Conch kebabs, cactus soup and chocolate chicken

March 14, 2008 - Panajachel, Guatemala

One of the best parts about travelling is the different food you can sample as you traipse the globe. My travels through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala have certainly been a gastronomic experience!

The spiciest (picante) food that I have eaten was a traditional Oaxacan dish in a restaurant in Mexico City overlooking the zócolo (main square). It was a delicious beef stew with lots of chillies, and I needed two margaritas and some water to wash it down :) Mexican food is nothing like Taco Bill or the pre-packaged taco shells and mix that you buy in the supermarket in Australia. Generally tacos are quite bland, and you add the pepers/capsicums/chillies/other spicey stuff at the table. Most dishes are served with soft tortias (which are much easier to eat than the hard variety), and sometimes corn chips. The spicier dishes have been in Guatemala, where stews are a more common menu item.

Our Cuernavacan host family seved dishes with an Italian influence as well as traditional Mexican fare. This is where I first tried Mexican frijoles - refried black beans blended to form a paste or sauce. Our host mother Pilly also served us cactus soup. The prickly bits are cut off the rounded cactus and the leaves are sold in markets everywhere. The soup tasted quite creamy/oily, but was very nice - and yes, very green.

On our travels to Oaxaca, known for its traditional fare, I tried the local mole (pronounce it mole-ay). It has a chocolate base and lots of spices - and was served over chicken. The mole was quite thick and rich, and there were no vegetables to accompany the meal. Not something I´d order every day, but definitely worth trying! Oaxaca has a street with chocolate dust rising above the traffic, and Jo, our new friend Helen, and I stumbled across it one afternoon. Men in chocolate shops on both sides of the road combined spices with chocolate that was then made into blocks of drinking chocolate. Chocolat caliente (hot chocolate) Oaxacan-style is extremely thick and rich, with lots of spices, especially when you get to the bottom of the cup. It can be made with milk or water - I went for the milk option which probably wasn´t the best choice and I am now avoiding milk in Central America. It´s a shame, because I love hot chocolates. Dairy in helados (ice-cream) doesn´t seem to give me a stomach ache though, so I have been doing a fair bit of research for the café. Jo and I have also been researching margaritas - a study I think we´ll have to continue in Cuba as well.

Further along our travels we had the opportunity to try conch. It is the meat from the huge sea shells in Belize. I was a little unsure about the conch´s status, but figured if it was on the menu, it must be okay to eat it. I found out afterwards that it´s an endangered species, so it won´t be something I´ll be recommending. However, for those of you interested in what a conch kebab tastes like, it has a rather rubbery texture and mild flavour, which goes really well with vegetables on a big stick. At least we abided by the lobster ban for March and didn´t order any of them!

There has been a lot of seafood in my diet over the past week or so as we´ve been either near the sea or a major lake. Grilled fish fillet with garlic or olive oil and steamed vegetables is a favourite - in fact, anything with vegetables is well received; although they´re in the markets, they don´t make a very big impact on the restaurant menus.

Pizza seems to be the international food. In most major towns you´ll find an Irish pub and an Italian restaurant. Japanese restaurants also make a big splash in Mexico (which is great because they offer veggies). The pizzas vary in quality, and I´m still getting used to the different cheeses used, but they´re usually a good alternative if I need a break from the traditional food. Usually though, I´m happy to sit down to a dinner of beef tortias with salsa, guacamole, and some spicey green chilli sauce. Talking of which, it´s dinner time now. Buen provencho (good digestion), as they say :)


The volcano that Jo climbed on her birthday
We´re going where?
Hot stuff
Jo´s surprise birthday cake


March 14, 2008
Katie,you could re-name your world trip as Katie's guide to everything possible in cuisine. Have a nice day daughter. love Dad.
March 15, 2008
keep safe, you nutcase, ;-)

Barry Boehm:
March 18, 2008
You will have to cook up the Oaxacan for Ian and me when you get back, so make sure you get the receipe and ingredients. Ian has expressed concerns as to what you will bring home!! Just keep travelling its a great experience (apart from the hangovers!!)
Best wishes Barry
Denise Otkin:
April 2, 2008
I think your trip is great and your stories are wonderful, I wanted my 10 and 12 year old kids to read some of your journals and see how you really can go on a trip like yours, and see the world and experince the traditions and lifestyles of others. thanks, keep safe
Katie Findley:
April 4, 2008
Thanks Denise. Keep reading, I hope to file a few more updates soon, Cuba was fantastic!
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