WANTED: Guatemalan Fiambre for the Day of the Dead

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I hadn’t thought of Fiambre for years. Until yesterday, when a friend of mine from Guatemala shared a photo of her and another friend digging in.

And then began the longing and the search to find some.

Fiambre is a Guatemalan dish that is traditionally prepared for the Día de Los Muertos and consists of an almost gaudy cornucopia of canned meat, cheese and vegetables of local and Spanish origin, the latter with Arabic influences.

I lived in Guatemala for almost eight years, but that was a while ago. And my Guatemalan mother-in-law, que en paz descanse, didn’t do Fiambre. Too much work, says my husband, and too expensive.

The word “Fiamre” comes from the Spanish word “frío”. The dish is served cold. I think this is in solidarity with our loved ones who have passed away and who can no longer get a hot meal.

As with many traditions, the origin of Fiambre is debated. Guatemala’s National Library notes several possibilities: Something that was thrown together from scarce ingredients after the Santa Marta earthquake in 1773; a dish that Franciscan Friars invented because they couldn’t cook.

Fiambre can be … a lot. It usually contains dozens of ingredients, including sliced ​​hot dogs, ham, black pudding, hard-boiled eggs, olives, capers, radishes, red peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, corn, pacaya (a palm flower native to Guatemala that looks like spindly babies, corn) … I could go on.

If you’re the type of person who needs to ingest all of the components of your meal separately, Fiambre may not be for you.

I am not going to lie and say that it is one of my favorite dishes. But I’m a sucker for traditions.

So I called our Guatemalan bakery in Orange County. No fiber.

Do you know where I can buy some?

No no. They say Los Ángeles, but I really don’t know where.

So I went to Twitter.

Within half an hour, I had a dream offer from someone I had never met:

I live in the far south in Huntington Beach. My benefactor was in downtown LA. It was too much to ask. But he offered again and I accepted.

A few hours later, Guillermo Cabrera rolls up to my back gate with an aluminum container full of Fiambre, the egg and sausage set laid out on it in geometrical culinary beauty.

Cabrera was on the late shift delivering his 75-year-old mother’s Fiambre to family members in LA. His sister had taken on the morning shift.

Cabrera said his mother worked for three days, chopping ingredients and pickling vegetables. He stated that his mother’s arthritis is getting worse. “Who knows if she’ll make it next year?” Cabrera said he plans to study in order to keep the tradition alive.

Jill's altar

Day of the altar of the dead with food, photos, ceramic skulls and orange flowers.

Fiambre is definitely a love work. And the ingredients aren’t cheap.

I only bought Fiambre a couple of times living in Guatemala because the high price has hurt my income as a freelance journalist. In addition, the plates that friends from the family kitchen offered me tasted a million times better.

Cabrera went to make his final delivery of the evening to Calabasas, but we parted with a promise to swap tamales at Christmas time. (If you haven’t had Guatemalan tamales, you’re missing out.)

Wait what Have I dreamed this whole social media fairy tale? I tweet and a stranger brings me Fiambre?

It really happened. My husband and I went to this delicious fiambre for lunch today. And also set up a plate for Nuestros Muertos.

What questions do you have about Southern California?


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