There are so many cultural differences when you visit a new country, but here, my biggest challenges have always been food. I’ve always been a picky eater and I think most people figured I’d starve in Guatemala! Over time, I’ve overcome many of my food issues, but there are a few things that I still don’t get. One of these is the lack of refrigeration for things that I have always been taught to keep cold.
So, without further adieu, here are some of the items that are regularly NOT refrigerated in Guatemala.
Mayonnaise: Everyone knows that mayonnaise needs to be kept cold, right? Growing up, I heard horror stories of people who left their sandwiches with mayo in their lunchboxes for a few hours and got horribly sick or even died. So, when I started working in a cafe here and they kept their mayo in a squeeze bottle on the counter, I was horrified.
Fast forward a decade and while I do keep mayo in the fridge, it’s not a big stressor for me anymore. There are no eggs in the mayonnaise that we buy, and I’ve never gotten sick, so I’m going with “it’s okay.”
Yogurt: A few days ago, I was walking through the supermarket in Antigua and there in the dairy section was a stacked display of drinkable yogurt. Just sitting out in the aisle, no effort made to chill. If you head to the market, many stalls sell little cups of yogurt, which are stored in boxes sitting in the sun. I’ve never tested these and I never plan to. However, technically yogurt is cultured milk, so maybe it just keeps culturing instead of going bad? I really don’t know.
Meat: At the same supermarket, we went to buy some ham. There were displays of ham sitting on top of the display case and a big plate of pork chops. In the market, again, you’ll regularly see stalls in the meat section with slabs of beef and chicken carcasses laying out on the tiles or hanging from bars over the counter. This grosses me out no end . . .but again, there is a precedent for this. When you hunt or butcher an animal, you can let it hang for a bit to age. Personally, I prefer fresh meat that is frozen right away, but I’m also not a huge meat fan.
Eggs: Another thing I always figured you needed to keep cold was an egg. Take a stroll through the market in Antigua, though, and you’ll see bags and cartons of eggs sitting out. I did some research on this and it turns out that you don’t need to refrigerate eggs . . . as long as they aren’t washed. Also, if you DO put them in the fridge, they have to stay there or they will spoil when taken out.
Milk: This one is cheating, since the milk here comes in tetra packs very often. These can be left out and will stay “good” though if you ask me, packaged milk is extra gross (I’m not a milk fan anyway). I tasted it once and it was horrible, but certainly not rotten. If you’ve never seen this, though, the thought of boxes of milk sitting out is very odd.
Seafood: “Camarones! Camarones grandes!” is a shout you may hear near a speed bump in Antigua, while men with buckets of prawns wave handfuls of the smelly seafood at passing cars. In the market, you’ll find piles of shrimp heaped over little mountains of melting ice on slabs of wood. I don’t eat seafood, but even if I did I would be very, very careful about purchasing warmed raw shrimp.