The reason I traveled three hours on a road with hairpin turns to reach lovely Lake Atitlan, Guatemala was for the …
According to Copeland Marks in the Guatemalan cookbook “False Tongues and Sunday Bread” …
“Pátin is the typical popular dish of this village on the southern shores of Lake Atitlan. The various inlets of the shoreline are breeding places of the local lake fish, and are caught and dried in quantities”
Indeed there was basket after basket of both fresh and dried minnows (pescadito) at the town market. Here’s a link to a rather lengthy article about the fish in Lake Atitlan including these small fish.
Some vendors sold tiny tamal-sized pátin. We had a huge mega-sized pátin made by a Mayan woman who didn’t speak English or Spanish, only the local dialect.
The recipe is simple: dried local lake minnows, ripe tomatoes, hot chile (dried or fresh), salt. Another recipe added onions to the pátin.
This blog writes
“Patin has been on the Guatemalan diet from pre-Colombian times.
It starts off with a tomato sauce made from boiled tomatoes that are then stone ground. To this sauce is added small fish from rivers or creeks seasoned with salt and lime and roasted on an open fire hearth. The dish is sold wrapped in maxan or plantain leafs in most markets for about three to six quatzales per portion. The dish is especially popular with the Tz'utujil folk that inhabit the area.
Patin is also prepared using game meat and sometimes served with home made corn tortillas. Because of the condiments and preparation it can last a few days without refrigeration”
Though the fish is most common almost any meat can be used. This blog with photo of an egg version writes
“This is what they call the most traditional food from Tz'utujul city. It is a delicous meal/snack that someone brings on every monitoring trip that we do. It is made with omelet, beef, chicken, whole fish, or sardines in a tomato sauce wrapped in an extra big leaf. It is opened up and everyone digs in with their tortillas that come wrapped in the colorful cloths. “
I don’t often accent words, but in this case, patín means ‘skate’ as in ice or roller, while pátin is this Mayan dish.
Our version had meat, beef and chicken, and was served with tasty tortillas made by the same woman. The thick tomato sauce had subtle heat from the chiles. The chopped chicken and chewy beef (in a good way) had slight smokiness from being grilled over fire.
IMO, a lot of the character of Guatemalan dishes is lost when it is not prepared using fire which adds the element of smoke to the flavor
I had been told that the fish version might be an acquired taste, similar to some Vietnamese fish pastes. So I was prepared to eat something I might find more “interesting’ than delicious.
This was simple, lovely and enjoyable. If I’m ever in the area again, I’ll pick up one of the fish versions at the market to see how it compares.
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