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.

Carnicero

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:

Rambutan
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.

12 thoughts on “Where Can I Find Cornstarch in Guatemala and Other Grocery Questions

  1. This is a great post for us fellow expats! I have thought about doing one like this for a while, but I agree – I don’t like being an “authority” on anything down here! haha

    Thanks for the good tips – even after 5 years here, I still learned a few things :)

  2. I’m not an expat, but I still think the post is fascinating. Thanks! I’ve seen dragon fruit here but never had the nerve to try one. I will now.

    Your pictures are great!

  3. These are really good information especially for travelers wanting to go there. Also, I didn’t know that cornstarch can cure diarrhea. Thanks for the info. :)

    • It doesn’t actually cure the diarrhea, it just stops up your system for a few hours. Much like Immodium, but gentler on the system!

  4. Linda and I have had more than one lady in the market ‘shoot one over our bow’ price wise because we hale from the north. We just laugh and go on our way. We have run on to cartels in the market where whole groups have made an agreement among themselves as to the ‘gringo’ price. Yet a few hundred feet away the price is what it should be, it’s not just Antigua, we have run on agreements like this in other market towns in Guatemala. If you think the price is silly high, move to another section of the market. I do not mind paying 20-30% more than the locals, it is still less by as much as 90% from what I pay for vegetables and fruit in Ohio. I balk at prices that are double what the locals pay, it is bad policy to reward greed.

    I was buying copal resin from a lass in the market, I knew I was paying 30% over the ‘local’ price but it was still less than the rates I was being quoted in the incense area of the market. I went by her stall to buy a few kilos to mule home, her mother was there and told me her daughter was calling me her TIO. Ya gotta love Guatemala.

  5. This is a very beautiful and useful post. I love any and all of the fruits in the market and it’s fun to try all of them. I have to say that a horror film could be filmed in the meat section.

    I know there are people in Guatemala who survive eating only tortillas and salt, so maybe this is viewed as the most basic nourishing thing (or maybe, the cheapest thing) you could offer a child.

    As usual, your observations are very interesting. I hope you will keep them coming!

  6. Hey there-

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I shop at the new Paiz at Las Puertas in San Lucas as well. Maybe we’ve run into each other at the supermarket and haven’t even known it :)

  7. Thanks for the shoutout! Nice post too :)

    If you think talking about prices in Guatemala invites angry comments, you should try talking about retirement options here. That’ll get people in a huff!

    -Rich

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