The neighborhood tienda on almost every street corner in Guatemala is a convenience store and a valuable network that offers proximity and support to communities in a meaningful way.
Homes throughout Guatemala rely on tiendas for staples like bread, milk, eggs and other small purchases to fill the weekly gaps between grocery store purchases. Historically, women have gone to the farmers markets (mercados) to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables and to the supermarket for other retail items not found elsewhere, such as bottled, canned or specialty items.
Tiendas come in all shapes and sizes, and each one is unique, although they base their business on filling last-minute needs and petty purchases during busy weekdays. People casually stop by to drink a cold soda, buy a quick snack, gum and cigarettes, and even nonprescription medication. Tiendas operate within the big mercados, too. You will find them nestled in between large produce areas offering grains, spices, soap, oil, cleaning supplies and more.
The concept of the tienda in Guatemala is invention born out of necessity as storeowners focus on small retail sales while subsidizing their own needs. These are typically family-owned, home-based businesses occupying the garage or any other available room of the house. At times, for safety, sales happen out of window balconies. My grandmother made her living out of her well-stocked tienda and sold everything from artisan pottery and working horse gear to candles and fireworks to villagers in her small town.
The food tiendas, those that are not restaurants, are pop-up atolerias (hot drink stands) that sell snacks to passers-by. Ceviche is offered to pedestrians from the back of pickup trucks. The chiclero (chicklets man) is a very small stand on street corners selling chewing gum, candy and smaller items than the bigger tiendas. The solo vendor and entrepreneur roams the streets and offers his merchandise at every chance he gets. People in Guatemala love to bargain, and all of these vendors represent that opportunity for many shoppers.
Specialized tiendas sell artisan confections and candies, chocolate, cheese, milk and cream. The larger, general tiendas offer anywhere between edible staple items to toys and even clothes. The hybrid essence of tiendas is a unique and well-established cultural trait targeting the needs of multiple income levels, from the poor to the more affluent.
Next time you visit Guatemala, observe the tiendas in detail and notice their offerings. A certain camaraderie takes place, as buyers are often recurring customers who rely on the tienda for their daily needs. Once upon a time, mercados and tiendas were the usual places to shop for edible goods, and the supermarket was more of an afterthought or luxury. Nowadays, many people center their purchases at one-stop-shops and visit grocery stores more often because of convenience, but the less affluent still rely on what was established long ago.
Here’s a festive recipe to celebrate tiendas.
POTATO and CARROT SALAD
Ensalada de Papa y Zanahoria
Recipe by Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard
2 russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, diced
2 carrots, peeled, diced
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. thyme
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garnish: peas, chopped hardboiled egg, parsley
*Cook the potatoes and carrots, separately, al dente
*Sauté the onion in olive oil until transparent, about 1 minute
*Add cooked vegetables to the pan with the onion, thyme, and
season with vinegar, salt & pepper
Amalia Moreno-Damgaard is an award-winning bestselling chef author born and raised in Guatemala City currently living in the Twin Cities. She provides individuals and companies with a taste and understanding of Latin cultures through healthy gourmet cuisine education, consulting, bilingual speaking and writing and fun culinary experiences. Her cookbook “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen-Gourmet Cuisine With A Cultural Flair” has won 9 international awards. AmaliaLLC.com