Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in gringo terms is celebrated on November 1. In Guatemala like other Hispanic countries, this is a big holiday. Like turkey is associated with Thanksgiving in the USA, Fiambre is the “official” dish of Dia de los Muertos. But unlike turkey which is eaten year round, Fiambre is only eaten on this one day. The Dia de los Muertos festivities vary from town to town, some towns have kite festivals, some have horse races, but all spend time in the cemeteries with their departed loved ones. In “our hometown” in Guatemala, the family spends all night in the cemetery celebrating their departed loved ones.
When in San Agustin, Guatemala, where Carlos’ family is from, the first stop upon arriving is always the cemetery. Before we depart Guatemala City for San Agustin, we always stop at the Mercado des Flores to pick up flowers to decorate the grave of Carlos’ grandfather. San Agustin sits in the mountains and is therefore very rocky, so the graves are pretty much mini mausoleums above ground. The first time I went there I was amazed how brightly painted the graves were but once I began researching dia de los muertos, I found my answer. Unlike American cemeteries which are somber places, Guatemalan cemeteries are places to hang out, socialize and celebrate life. On Dia de los Muertos, they paint the graves bright colors, bring lots of food, play music and socialize all night long. At first the thought of spending all night in a cemetery kind of freaked me out. But now I look forward to being in Guatemala for the holiday and I plan on spending all night there! This is how they honor the dead.
|The cemetery in San Agustin|
Fiambre has its roots in the Mayan heritage and is basically a salad of pickled vegetables, similar to curtido rojo, and cured meats. Like a lot of dishes, Fiambre varies from region to region, town to town, and even family to family in Guatemala. In central Guatemala where we are from beets are used and is called Fiambre Rojo. Other regions make Fiambre Blanco (no beets), Fiambre Verde, using tomatillos in the sauce, and even a Seafood Fiambre (one would assume that would be along the coast where seafood is plentiful). The recipes are closely guarded secrets and verbally handed down from one generation to the next. I am still waiting to be trusted with our family recipe!
Some Fiambre recipes can call for up to 50 ingredients. When faced with the recipe it looks very intimidating. But once you break the recipe down into 4 or 5 steps, it’s not so bad, just time consuming. True Fiambre must be made at least a day ahead if not two or three. Fiambre came about years ago from family members each bringing a dish to share, and somewhere along the way they got combined and Fiambre was born! It is a great dish to bring and sit all night. It is best eaten at room temperature with tostadas as your eating utensils. There is nothing in it that can really spoil and like many dishes; it gets better the longer it sits.
Typical Fiambre ingredients are beets, onions, carrots, green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, baby corn, pacaya (the blossom of a date palm tree), boiled eggs, hot dogs, chorizo, ham, cheese, cilantro and various other vegetables and cured meats.
Carlos was lucky enough to get some Fiambre from his family’s store and bring it home so we could experience it on November 1 with Guatemalans across the world. By the way….it was delicious!