Where Can I Find Cornstarch in Guatemala and Other Grocery Questions

I tend not to write a ton of “authority” posts on living in Guatemala because they are often controversial and if you say something costs so much, you get jumped on. I’m not up for that kind of fighting on my blog, so I leave those sorts of posts to folks like The New Expat and Rich over at UnwireMe. However, I’ve recently gotten a few shopping questions from some new expats, so I figured I’d answer them, since they’re a little off the beaten track.

Where can I find cornstarch?

Cornstarch is called Maicena here and it isn’t in the baking section. You can get it at any supermarket and most corner stores, but it will be in the drink section. Be careful to get plain . . . it also comes in banana, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors, as it is used for making a hot drink.

Interestingly enough, if you boil water and cornstarch with a little sugar, you have an excellent home remedy for diarrhea. Something to keep in mind if you end up with amoebas.

Where should I buy meat?

You can get meat in the market, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The hanging cuts are exposed to flies, heat and, well, it nearly made me ill the first few times I walked down the meat aisles in the Antigua market.


Some smaller shops carry meat, you can ask. The Bodegona in Antigua is probably your best bet for variety, but they don’t always have things available and it can be confusing to figure out which counter to go to if your Spanish isn’t great.

I buy my meat at the Paiz supermarket in San Lucas, about 10 minutes outside of Antigua, going toward Guatemala City. The meat is fresh (something you have to be careful of here, even in supermarkets) and they let me buy my chicken frozen so I get it home without thawing. If you ask for Tyson chicken breasts, they can give you the whole frozen package, which is usually 10 lbs. Also, if you go on Wednesday, they always have a sale on Tyson chicken. I just learned that tip last week, when the chicken breast fillets were on for Q15 (just over $2) a pound. I’ve never had bad meat there and they also have rabbit, duck and a wide range of seafood.

Is it safe to eat produce from the market?

Yes, but you should wash it first. I fill a large bowl with filtered water and add several drops of bleach and a tablespoon or so of baking soda. Add the veggies (if you’re doing cauliflower and broccoli, cut them so the water can get in between the branches) and let sit for an hour or two. Rinse very well before serving.

You should wash stuff you buy in the supermarket, too. There’s no guarantee that it’s decontaminated.

I think the market vendor is giving me gringo prices. How do I negotiate without being rude?

First of all, it’s not considered rude to offer a lower price, so don’t worry about that. I’ll do a post on negotiating at some point in the future, but for now, I highly suggest checking the supermarket for prices before heading to the market. You’ll know what things are worth and you shouldn’t pay more than the supermarket price.

If you want multiples of something, let the vendor know. For example, if she says a carrot is Q2, ask if you can have a better price if you buy a dozen. If the cauliflower is Q3 a head, offer Q5 for two.

vendor 3

If you REALLY don’t want to haggle over something, just say something like, “Wow, expensive.” (“wow, muy caro.”) and see if the vendor lowers the price. If not, just walk away slowly. They will often call out a much lower price, particularly if it is later in the day. You can get some good deals later in the day! Also, if something is nearly finished, such as a basket of potatoes, you may be able to get a discount if you buy all the remaining produce.

Another way to get good prices is to wander around, looking uninterested, but listen to people haggling. When someone gets a good price, you can pop in and say, “Two pounds of strawberries for three q? Yes, please!”

Finally, having a regular person that you visit in the market is very helpful in getting good prices. They will eventually give you the best price right off the bat. Don’t be afraid to try different vendors until you find someone who clicks.

What’s that weird fruit in the market?

It all depends. If it looks like this:

It’s a dragon fruit or “pitaya.” Get one, they’re good. They’re fluorescent purple inside, sweet and taste like a mild kiwi.

If it looks like the red fruit in this picture:

It’s “jocote” or jackfruit. These have yellow, tart flesh inside with a HUGE pit. I’m not a fan because they make your teeth feel funny, but kids love them.

If they look like this:

Image source

They are “lychee” or rambutan. You peel off the hairy outside and they are delightfully sweet inside with a pit. They have a similar texture to grapes.

If the fruit looks like this:

Caju, Anacardo, Cashew
Image source

It’s “marañon”, or cashew fruit. That wonky curved bit on top is a cashew nut . . . now you know why they are so expensive. These make excellent smoothies.

If it looks like this:

Noni fruit
Image source

It’s noni fruit. Supposedly able to cure cancer and whatever else might ail you. I’ve never tried this one, so test it and tell me in the comments what it tastes like!

If they look like this:

They are “nisperos.” This is a tasty fruit that is like a really juicy mini peach. They have 3-4 large seeds inside. You can get nispero wine and preserves here, too.

These are just a few of the questions I’ve heard recently. Do you have a food/market/shopping question? Leave it in the comments and I’ll see about doing another installment.

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Episode 78

Dominic stubbed his toe and came crying to me.
Dominic: “Mama! Eepital! Epital!”
Me: “What? I don’t know what you want.”
Dominic: “Epital!” points to the computer screen where there is an operating room (I was watching Call the Midwife). “EPITAL!”
Me: “You mean hospital?”
Dominic: “Si! Hospital. My foot have owies. Hospital!”
Watching the Incredible Hulk and they showed a poor town in South America.
Dorian: “This looks like such a boring town. Like, I don’t even see any shopping. Do they have shopping in this place? Because it just looks really boring.”
Dorian: “Are you about to cry, Mama?”
Me: “Yeah. This show is really sad. The baby is going to die.”
Dorian: “Don’t you know you shouldn’t watch movies with dying babies? They always make you cry. Stop watching stuff like this!”
Dorian: “Dante, you give me the geezles!”
Me: “Who is this?”
Dominic: “Supanan!” (Superman)
Me: “And this?”
Dominic: “‘Mericaman!” (Captain America)
Dominic: checking my temp with the ear thermometer “Ninety-eight. You’re fine!”
Dante: “I wish I was a mama so I could make lots and lots of dolls. But, when I’m a man, I’m going to learn how to sew so I can fix dolls for my kids.”
Dominic: “Chips! CHIPS! CHIPS! I want chips!”
Looked up to see his brothers peeking around the doorway with eager expressions on their faces. They’d sent the baby to do their dirty work.
Dominic: “Goo-night, Mama.”
Me: “Aw, you’re so adorable. Why are you so CUTE?”
Dominic: “I don’t know.”
Dorian: “If we spell of with an F, why isn’t oven spelled ofen?”
later . . . “Why is it for and four? Why don’t we use the same word for both? The U makes no sense!”
Dominic: getting up in the night “The lights were gone. A rocket, poosh! Lights out. I get up.”
Dante: “Mama, look at these street lights I made in Minecraft!”
Me: “Those are pretty cool!”
Dante: “Yes, they are, because I made them.”

Hot, Hot, Hot: Weather in Guatemala

It’s been really hot lately in Guatemala. I know, tropical country, so duh, right? Well, in the winter months, it’s actually pretty decent around here. The nights are so cold we have to pile on extra blankets and some places get frost, hail or even snow. Keep in mind that in Guatemala, the houses are unheated and drafty, so if it’s 10° outside, it’s not much warmer indoors.

The rainy season is the opposite, but it cools down every afternoon when it rains. The mornings tend to be warm, with it clouding  over around noon and the rain chilling things down perfectly around 3 pm. It often rains into the night. I’m a big fan of the rainy season for this reason.

Right now, however, it’s just in-between these two seasons. The days are stifling (today is 73°F/23°C, tomorrow is going to be nearly 10° hotter) and there is no rain to cool it down. With a tin roof, things get pretty hot inside the house, so we retreat to the breezeway until the sun starts to set and things cool down a bit. I am missing our pool right now (it has a number of tiny holes in the bottom). It was nice and deep so we could all fit in there if we wanted to!

Homeschooling On Facebook

I’ve been active on Squidoo for seven years now and recently was given the title of Happy Homeschooler Contributor. That basically means that I’m in charge of growing the homeschool niche on the site, promoting lenses, etc. To help with that, I built a Happy Homeschooler Facebook page and have been having a lot of fun with it.

This blog carries a bit of expat life, a bit of homeschooling info, a touch of cooking and a whole lot of parenting/personal stuff, so I find myself focusing on specifics on other forums, such as my Gourmet Mama site and Facebook page and now the Happy Homeschooler page. There may or may not be a homeschooling blog in the future to go with the page. I’m still working on getting a little balance in all of this.

If you’re homeschooling, feel free to pop on over and give the page a like! I share fun activities, homeschool resources and link to other pages and blogs on homeschooling there.

Inventing Things

When I was a kid, I was always trying to come up with new inventions. Now, Dante is the same way. This weekend, he invented his own musical instrument with a number of elastic bands, nails and a clothespin that he took apart. The instrument even used a lever that changed the sound of one of the elastics when it was pressed.

It was actually a little more complicated before this photo was taken. He had a couple more elastics on there, but they snapped. Still, it was pretty imaginative!

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Episode 77

Me: “Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
Dominic: looking at the bed in horror “Da bed bites?!”
Dante: after dinner “Well, that food wasn’t that bad.”
Dorian: watching a TV ad “I want this game. . . and this game. And that Lego set.”
Me: “You want everything, huh?”
Dorian: “What do YOU want?”
Me: “I want to go to Disney World and Russia and Italy.”
Dorian: “You know what’s most expensive? Disney World. We should get a game.”
Me: “Can I have a kiss?”
Dominic: “No.”
Me: “But I Looooove you!”
Dominic: “I know.”
Dante: “I want a star to fall so I can make a wish. But wait . . . how can a star give you a wish? It’s just burning gas.”
At the supermarket.
Irving: “Okay, Dominic, into the car.”
Dominic: “No.”
Irving: “Yes, it’s time to go, get into your car seat.”
Dominic: “No.”
Me: “Domi, it’s time to go. Into the car.”
Dominic: very calmly “I already told you no.”

Cultural Differences in Guatemala: Gifts for Children

When you move to a foreign country, things are very different. You really have no idea how very different things are until you have children in another country though!

Today, on Facebook, a friend posted an image about giving kids candy. When I was little, that was really the thing to do. In church, little old ladies would offer my sisters and I mints, in the store, someone would try to give us a sucker. It’s kind of an odd practice, don’t you think? Giving kids sugar for no particular reason except that they’re cute?


Anyway. Here in Guatemala, that isn’t very common. Oh, they give kids things to eat, but it’s very rarely candy. When the older boys were small, they would go to the store with Irving and come home with oranges or bananas that the shopkeeper gave them. Now that they’re older, they don’t get as many things like this, but Dominic is now the cute tot who is handed goodies like fruit or a piece of sweet bread at the bakery.

tortillas with salt

Tortillas with salt are another thing that people give kids here. Irving’s grandmother still hands these treats over the fence to the boys and they have been given salted tortillas in shops, as well, even if we’re buying something like water. I find it interesting that the Guatemalan culture is so different, but I like it. While I’m not particularly against candy, I’m really not going to complain if you give my kid a banana right before supper, whereas I won’t be as impressed if you hand him a bunch of hard candies.

Letting Go

Having kids is hard. I read once that having a child is like deciding to wear your heart on the outside of your body all the time and it is so true!

When I was a preteen, my parents wouldn’t let me go around the (rather large) block on my own. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t just allow me that bit of freedom and it kind of made me grumpy. Now that I have kids of my own, I know exactly how they felt and I sometimes wonder if I’ll manage to give my kids as much freedom as my parents gave me. What seemed restrictive back then is suddenly very much the opposite when I look at stories of children being kidnapped or dying when out of sight of their parents.

Dorian has always been crazy independent. I suspect this is partly his personality and partly his way of dealing with his major dependence on his parents due to medical issues. When he was barely three, Irving left the street door open and when we realized, the boys were both gone. It was a terrifying moment of realizing that my babies had disappeared! They showed up a few minutes later with cookies in their hands. Dorian had taken Dante to the bakery down the street to get some sweet breads on credit. (“My papa will pay you later,” he told the girl at the bakery.)

That wasn’t his first or his last escape and he usually took Dante along on his escapades. One involved the in-laws sending him home with Dante and leaving the house without realizing that a three year old Dorian and two year old Dante didn’t listen, but opened the street door and went to the bus to find their papa who was working. I didn’t even know the in-laws weren’t with them until the neighbor called me to let me know that two girls from down the street had found the boys several blocks away at the bus stop and brought them home!

After a couple of these escapades, it occurred to us that Dorian might not be so inclined to head out on his own if he was able to do it “legally.” So we started sending him for the lunch tortillas, directly across the street. He thought he went alone, but really, someone was always watching from the door, ducking away when he came out of the tortilla place. As he got older, we let him go on his own for real. One day, he took an extraordinary amount of time to return and we asked him about it when he got back. “Oh, there was a line and none of the tortillas were ready, so I just went to the other place at the end of the street.” A block away. We told him not to do that again without telling us.

The fact is that Dorian has always been quite independent. These days, his independence is fueled by buying the bread when we need it, down the street, or getting the tortillas. In fiestas, the older boys now ask to go off on their own to get cotton candy or play ball with friends. I still keep a close eye on them, but I do try to let them have more freedom.

No one ever told me it would be THIS scary to be a mom. Despite the terror of letting my children grow up, I know it’s necessary to let them do things on their own, make their mistakes and figure out how to problem solve on their own. It’s hard, but I know it will stand them in good stead later in life.

So This Happened

Yesterday, my laundry room looked like this:

What a mess! It’s actually a good thing, though. Irving and our neighbor are building the roof for the room. They had to take off the rebar that was sticking up since they are building with wood instead of concrete. Apparently that also involved knocking down some of the concrete overhang, too!

Summer Bucket List

Irving and I have a number of things we have wanted to do with the kids or around the house for a while now. The curtains were one of the things we wanted to do. I figured I’d write out our summer bucket list so we keep it all in one place.

  • Take the kids to see a movie in the cinema. The boys have never seen a movie in a theater and I’d really like them to enjoy that while they’re still young. We *may* go see LEGO movie when it comes out here. Still not sure if we will exhaust ourselves looking for an English version or just give up and see it in Spanish. I doubt the kids will care, but I don’t really like watching dubbed movies.
  • Put a second level on the laundry room/bathroom. We are planning on putting a couple of offices up on top of the bathroom and laundry room, which would give us each our own space. Living in 200 square feet with three kids is not exactly easy. If my sewing space and all our stuff was moved into offices, we would move our beds into the boys’ room and the three boys could enjoy our much brighter and more spacious bedroom.
  • Visit the children’s museum. There’s a museum for kids near the zoo in the capital, but we have yet to see it! That’s got to change.
  • See the train museum. There’s ALSO a train museum, which I learned about years ago when Dorian was in his Thomas stage, but we never made it there. I want to take the boys before they’re too old to enjoy it.
  • Have more picnics. We used to do a lot of picnics in the ruins in Antigua, but in recent years, we’ve only done it when we had visitors. I think more family picnics are in order.
  • Paint the main room. Our paint job is getting a little old, what with kids bashing it and furniture scraping it up. This chore may or may not be left until later, however, because we may be raising the walls.

What’s on your summer bucket list?