and was quite tasty.  The Frijoles Volteados were the best I’d ever tasted (even though they don’t look like much), the Traditional Guatemalan Rice was also highly addictive, and the Tortillas were, well tortillas kinda taste the same all over Central America.  Ours were perhaps a little more lop-sided than normal…   Here’s the complete feast all laid out!

El Frijol Feliz cooking workshop - Antigua, Guatemal

Way too much food for the two of us so I ended up with ½ of it to take home for leftovers!   Nice way to eat cheaply in Antigua and it really was very tasty.

 

Recommendation:  Great activity if you like cooking and want to try some of the traditional dishes of Guatemala.

Cost:  US$49 to cook 4 dishes (you get to choose – look on the website), though if others in the group are interested in different dishes you usually get to cook more.

Time:  About 4 hours all up

 

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Free drinking water – Antigua

Anyone who has spent any time at all travelling in Latin America knows that the water out of the tap is usually not drinkable (Santiago in Chile is the only place I’ve trusted it).    It is one of the key problems throughout Central and South America and it is the reason I bought my Travel Tap microfilter bottle for this year-long trip – so that I didn’t have to keep buying water.

There are many aid organisations trying to help the local people get access to this most basic of resources, one of which I read about in the June issue of the Revue magazine (Guatemala’s English language mag) when I first arrived in Guatemala.  Ecofiltro is a simple water filter system that was given to families in poorer areas and financed through sales of a slightly fancier product to companies, organisations, government departments, etc.

drinking water - Antigua, Guatemala

When you walk around Antigua, Guatemala, the above is a very common sight in many of the businesses.   It’s incredible to see how many have embraced the EcoFiltro to provide free drinking water refills (and cups!) to anyone who needs in Antigua, which then further helps the surrounding communities get access to their own clean water.

Another one for my list of “brilliant ideas from Latin America”.

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