Everyone I know in South Florida loves Spanish, Mexican, and especially Cuban dishes, but I’m not sure many people appreciate the differences that define each Latin cuisine.
Take Guatemalan cuisine. What makes it distinct?
For those who love Cuban, you’re really getting the best of African, Caribbean, and Spanish influences, while Guatemalan cuisine is primarily drawn from Spanish and Mayan influences.
Don’t be fooled by the modern facade of this traditional Guatemalan restaurant – El Pueblo Chapin offers a down-home variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner entrees at affordable prices.
Sure, the world’s food comes down to a few similar animals and ingredients in grave generalization, but the dishes take on new meaning and life when distinct ingredients come into play. This is the case at El Pueblo Chapin.
Take the restaurant’s version of Guatemala’s national dish, Pepian de Pollo ($8.25), for example: It is a brilliant expression of spice and depth that is served simply with white rice. This is a hearty chicken stew in which subtle spices and ingredients (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chilies, masa) add range and a fine balance. The result is almost elegant and seriously enjoyable. What a gem to find on a local lunch menu.
Whenever you see the term “guisado” on the menu, it means stew – and it usually means damn tasty. At Chapin, I ordered the Rabo Guisado ($8.25), or oxtail stew, a rich dish served with steamy white rice. Unlike the Chicken Pepian, this stew’s flavors seemed out of balance, overly fatty. It’s a good thing it was accompanied by a basket of warm, handmade corn tortillas. Tucked into a vibrantly colored dishcloth, the thick tortillas helped to sop up the stew’s juices.
Lunch is a regal thing here, to be enjoyed in a setting lined with colorful naive art and locals lingering over steaming bowls and freshly made fruit “aguas” that are offered in flavors like tamarind, mango, passion fruit (maracuya) and horchata (spiced rice milk). For less than $10, you can have lunch like a presidente and still pay your el rente.
Outsider warning: Learn enough Spanish to be polite and order your meal, not just because that’s common courtesy in other cultures, you insatiable cretin, but because your hospitable Chapin waiter or waitress may not understand your Spanglish attempts or broken sign language. Come correct and be willing to try something new!
Personally, I look forward to trying their Guatemalan breakfast and coffee. (They open at 5 a.m.)
Te veo pronto!