Traditional Christmas Dishes Of Guatemala You Should Try

Guatemalan tamales negros

Every country has their own holiday traditions when it comes to food, and Guatemala is no exception. Here are the Christmas dishes of Guatemala you need to try to make your Guatemalan Christmas experience complete.

Tamales Colorados (Red Tamales)

guatemalan tamales

Tamales can be had year-round in Guatemala. With over 250 regional varieties, you could spend well over a year trying a different one every day. In Antigua, the specialty is Tamal Colorado (Red tamale), a popular version throughout the country. You can read more about them here as well.

Guatemalan families get together on Christmas Eve to celebrate and dinner is served at midnight – tamales, Pan Frances (Guatemalan “French” bread), and coffee is the traditional meal. And of course, you need to set off fireworks at the stroke of midnight first, eat, then open presents. Fireworks are also set off at midday on the 25th.

Tamales Negros (Black Tamales)

Guatemalan tamales negros

Tamales Negros (black tamales) can be a bit of an acquired taste. They’re basically prepared like a regular tamale for the most part, except a few sweet items are also added to the mix. You can taste the corn dough – disconcerting if you’ve had regular tamales before, but the chocolate sauce, prunes, cinnamon, and raisins make it a totally different dish. The corn dough is also a bit different, as it has champurradas (sweet cookies similar to biscotti) mixed into the dough.

Curiously, these tamales also include a bit of meat (pork or chicken), just like the red tamales, adding to the dissonance of the dish.

Ponche de Frutas (Fruit Punch)

Ponche de Frutas Guatemala

My wife loves ponche de frutas and could chug a gallon daily if she could. Personally, I think it’s super sweet – I like it, but don’t crave it. In Antigua, ponche is easy to find during the month of December, although street vendors might have it only on weekends. This ponche can be consumed hot or cold, though I prefer the first on a chilly night. A cup of ponche, loaded with fruits, goes for Q5.

You can also find the dried fruit required to make this at La Bodegona and pineapple, papaya, and other fruits at the Mercado. Some vendors add jocote fruit as well. This punch is said to originate in Antigua. Find the recipe here.

Ponche de Leche (Milk Punch)

Pretty much every country has their own take on milk punch. In the USA, it’s known as eggnog – their version is much thicker than the Guatemalan punch, as their recipe calls for a much higher ratio of egg yolks to milk and the addition of cream.

ponche de leche guatemalteco
Ponche de Leche – via elguatemalteco.wordpress.com

Guatemala’s version has a lot more milk, fewer egg yolks, and doesn’t contain cream. For comparison, a standard USA eggnog recipe calls for 3 egg yolks per cup of milk, while the Guatemalan recipe allows just one egg yolk per every 2 cups of milk.

There’s another drink that’s much closer to eggnog here – Guatemalan Rompope. Similar to the Mexican Rompope, the Guatemalan version is creamier (more egg yolks, but less than Mexico’s version) and the recipe includes a generous glass of white rum.

Ponche de Leche (milk punch) is much easier to find in Antigua, as street vendors sometimes offer it during the holidays. To try Rompope, you may have to hunt it down a bit, as this drink is more common in the highlands near Quetzaltenango (Xela) – the drink originates from nearby Salcaja. Or you can make your own, as it’s not terribly difficult to prepare. Find the recipe for Guatemalan Rompope here.

Other Dishes

In addition to tamales, you can find other traditional dishes gracing Guatemalan tables. roasted turkey and roasted pork legs are very popular here, as is Pollo Relleno (stuffed chicken).

Pollo Relleno is one of my favorite dishes, but very time-consuming to prepare. My wife makes a delicious version, but it takes her a long time to prepare, as the chicken is completely deboned, including leg bones (lazy cooks do not do this and only stuff the inside of the chicken, bones and all).

The chicken then is typically stuffed with pork, ham, beef, nuts, vegetables, and sometimes raisins, all which has been cooked beforehand. The whole thing is baked in the oven – the smell throughout the house is mouth-watering.

Pollo relleno guatemala

Pollo Relleno (stuffed chicken)

In Antigua, you can find Pollo Relleno at Pimpollo A La Leña, my favorite wood-fired roasted chicken joint. Their recipe is inferior to my wife’s, as it only has beef, apple, nuts, and raisins. It’s the best option available unless you happen to be in my home when my wife makes one ;)

Guatemalans also love to eat apples and grapes at Christmas. Well, all fruits get a lot pricier during Christmas season, to be honest.

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What’s your favorite Christmas dish?

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Christmas Activities In Antigua Guatemala

New Year's Eve Antigua Guatemala

Christmas season in Antigua Guatemala is in full swing right now. There are posadas almost every day and it’s easy to find traditional hot ponches – my wife prefers the more popular fruit version (de frutas – made with pineapple and dried fruits), while I prefer the milk version (de leche – somewhat like eggnog but not as thick and spiked with rum on request). More on Christmas season’s traditional food on a later post, as we’re going to focus on Christmas activities today.

The two big dates remaining on the calendar are Christmas Eve and New Year’s celebrations. Most of the Christmas activities in Antigua happen earlier in the month, such as the Burning of the Devil, Guadalupe Day, and Christmas at Calle del Arco. But don’t worry! You can still catch celebrations in a few different places.

Festival Navideño – Guatemala City

The biggest spectacle taking place is in Guatemala City, at the Festival Navideño, a dazzling display of lights and North American Christmas music. The drawback is that traffic to and from the city is horrendous at this time of the year.

If you’re set on checking it out, I recommend catching an Uber ride early in the afternoon and plan to stay the night in the city and return the next day.

Christmas Concert

This is a late addition, as it was just announced today. As is the custom every year, there will be a Christmas concert at Parque Central. The event will be held Saturday, December 23rd, at 7 PM, and will feature the Bob Porter Orchestra, a big band outfit.

Bob Porter Orchestra

Bob Porter Orchestra

In years past, they’ve typically covered Christmas songs and some standards – great easy listening music. Light show at the show’s intermission!

Convite Celebrations

If you don’t care to head to the city – or don’t have time, then stick around to check out the convite celebrations held in various towns around Antigua. These elaborate parades, along with posadas, are the most traditional Guatemalan celebrations and worth checking out.

Procesion Virgen de Guadalupe Antigua

Convite (parade), Ciudad Vieja – held every December 7th

While convites take place year-round in Guatemala, you’ll have a chance to catch at least a couple of convites before the end of the year.

-Parramos Convite: Held every December 28th, this celebration includes music concerts, beauty contest, and horse and costumed characters parades. Parramos is about 45-minutes away from Antigua and rarely visited by foreigners. Go if you’re comfortable with your Spanish and know your way around. Otherwise, I recommend visiting San Miguel Dueñas instead.

-San Miguel Dueñas Convite: Happening on December 30th. This town is much closer than Parramos to Antigua (about 25 minutes by bus) and their parade is well worth visit. The costumes are elaborate and the music loud and festive – don’t forget your camera.

Both towns are easy to reach via direct buses leaving from Antigua. Antigua’s patron saint celebrations happen at the end of July, but you can still catch a small traditional celebration every New Year’s Eve at Calle del Arco.

Moros y Cristianos Antigua Guatemala

Celebrations at Calle del Arco on New Year’s Eve

Christmas Eve

The most important Christmas tradition is the Christmas Eve dinner. Well, technically, the dinner doesn’t happen until the stroke of midnight (December 25th). At that time, Guatemalans take to the streets in front of their homes to light fireworks, returning inside the home a few minutes for a traditional meal of tamales and fruit ponche (punch) and to open Christmas gifts. What if you weren’t invited by a local family to share in their tradition? As it happens, a few Antigua restaurants offer special Christmas Eve dinners with traditional Guatemalan staples such as “red tuna sashimi” and “crab and coconut cream” (yes, that was sarcasm). Check out:

Las Velas Restaurant at Hotel Camino Real (7a Calle Poniente #33B): Q295 per person for a complete dinner + 10% service charge.

Las Palmas (6a Avenida Norte #14): Q139 per person for a complete dinner.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Antigua is a popular destination for revelers from Guatemala City to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Parties start early and most people hit the street to wait for midnight at two locations: Arco Santa Catalina and Parque Central, in front of the Municipal Palace.

Quema de Toritos y Alas New Year's Eve Antigua Guatemala

New Year’s Eve events at Calle del Arco

Having welcomed the New Year at both locations, I prefer the park – it’s less claustrophobic and you get a better view of the fireworks going off in the surrounding towns. But these are by no means the only two places to welcome 2018. Many restaurants in town offer special menus, live music, and a midnight toast, along with a few fireworks. Some restaurants will charge a cover. Make sure to call ahead for reservations, as some of these places will be quite popular.

I need to make a special mention of Cerro San Cristobal, which has an amazing view of the valley – great for catching the fireworks going off at midnight in Antigua. They have live music starting at 6 PM. Check out the video below, taken from the restaurant:

Here’s a list of restaurants offering New Year’s Eve dinners and parties:

Dinners

-Las Velas Restaurant at Hotel Camino Real (7a Calle Poniente #33B): Q290 per person for a complete dinner + 10% service charge.

-Las Palmas (6a Avenida Norte #14): Q139 per person for a complete dinner. Live music at 11 PM.

-Guat Ik (4a Avenida Norte #4): Q139 per person for a complete dinner. Live music, midnight toast.

-NiFu-NiFa (3a Calle Oriente #21): Live music, midnight toast.

-El Viejo Cafe (6a Avenida Norte #12): Live music.

-Welten (4a Calle Oriente #21): Dinner menu starts at Q308 – beverages not included. Live music.

Parties

-Hotel Camino Real (7a Calle Poniente #33B): Las Vegas White Party – all you can eat and drink buffet dinner. Buy tickets at the hotel in advance.

-Restaurante del Arco (5a Avenida Norte #25): Hollywood New Year’s Party – live music and cover. Midnight toast.

-Door Eleven (1a Calle Poniente #11): No cover. Live music (Spanish rock covers).

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How will you spend Christmas?

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