Guatemala: The Fiambre and Other Foods for Day of the Dead

Once upon a time, there were a convent in Antigua, Guatemala, where the nuns had been celebrating the All Saints Day, around the 16th of the month, and they had an uninvited, but important visitor. They were really nervous because they did not have enough food to make a proper dinner for the priest, so they used their creativity instead. They collected and remixed all the leftovers from previous meals, from slices of cheese to potatoes. As a result, the Guatemalan Fiambre was born and the priest was delighted! Nowadays, it is a celebration for the entire family that begins on the night of October 31. The complex recipe [es] has up to 150 ingredients, from vegetables to meats of all kinds, even fish!

Also you can enjoy camotes en miel (sweet potatoes) and jocotes en miel, as described by Antigua Daily Photo .

Jocotes (/hoe-ko-tes /) or red mombin are often eaten raw, but you can find them as often in tasty preserves. Jocotes en miel or red mombin in syrup (literal translation of miel would be honey, but in this instance it means syrup or almíbar in Spanish) are prepared as dessert to take to the cemetery on Day of the Dead or Día de los difuntos . The idea is to take foods that are prepared in advance and that do not need heating up or that spoil quickly. That’s why you take fiambre , and whatever fruits are in season prepared as dessert.

For many Guatemalans, Fiambre is just too much for some tastes, so some families just order pizza, such as the family of the blogger from Fe de Rata [es] :

De noviembre. Día de los muertos. Día de Fiambre, el platillo tradicional guatemalteco por excelencia. Compuesto de carnes frías, vegetales curtidos, quesos, toda suerte de embutidos y cualquier cosa comestible para el ser humano. Gastronomía infernal a mi paladar. No me gusta, mátenme, lo sé. Ese día en la reunión familiar -para recordar a nuestros muertos-, como pizza con los niños y tomo vodka con los grandes.

November. Day of the Dead. Day of the Fiambre, the traditional Guatemalan Dish par excellence . It is made with meats, prepared vegetables, cheeses, all kinds of cold cuts and any food eatable for a human being. Gastronomy from hell, it is just not for me. I don´t like it. During the family festivities – to honor our dead – I eat pizza with the kids and drink vodka with the adults.

Photo by CVander and used under a Creative Commons license

During the festivities of Day of the Dead, many places have other delicious culinary traditions besides Fiambre, such as pumpkins, sweets, drinks made of corn, as described by Quemar los Barcos [es]

Los habitantes de otras localidades del país practican diferentes costumbres. En Comalapa se prepara el cocimiento, hecho a base de elote, güicoy y güisquil hervidos, acompañados de atol de elote y cusha, una bebida embriagante. Elote, camote y güisquil asados son servidos en San Pedro La Laguna, Sololá. En Petén, los niños salen por la noche del 31 de octubre a pedir Ixpasá para la calavera. El Ixpasá es una bebida hecha de maíz negro, la cual acompaña los bollos y tamales peteneros. Se vacían toronjas y se les hace una carita similar a la de las calabazas y adentro se les pone una velita. También se come dulce de ayote, molletes y jocotes en dulce y, por supuesto, el fiambre.El Ixpasá es una bebida hecha de maíz negro, la cual acompaña los bollos y tamales peteneros. Se vacían toronjas y se les hace una carita similar a la de las calabazas y adentro se les pone una velita.

The residents from other local communities around the country have different traditions. In Comalapa they prepare “cocimiento,” made with corn, güicoy (native cabbage) and güisquil (known also as chayote) , boiled and served with a drink made by corn called cusha. Grilled corn, sweet potato and güisquil are also prepared in San Pedro La Laguna, Sololá . In Petén, kids go out during the night of October 31, to ask for Ixpasa for their Calaveras. Ixpasa is a drink made with black corn, accompained with muffins and tamales from Petén. You empty the contents of grapefruits and carve a face similar to the ones made on pumpkins , where you light a candle inside.

The Governor of Petén tells a story of different celebrations for children in San José, Petén, where they celebrate by eating Ixpelón Muffins made with corn and a drink called Atol the Ixpasa, as Rudel Alvarez explains with his post The Calaveras Tradition :

Consiste en sacar de la Iglesia, tres calaveras que dicen son de unos monjes españoles que sacrificaron los Itza, y hacer una procesion por todo el pueblo. … Las Calaveras salen en procesion desde las ocho de la noche luego de oficiar la misa, y regresan hasta el día siguiente al mediodía. Ahora como hay buena carretera son cientos de gentes del area central que van a ver esa procesion, y por supuesto comer bollitos gratis.

It involves going inside the Church to take out three Calaveras, some said that they belong to three monks sacrificed by Itza indigenous people, and process throughout the entire town. The Calaveras are taken out at 20:00 hrs after mass, and then are returned at noon on the next day. Since now we have a nice road, there are hundreds of people from the central area that attend the parade and go to get their free muffins.

Food in our culture and rituals such as Fiambre are powerful traditions that bring all the members of Guatemalan families together, and where you can see the cultural blending than enriches our places and our communities. I can't wait for next year!


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