I have lived in five different countries over the past 10 years such as France, Guatemala, Spain, the UK and Morocco. While I love to cook, changing country had taught me that you can’t have the same meal plan wherever you live. Grocery shopping is a different experience in every country. In France, cheese is cheap and delicious, while finding cheese other than orange cheddar is a challenge in Guatemala. You would think that living in a cheaper country means that every daily item is cheaper. It is true. But daily items mean what the people who live there eat.
In Guatemala that means beans, rice, meat and vegetables. Not cheese. Cheese is a luxury that is not part of the lower and middle class diet. Even milk is a luxury, which is strange because there are so many cows, but I guess the whole refrigerated distribution is complicated. Instead of having cheese for lunch and dinner as I would in France, I eat mozzarella or cheddar cheese once or twice a week, on pizza or omelets. And once in a while, I pay a premium to enjoy a nice goat cheese from a gourmet delicatessen, with a glass of wine.
Wine is another thing that I have learned to replace. In France any supermarket knows how to store wine, in a dry and cool room. Here it is about 30 degrees Celsius all year at the main port where containers arrive with the wine. Customs can take days to clear while the wine gets a heat shock. Then it is brought to my little town on a bumpy road, and you take a serious bet when you buy a bottle there. Once again, I could go to the wine shops of Guatemala City and pay the price of an excellent Bordeaux for an average at best bottle of wine, or switch to beer like I did, which is just fine.
So what are meals like in Guatemala?
Usually a piece of meat or a fresh fish from the lake, a side of rice and a few vegetables. We don’t do three courses like the French, or even desert. Simple, healthy and cheap. Meat is $3/lb, we eat lunch and dinner with a pound since I don’t eat much meat. Rice is the base of any meal, when in France it was potatoes. Not that potatoes are expensive, usually they cost $0.40/lb, but my boyfriend says I have turned him into a ”potatovore” so I try to balance and learn how to cook more rice. Rice is perfect to fry with any leftover vegetables by the way, so often the odd carrot or zucchini ends up diced in the rice.
Another thing that I have had to get used to is shopping once a week or once a fortnight. The nearest supermarket is 20 miles away and with our not so efficient car it costs $20 round trip. So I plan my meals accordingly and have invested in a deep freezer to avoid food waste. I buy as many vegetables as possible, dice and freeze the ones that will be cooked anyway and could go bad quickly. Like celery, zucchini or cauliflower. I also freeze the meat, bacon, cheese (as we only eat that cheese cooked on pizzas or crepes it doesn’t matter).
On the first days after a grocery shop we have a side of salad, as after three days the lettuce starts looking sad in the fridge, then for the rest of the week we eat the vegetables that last longer like onions, tomatoes and avocados. Delicious ripe avocados are a real delight here, and I make a mean guacamole!
For breakfast, we have eggs (from our hens) and beans, the typical Guatemalan breakfast. Or crepes. They are like breakfast burritos, you can put anything inside, egg, cheese, ham, tomatoes, jalapeño chilis, basil, onion… filling and delicious. If I want bacon on my eggs or crepes, I would cut a little bit of my frozen bacon and cook it in a few minutes. The packs of bacon are too big and would go bad if I had them in the fridge. The only processed food I buy on a regular basis is a can of pureed beans, that we have with breakfast. I could cook the black beans for three hours, blend them, cook them some more with onions and garlic, and then fry them a little, but that four-hour process is too long, plus unlike my crepes, I never get them to taste right. No disappointment with the can.
Dinner is not a very important meal here, many people just have a hot coffee and biscuits. Coffee is the one thing you would imagine is to die for here and super cheap, but apparently the best coffee is exported so we also buy quite an expensive coffee for my boyfriend as I don’t drink coffee. We don’t systematically have dinner, sometimes we snack on chips, or have something sweet, like my homemade frozen yogurt. I have cultures that turn milk into yogurt and then freeze it with a little sugar and some pieces of fruit. Or blend the frozen yogurt with fruits. Banana and apple were my last favourite.
Our diet is quite basic, and I do almost everything from scratch. We never buy frozen meals, I cook and freeze. A few products are really expensive like I mentioned, although most days we eat pretty cheaply. I am trying to keep an eye on the grocery spending and have joined the grocery game challenge, with a goal of $200 per month for two. I have only $100 for January and February because we did a big shop for Christmas, and I am fully stocked on expensive items. If you would like to see more about grocery prices in Guatemala, and how bad I miss coupons, you can check Mr CBB’s grocery game challenge posts.
I forgot to say that we also buy drinking water, we pump our water from the lake to shower and do dishes and it is a very clear lake but we’d rather not risk it, so every week, a truck delivers a 5 gallon tank of potable water to our door for $2.
My point with this post, apart from showing you how the food and cooking goes in Guatemala is to suggest that you try doing the best you can with what you have on hand.
- If you live in the country, chances are you will find farmers selling corn by the side of the road at a bargain during harvest season. Make all kinds of recipes and you won’t feel like you are eating the same thing all the time.
- If the supermarket has a special item on offer, stock up, not so much that you will throw food, just enough to prepare a few cheap meals.
- If you harvest berries in the woods, wash them and freeze them to enjoy them all year.
- If you have a garden, learn how to can or preserve your surplus crop.
- If you find a deal on beef meat, freeze part of it and don’t buy chicken or pork that week.
- If you go to the market at the end of the day, forget your shopping list and articulate your meals around the reduced products.
Having an exotic meal once in a while is perfectly fine, but if you want to control your grocery spending, your best bet is to make do with what is cheap and available.
The following is a guest post from Pauline Paquin, a French girl who blogs over at Reach Financial Independence. Born and raised in Paris, Pauline writes about how she has been traveling the world for the past 10 years, while trying to build wealth and achieve financial independence, and how you can follow your dreams and reach your goals too. You can follow Pauline on Twitter @RFIndependence
Editors Note: Thanks Pauline for opening our eyes to food and grocery shopping in a different culture and a small part of your life in Guatemala.
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