Cooking the Culture: La Tortilla Cooking School in Antigua, Guatemala

In the spirit of a true traveler, whenever I visit a new location, I seek out the local food.  This proved slightly difficult in Antigua, due in part to the city being such a hotspot for backpackers from all over the world.  We ran into plenty of Italian and sushi restaurants, but struggled to find many Guatemalan restaurants (we eventually did find a couple of great ones).  So, instead of continuing the search, we did the next best thing: we made our own! 

Sidenote: We did end up finding a great Guatemalan restaurant — check out our review here!

Through some research online we came across La Tortilla Cooking School and decided to book a class.  It seemed like the perfect way to get an 100% Guatemalan meal, and do something fun in the process.

La Tortilla Cooking School is a few blocks away from the center of Antigua, so it’s walking distance from anywhere you’d be staying while visiting the city. They offer two types of cooking classes, which are held daily at 10:30 am and 4:30 pm. 

TIP:  Make sure you get directions prior to heading to the school, because you might miss it if you aren't paying attention. We walked past the entrance twice before realizing where we were.

There’s a quick class that teaches you how to make two traditional Guatemalan dishes and lasts about 90 minutes.  This course also comes with two glasses of wine.  The cost is $25 per person.

The basic course teaches you how to make five dishes: a main course, three side dishes, and dessert.  The course lasts about three hours and includes unlimited wine. Yes, UNLIMITED GLASSES OF WINE.  The cost is $45 per person.

 A sampling of the ingredients used in our dishes.

A sampling of the ingredients used in our dishes.

We opted for the basic course, because wine.  Oh, and because we wanted to experience Guatemala in an authentic and personal way. With wine.  All jokes aside, the cooking course was perfect because not only were we able to have a full dinner with dessert (and wine, lol) for $45, we were also able to learn how to make these dishes at home, and get the history behind why certain meals were important to Mayan culture.  The experience definitely hit all of these marks with ease.

The course can handle up to 8 attendees at once, and everyone participates in the making of the meal. From chopping carrots and mashing plantains to boiling chicken and making chocolate sauce, everyone had a hand in the process. 

The group in our workshop consisted of travelers from Holland, Canada, Spain, and a family from the U.S.  The random grouping of people also made the cooking course a chance to connect with other travelers and a space for great conversation once the wine started flowing and the night went on.

Our instructor, Cristina, was a local chef who in addition to teaching us how to cook these meals, explained to our group the flavors we were using and the history behind the dishes we were making.  Although Cristina only spoke Spanish, it was pretty easy to follow her directions, and the school provided a translator for our group to relay everything back to us in English.

 Getting directives from Cristina, our instructor and our translator for the evening.

Getting directives from Cristina, our instructor and our translator for the evening.

With Cristina, we made the following dishes:

Main Course: Pepían - a traditional meaty, spicy stew that is often viewed as the national dish of Guatemala. It can be found on street food carts, in diners and home kitchens. We used chicken for our pepían, but we also made a vegetarian version as well. Simply let the instructor know before you begin if you'd like a vegetarian version of the meals and they will work to accommodate you.

Side Dishes: Beet Salad, Guatemalan Rice, and Tortillas

Dessert: Rellenitos - a dessert that is essentially a dumpling made from mashed plantains and stuffed with sweet mayan chocolate & black bean sauce.

 Making tortillas from scratch.

Making tortillas from scratch.

 Forming the rellenitos before tossing them in oil to cook.

Forming the rellenitos before tossing them in oil to cook.

 The full spread: (clockwise, starting at the top right) Guatemalan rice, Pepian con pollo, Pepian no pollo, beet salad, and rellenitos.

The full spread: (clockwise, starting at the top right) Guatemalan rice, Pepian con pollo, Pepian no pollo, beet salad, and rellenitos.

Once all of the food was made, our group retreated to the school’s outside dining area for a communal dinner. I don’t know if it was because we had a hand in making the food, but everything was excellent!  This was my first time having pepían and it definitely won’t be my last.  The rellenitos were also fantastic.  I was leery of mixing black beans with chocolate, but you don’t taste the beans at all.  Luckily, we were able to have plenty of conversation during the workshop because the table was silent as everyone savored the fruits of our labor. Needless to say, my plate was practically licked clean.

 Hands down the best meal in Antigua!

Hands down the best meal in Antigua!

After stuffing my face, I realized that I was glad we decided to roll with the later cooking course because after devouring all of the wonderful food and downing glass after glass of wine, all I wanted to do is sleep.  I would’ve lost the whole day had we decided to book the earlier class.

All in all, La Tortilla provided an excellent experience that not only gave us a chance to learn about Guatemalan and Mayan culture in an authentic and personal way, it afforded us the chance to drink and laugh with some great people from around the world and make some great food! And the wine!  I did mention the wine, right? There may be other cooking schools in Antigua, but we highly recommend booking a class with La Tortilla!

 We all walked away certified in Guatemalan cooking!

We all walked away certified in Guatemalan cooking!

You can learn more about La Tortilla by visiting their website: http://www.latortilla.com.gt.  Mention our name when booking the basic course, and you'll receive a special offer!

*photos not watermarked are courtesy of La Tortilla Cooking School

Have you done a cooking class abroad?  Tell us about your experience!