Guatemalan Hospitality at its Best
Every time I visit Guatemala I rediscover the magic of its people. As I write this article, I find myself surrounded by spring-like weather and mesmerizing scenery in La Antigua Guatemala.
As Lent approaches, I have been carefully observing the preparations for the big celebration, from the specially decorated floats and devoted volunteers signing up to carry them, to the amazing displays of dried fish and seafood at the mercado. Holy Week in Antigua (as the locals call it) – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is the largest and most dramatic celebration of this special Catholic season in the world. To really feel its splendor, it’s helpful to be onsite, as pictures don’t do it justice. This year Holy Week will be celebrated from March 25-31.
A few days ago, I was invited to attend a 60th birthday party celebration. Lucky me, I had been in Antigua for just a few days. My cousin Armida’s former classmate’s party was what I call Guatemalan hospitality at its best. Not only did they include me without knowing me, but the festivity incorporated welcome traditional appetizers, a well-stocked bar, a nice barbecue lunch with delicious sides, and very fitting experiences to combine the birthday celebration, Carnaval (Mardi Gras), which precedes Ash Wednesday, dancing, a piñata with party favors, raffles and fun and games.
The meal was prepared by the party girl’s younger son, who impressed me with his cooking skills despite not being an experienced cook. As we sat at a table harvest style, I joined the nicest group of women classmates who had all graduated from the school of pharmacy at one of the local universities. As the party went on, we proceeded to all the activities that even included a cooking challenge, where I participated.
Carnaval in Guatemala is a unique experience in which children (and some adults) wear costumes and schools, as I recall it, have costume contests. The celebration is highlighted with cascarones (colorful dyed egg shells filled with confetti and sealed with glue and tissue paper). During a fun exchange, participants break the cascarones on unaware guests’ heads while bursting into loud laughs while connecting through friendly exchanges. At the end, people end up with lots of colorful pica pica (confetti) on their heads – a festive symbol.
Although piñatas may be primarily for children’s birthday parties, adults can add them too to their party agenda. The result was precious, as we took turns beating on the Flintstone’s Wilma, candy flew all around party guests. As the beating concluded, Wilma was shaken vigorously to release any remaining candy. A candy-collecting frenzy by middle-age women on all fours is priceless! Party favors included cheaters (reading glasses) and packages of candies labeled as blood pressure and cough medicine, a small container for soaking dentures, small plastic bottles labeled as Maalox, a Jell-O snack, and many more fun items commonly used by aging folks.
Fun and games included pick a number and win a prize, gift exchanges, a small broom to “sweep” the polilla (sawdust resembling rotting wood) from the guests, and dancing around the chair contest with lively Latin tunes. Three contestants participated in the three-minute egg white fork-beating challenge. I was one of the finalists, and we broke the tie with the piedra, papel o tijera (rock, paper, scissors) children’s game. I didn’t win, but I had the time of my life.
I can’t think of the last time I had this much fun in a party combining so many amusing parts highlighting middle age in such an enjoyable and unique way while embracing the special season’s events. Below is a recipe for one of the appetizers that is a staple in Guatemalan cooking.
¡Salúd y Buen Provecho!
Cheers and Bon Appetit!
Frijoles Volteados (Refried Black Beans)
Recipe by Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard (AmaliaLLC.com)
Makes 4 cups
Start with 2 cups of dried black beans cooked with one whole head of onion and garlic in 5 cups of water in a crock pot set on high for 3-1/2 hours. Puree the beans in a blender.
Panfry one cup of chopped yellow onions in 2 tablespoons of canola oil until medium brown. Add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the bean purée, season with salt, and fry the mixture over medium heat stirring frequently to prevent sticking and burning until very thick and pasty adding 4-5 tablespoons of canola oil gradually during the process. This may take up to 30 minutes. The mixture is done when the beans no longer stick to the pan and can be shaped into any form. Shaping the beans into an American football-like form is the traditional way.
As a boquita (appetizer), serve with corn tostadas or toasted soft corn tortillas.
Alternatively, start with whole plain canned beans, purée, and follow panfrying procedure above.
REVUE magazine article by Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard
Amalia Moreno-Damgaard is an award-winning bestselling chef author born and raised in Guatemala City currently living in the Twin Cities. She provides individuals and companies with a taste and understanding of Latin cultures through healthy gourmet cuisine education, consulting, bilingual speaking and writing and fun culinary experiences.
Her cookbook “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen-Gourmet Cuisine With A Cultural Flair” has won 9 international awards. AmaliaLLC.com