Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cooking Adjustments in Guatemala part 2

Something I've written about before, cooking in another country, is always a bit tricky to figure out at first. Take cornmeal for example. It's necessary for that gritty crunch that gives cornbread or hushpuppies their unique flavor. Guatemala is a country where corn is one of the most consumed items. Usually, it is made into corn flour that is then used to make masa; a base for all sorts of things like pupusas, tamales, tortillas etc. Since corn is so abundant, it would seem that corn meal would be really easy to get... but I never discovered where! I am sure it is possible to make your own somehow by taking corn to a grinding meal, but I've never heard of that either. Curiously, some of the pizza places use corn meal sprinkled on and under their crusts. This makes me wonder if it is something that those restaurants import, or if I just really had no clue where to find it.

Another thing I discovered was really hard to find was inspired by a Valentine's Day gift from a student: strawberry flavored heart-shaped marshmallows. For me, the best thing to do with marshmallows, whatever the flavor, is to make them into rice crispy treats! People knew what those were, it's not something you see everyday here, but I figured Rice Crispies existed. After searching Paiz (now bought out by WalMart,) however, and several other stores I found that they apparently do exist, but only in the flavor of chocolate.

In Texas, many people visit border towns in Mexico and make it a point to bring back "real Mexican vanilla." Mexico is just north of Guatemala. For some reason, in Guatemala, all I could find was artificial vanilla. I'm not a super picky cook, but I definitely prefer real spices to their artificial counterparts.

Some other spices I had trouble locating were cream of tartar and sage.

When we first arrived in Guatemala, though much thicker than what we were used to, sour cream was not difficult to find. By this summer, though, I wondered if it were a seasonal item. I know it used to be in the store, but it hasn't been for several months prior to us leaving.

Beyond food differences or disappearances, something else I've noticed is that baking seems to be viewed as more of a "rich" thing because of the price of gas and difficulty in obtaining an oven by the majority of people. I've seen some people who use the oven part only for storage. Another difference with the ovens, besides being in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, is that every one I've ever seen here only has one baking rack instead of two.

None of these things were major, just things I noticed while trying to prepare food I was used to cooking. Much of it, I am sure, was simply my lack of experience with finding things in Guatemala.

Have you had any luck finding these things, or perhaps have ideas for making them yourself?

3 comments:

  1. I have wondered the same thing about the corn meal too. Why can't I get any that would be good for cornbread... it sounds like it should be easy, but I have never figured it out. I have never found sage either, I finally bought some in the States. There is one store in Petén with Cream of Tartar. Sadly I have never found non chocolate rice crispies either.

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  2. Won't the cornmeal you can buy at La Bodegona in Antigua work? I mean we bought it to make tortillas with our housekeeper and friend Maria. I did some cooking but not too much while I was there, trying to cook in an oven with no gage because it wa gas was problem enough along with my bad cooking skills. I was trying ot remember the name of this other shop we didn't find until alot later that had alot of imported american stuff, they had alot of stuff there but no rice crispie's although if you went to breakfast at a buffet they had them in little boxes, becuase I remember getting them for Maya to snack on. Too funny you can't get good vanilla there ,I never looked.

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  3. Leah, The Maseca used to make corn tortillas is corn flour, and it is much, much finer than corn meal. I DID make "cornbread" with that, but it wasn't very good and definitely missed that flavor that only cornmeal makes. Is this what you meant? If you've actually found cornMEAL somewhere, please let me know!

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