Top 10 foods of the
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
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.
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 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
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.
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
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.
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 have been a staple of Maya holiday
celebrations and festivals long before European
invasion. They are depicted in ancient Maya glyphs
and excavated artifacts.
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
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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