If you don’t always want to eat out, you are going to need to know where to buy groceries. Even if you are not staying in our studio apartment, there are some options that don’t require a kitchen. I will cover options in San Antonio Palopó, San Lucas and in Panajachel.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
The almost universal answer here is “the public market”. In San Antonio the public market is in the center of the village, next to the Catholic church. The best time to go looking for things is in the morning after 9AM. What is available tends to be limited but varies from day to day. For example, some days there will be people in front of the building selling fresh fish and crabs. The available vegetables tend to be the basics plus something that is popular for the day such as broccoli or cauliflower added to the typical onions, bell peppers, potatoes and such. For fruit, it also can vary from just bananas and papayas to a wide assortment including peaches, blackberries and strawberries.
If it is Sunday, you will find little in the San Antonio market as most people (including vendors) head to the public market in San Lucas. It’s a nice boat trip (about 30 minutes) and you will find a lot of interesting things there. Well worth the trip even if you just want to look around.
In Panajachel, the public market is a block up the hill from the Catholic church. The big days are Thursday and Sunday but you will find an amazing assortment of things there every day.
Cans, Bottles and Jars
There are lots of little tiendas all over each town. Most are fairly small but you will find coffee, cooking oil, rice, canned beans, soft drinks and maybe beer in most. Some will also have cheese (typically only the white fresh cheese) and possibly bananas and tomatoes. In other words, the basics. In the San Antonio and Panajachel public market there are little stores around the food stalls. There you will find more packaged goods and, in Pana, everything from nuts to cooking pots and pans.
There are a reasonable number of people living in the Lake Atitlan area from North America and Europe. The supply center for them tends to be Panajachel. For example, while they may live in Santa Cruz or San Marcos, they tend to go to Panajachel to buy things that are not available locally. Thus, you find stores that cater to their needs.
What needs? Anything from tofu to bagels, miso to salmon plus more exotic pastas, olive oil and such. In Pana there are three stores that cater to these needs. Some of what they offer overlaps, other products only appear in one place and that one place tends to be Sandra’s.
- Almendros: Located on Calle Santander in the plaza with Banco Industrial. It is the smallest of the three. You will find pastas from Italy, assorted cheeses, spices, tofu, beer, wine and some canned products.
- Chalo’s: Located on Calle Principal on the corner where you head to the yellow bridge. Olive oil, locally made bread, spices, whole wheat flour, jams, pastas, beer, wine, good liquor assortment, cheeses, frozen meats and more.
- Sandra’s: Two locations. The big one on Calle Principal a block up the hill from Calle Santander and a little one on Calle Santander next to the Claro office. You will find the stuff the other places have and more. Lots of alcohol, locally baked goods, non-fluoride toothpaste, coconut oil, Japanese/Chinese items and some things that will probably surprise you such as tempeh.
If you are looking for “Gringo canned food” you can find it but, why would you want to? Guatemala has very diverse agriculture. It is very easy to find good food that is also grown locally and it costs much less. Thus, I will by my miso, nori and wasabe to make Japanese food but the other ingredients (rice, onion, cucumber and such) come from the public market.
Without a Kitchen
If you don’t have a kitchen where you are staying, it is still easy to find food you can bring home and I don’t just mean things prepared by street vendors. There are many choices — I just offer some ideas to get you thinking.
- Avocado and tortillas — There are usually avocados available in the public market at from Q1 to Q3 each. Tortillas are 4 for Q1 at stands all over town. With a knife and salt you have the makings of a nice and very cheap dinner.
- Fruit — Available in the public market and on the street, there is always fruit in season. If you are worried about a lack of protein, add a bit of cheese.
- Tortillas and cheese — Maybe add some onion and/or tomato.
- Drinks that are not from a can — Try water with a squeeze of lemon or orange. Add chia seeds (available in the public market in Pana and probably many other places) to make it more interesting and more nutritious. See Wikipedia for details.
- Yogurt and fruit — Buy a small yogurt and mix in fresh fruit.
There are, of course many other options like bread with peanut butter and banana but that feels less local and the roll-sized bread choices tend to be very uninteresting.