Thursday, November 18, 2010

Guatemalan Cuisine: Corn

Seed corn hanging outside my door; ready for the next cycle of planting in April.

Virtually every meal I have been served in Guatemala has been accompanied by tortillas.  In my training host family there were rare exceptions (maybe 2-3 times a month) for either hot or cold cereal breakfasts, and I’ve had a few meals out at a food court without them as well.  Tortillas can be used as a wrap, in place of utensils, and as a napkin.  I still manage to get oil all over my hands and face when we eat, but the rest of my Sumpango family manages to be neat and tidy with tortillas on hand.  My site family actually uses no utensils at all, simply relying on fingers and tortillas to scoop the selection du jour more or less directly (less, in the case of the toddler of the house) to their mouths.  

All meals have a basket of hot tortillas wrapped in cloth in the center of the table.
Tortillas come in white (generally bought cornmeal), yellow (more often ground at home or at a nearby mollinera), and black (also ground at home, and it actually looks purplish).  These tortillas are made by hand, and are made of cornmeal and water.  No oil, no salt.  The ones I had in Sumpango came out thicker than tortillas I’ve encountered in the states (perhaps to accommodate the dental situation of my grandmother).  They are soft right after their initial batch, but get increasingly crispy as they are reheated on the comal for successive meals.  At my site we eat slightly tortillas with a wider diameter, but I’m told that’s just the style of my household, not the town.

My Sumpango abuela reheats some tortillas for our next meal.
Once in a great while we substitute tamalitos for tortillas, which are like small tamales without any filling, or sometimes with a fresh herb like chipilin mixed in with the masa.  These are often used just as tortillas would be alongside the meal.

In snacking situations or at a party, tostadas sometimes make an appearance.  This goes back to my first meal in Guatemala (see here), and they can come with beans, guacamole, a tomato based sauce, shredded radish salad with lime, meat, onions, tomatoes… you name it.  This is my new favorite snack (or perhaps just a favorite meal).  Even the plain tostada shell is pretty tasty to munch on, if you ask me.

If Guatemalan Cuisine were a soap opera or a telenovela, Corn would be the Martriarch of the cast.  Always present, but generally not the focus; a foil for whatever else is going on in the meal / episode. Guatemalans (well, Mayans) consider themselves to be People of the Corn.  The Mayan creation story holds that the gods created humans out of corn (after a few attempts with other materials that didn’t go so well).  For many Guatemalans, it’s not a meal if corn isn’t involved.  They may have eaten a fair bit of food, but if there wasn’t a corn based staple, it was just a refracci√≥n (snack).  Corn is the starting and ending point, it gave birth to this civilization.  It is ever present, and the basis from which the rest of the meal builds. 

1 comment:

  1. Bethany, I truly enjoy reading every word you write. Thank you for sharing your experience with us! I'm proud of you for what you are doing.