AMALIA’S KITCHEN Splendid Table Celebrations

As the end of the year approaches, I can’t help but think about the special celebrations that bring families together. As nostalgia sets in, I reminisce about the precious times I spent with my family while living in Guatemala, and every time I return to visit, it’s like I never left.

Amalia's Kitchen


For me, the Day of the Dead and All Saints Day (Nov. 1 and 2) mark the beginning of the year-end special get-togethers where a unique meal is the center of the festivity. Having lost a beloved relative recently, I remind myself that death is as precious as life itself. Mystery is a personal journey that we all encounter when faced with the reality of our own mortality. It is situations like these that bring our families closer together.

In the Latin tradition, grounded in religion and paired with pagan beliefs, el Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is indeed a celebration of life showcasing the deceased in unique ways. In Guatemala, we take the revelry from the house to the cemetery and back to the house.

In Mexico, the ofrenda (shrine) is a creative altar of deceased loved ones or celebrities. Here catrinas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls) are beautifully hand painted and decorated attractions dressed in customs often depicted performing life’s situations as if they were still alive.

In Guatemala, fiambre (a 45+ ingredient culinary masterpiece) is the star dish along traditional desserts made with panela or piloncillo (raw sugar cane) and eaten as the main meal only for the Day of the Dead.

The real celebration begins at least three days before as families source various and unique traditional ingredients needed to make the special cold dish from the markets, deli and grocery stores. The actual experience of preparing and making fiambre is as special as eating it.

Amalia's KitchenMexico celebrates with special treats made of sugar. Sugar skulls, carefully decorated with colorful icing, are the delight of young and old. Although not meant to be eaten, they provide an opportunity to grasp the meaning of the holiday in a fun activity.

Ofrendas often showcase the favorite meals of the deceased while the living feast on delicious morsels by region. My friends from Oaxaca and Puebla celebrate with tamales and mole. There is even a dedicated museum in Mexico City with the most colorful and creative works of art Day of the Dead themed.

Having become multicultural (from living in the U.S. and marrying a Dane), I can’t help but bring up another special holiday that I have noticed is gaining momentum here, especially in the La Antigua Guatemala region where a large community of Americans and Europeans live and visit regularly. The Thanksgiving Day turkey, pumpkin pie and special trimmings are now part of the seasonal menus of many hotels and restaurants.

I can’t wait to prepare and enjoy the foods that I cherish for the holidays, such as fiambre, tamales and turkey. Meanwhile, here is a quick recipe for a festive drink to add color and fun to your menu this year. I wish you a delicious time and the very best holiday season!

Amalia's Kitchen

recipe by Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard

Serves 4

4 apples or pears, peeled cut into bite-size pieces

The juice of 1 lime

1 cup passion fruit juice

2 tbsp honey

1 oz. dark Guatemalan rum (or other rum of preference)

½ tsp pumpkin spice


4 strawberries
4 mint sprigs

Peel and cut the fruit. Immerse it in cold water with the juice of one lime to keep it from turning dark.

Make the sauce. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk to dissolve the honey.

Divide the cup equally and put it in clear glasses or cups. Pour the sauce dividing it equally among all four glasses.

¡Buen provecho!


Amalias kitchen GuatemalaAmalia Moreno-Damgaard
is an internationally recognized award-winning author and chef entrepreneur who consults and builds strategies for global food companies and non-profit organizations developing products and acting as brand ambassador and spokesperson and creating PR/marketing campaigns for successful high-end galas and fundraising events. Her mission is to bridge the knowledge gap of Latin American culture in the United States while creating awareness about cultural nuances and educating companies and individuals through bilingual speaking and writing, strategic consulting, and fun healthy gourmet culinary experiences.
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