Native Village 
Youth and Education News

November, 2012

Top 10 foods of the Maya World
Through Ancient and Modern Times
Condensed by Native Village


Cacao plants were considered sacred gifts from the gods. Ancient Mayans roasted cacao fruit seeds to make hot chocolate. They  didn’t make candy bars nor add sugar and milk to the cacao. Instead they drank their chocolate during ceremonies and as a mood enhancer.

Mayans used cacao and cacao beans as currency. Ek Chuah, the Maya god of merchants and trade, was also the patron of the cacao crop. When the Spanish invaded Maya lands in the 1500s, they adopted the beverage, adding sugar and milk to make it sweet and creamy.


Avocados and Guacamole

The avocado was a treasured crop of the ancient Maya. Combined with chilis, garlic, cilantro, onions, and lime or lemon, avocados become guacamole, a sumptuous appetizer.

In 1917, explorer Wilson Popenoe reported why Guatemalan avocados are best: “The flesh is of a deeper yellow color, smoother, more buttery [in] texture, and richer [in] flavor than any varieties yet known in the United States.”



Poc Chuc

Poc Chuc dates to the days before refrigeration, when meat was preserved with salt. Slow-cooked pork is combined with sour orange juice and vinegar to temper the salty meat. The orange juice gives it a tangy flavor. The dish is topped with onions sautéed with coriander and a bit of sugar.




A michelada (aka chelada ) infuses cerveza with lime, coarse salt, pepper, Worcestershire and/or Tabasco sauce served in a chilled, salt-rimmed glass. Some versions also include soy sauce or Maggi seasoning. It sounds odd, but it’s refreshing and well suited to a hot day—or a rough morning.

A simple version blends just lime juice and salt with a light beer. It’s so popular that Miller and Budweiser have created their own versions of michelada.


Corn Tortillas

 In outdoor markets, handmade tortillas are heard AND tasted. There is a rhythmic clapping as women pat them into shape, then cook them on a comal, a big wood-fired iron or clay pan that looks like a Caribbean steel drum. These tortillas are only three or four inches across but thicker than what North Americans are accustomed to.

The Maya creation myth says people were made of masa (corn dough), and this remains the essential element of the indigenous Maya diet.


Traditional Breakfast

The typical Maya desayuno includes scrambled eggs, a side of black beans, fried plantains, queso blanco (white cheese,) warm yellow corn tortillas, and a cup of rich coffee made from local beans.



Seeing where your coffee comes from is an eye-opening experience.  Coffee plantation tours may include a visit to fields and talks about the virtues of shade-grown coffee. The tour then visits areas where the beans are dried and processed


Jamaica and Horchata

At cantinas throughout the Mayan world you’ll see big glass jugs with a bright red drink. It's called agua de jamaica, known simply as jamaica, (ha-MY-ka). Jamaica is made from hibiscus flower calyxes, water, and sugar. It’s high in vitamin C.

Another popular drink is horchata, a blend of rice milk, ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. Some varieties have chufa, vanilla, or barley. The result is almost like a milkshake but not as thick or rich. A horchata complements spicy food.


Authentic Tamales
 Made from masa harina (corn flour) and filled with meat, vegetables, and/or cheese, tamales are wrapped in corn husks—or banana or plantain leaves—and steamed. Then they’re unwrapped and topped with salsa. Some tamales are made with fruit or other sweet fillings. In much of the Maya world, women walk door to door selling baskets of fragrant tamales.

Tamales have been a staple of Maya holiday celebrations and festivals long before European invasion. They are depicted in ancient Maya glyphs and excavated artifacts.


“Dog Snout” Salsa
Also known as xni-pec, this fiery salsa is made with habanero chilis. It’s called “dog snout salsa” because its intense heat can make your nose moist.

In some areas this salsa,  includes not just the traditional tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lime, but also orange or grapefruit juice. In other areas, less spicy fresh salsas are served alongside bottled hot sauces.

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