Antigua is a vibrant, former colonial city in the Guatemalan highlands, surrounded by three impressive volcanos. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua is known for its language schools, skilled artisans and stunning architecture. The city is a lively, colorful, International melting pot of travelers, ex-pats and locals. It also boasts some of Central America’s best cuisine.
One of my favorite methods of exploring a town’s local flavor is by taking a trip to the central market. Antigua’s sprawling, maze-like market is a must-see. I headed to the west side of Antigua on a typically crowded Saturday morning, the perfect time to see hundreds of vendors in action.
The outer lanes of the massive market are lined with stalls selling clothing, toys, flowers and household goods, along with the occasional food stand. This is a great area to find some of Guatemala’s most delicious street snacks, like these cheese pupusas.
Originally hailing from El Salvador, a pupusa is a type of stuffed tortilla made from maize flour. Popular Guatemalan fillings include chicharrón (pork cracklings), or white cheese. This Central Market vendor was selling pupusas de queso that smelled so appetizing, a snack break was required. Crisp on the outside, and cheesy-gooey on the inside, the tortilla was so fresh I could taste the pounded corn. This pupusa was served with a tangy cabbage slaw and spicy tomato salsa.
Inside the market’s covered area, the lanes are narrow and maze-like, complete with the occasional dead end. Here’s where the majority of the food is sold, from meat and dairy to endless piles of farm-grown produce. You’ll find tiny food stalls tucked into nooks and crannies throughout the market selling pupusas, green mangos and Guatemalan hot dogs, or cheveres. It’s worth it to take a moment, pick a random path and get lost in the commotion.
Just down Calzada de Santa Lucia, the main street by the market, groups of vendors grill up heartier meals street-side, sometimes offering a picnic table and chairs to customers. Here you can find a range of meats: chicken or pork, sausage and fresh tortillas.
The daily special: one chicken sausage and one pork sausage, served with hot corn tortillas, soupy black beans, rice and vinegary cabbage slaw. The sausage was clearly homemade – spicy, salty and gristly, but tasted amazing folded into that soft tortilla and stuffed to the brim with beans, rice and cabbage.
It’s always a treat to run into some of the best food where and when it’s least expected. In my case, it was on a stroll to see the extensive ruins of the Cathedral of San Francisco, originally built in the 17th century but destroyed by the great earthquake of 1773. The church was rebuilt next to the ruins, and holds services today – which is why Sunday is a perfect day to hit the ruins. In the church parking lot, a number of food vendors have set up shop (and rows of tables) for hungry parishioners.
The spread was immense – so much to choose from. I finally opted for a plump, ground meat-stuffed chile relleno with all the fixings. Guatemalan chile rellenos are different from those of the same name found in other Central American countries. In Guatemala, a pepper (normally bell or jalapeño) is stuffed with ground meat and vegetables, covered in an egg batter and fried.
At San Francisco, the chile relleno was served with two freshly made tortillas, a side of radish salad and smothered in a tangy tomato sauce. The radish salad was an incredible mix of crisp mild radishes, sweet onions and cilantro tossed in lime juice. When mixed with a perfectly seasoned, tender chile relleno and chewy tortilla, it was by far the best street-side eat I encountered in Antigua.
2010 Mileage Total: 104017