Life at Lake Atitlan involves a lot of great food. Life in San Marcos la Laguna involves a lot of vegetables. This is not a problem for us as we eat vegetarian at least half of the time. However, after months of street tacos, vegetables and chicken being our main diet we were ready for more. The village of San Juan la Laguna, easily one of our favorites, proved more than capable of delivering.
On our first, and solo, visit to the village we stopped in for some curried goodness at Fe. Although there is also a Fe location in our own little town of San Marcos we had only experimented with their delicious wood-oven pizza. Today was the day for curry. It was my birthday and after several hours checking out several of the textile co-ops and admiring the stunning array of woven goods, gobsmacked over the extent of the color variations and patterns we were ready for lunch. Successful birthday scarf shopping done, I was in the mood for Indian and Fe promised to deliver.
Alas, my “Indian” chicken curry rang of SE Asia, not India, but was still delicious along with the wood fired pita/tortilla option they listed as naan. Not quite authentic but hey, Thai curry is a favorite as well.
Our second venture into the world of food choices in San Juan was in the company of our friends Matty & Ingrid. We had been having long and fascinating conversations about their move to veganism as they embarked on this journey of discovery, along with their literal journey to South America. This day commenced like the first, with plenty of drooling over the gorgeous craftsmanship of the local ladies along with colorful photo ops.
Next, Ingrid led us to a delightful little restaurant she had found on her previous trip to the village, a non-profit called Alma de Colores cafe. This friendly and inexpensive eatery served up just a couple of options each day but all were prepared fresh to order.
Alma de Colores translates to Soul of Colors and is a labor and social inclusion program for people with disabilities in the area. The restaurant servers and cooks are only a small part of this program which also offers training in the fields of handicrafts, sewing, baking, and organic gardening. Not only do the participants receive fair economic support for their work but the organization offers up support for transportation, medical treatment and school loans as well.
Such a great organization would have received our support regardless of the food but it was certainly a treat that it was delicious and simple vegetarian fare, easily able to be made vegan for Matty & Ingrid. If you ever find yourself in this magical place, be sure to pop in for a visit.
The next two trips to San Juan brought contentment of a totally different nature. In spite of wholeheartedly enjoying learning more about veganism, and in spite of practicing vegetarianism often, I am the first to admit I’m not willing to fully give up on meat and cheese. Jim and I work hard to find sustainable, humanely treated options for our meat and have cut back over the years to a few times a week. But cheese. Sorry folks, cheese is not going anywhere.
Thus, a bit of research led us to gather up some other traveling friends and head back to San Juan for an indulgent lunch at Cafe el Artesano, AKA, heaven. The cafe is well known for their cheese and meat platters. Reservations are required but I simply had to advise them of the number in our party, set up a time, and we were in.
What transpired was a couple of hours of gourmet delight. Along with John & Mandi, Annette & Marshall along with their visiting friend Sarah, we ordered a few liters of wine and took in the beautiful garden setting. Soon enough the food arrived. We had ordered the cheese plate which came with 27, yes 27, different types of cheese, all sourced in Guatemala. These ran the gamut from blue to goat to parmiggiano to gouda. This platter was liberally sprinkled with pistachios, grapes, green olives, and almonds and came complete with a bowl of honey and another of guava chutney.
The meat tray was equally impressive with 17 different varieties of meats; sausage, proscuitto, salami, ham, mortadello…. it went on and on. Perhaps best of all were the dishes of smoked marscapone and bourbon mustard meant to be loving applied. Pretzels, marinated green peppers and pearl onions & tomatoes completed this platter.
A huge bread bowl appeared, and kept getting refilled, along with a couple more liters of wine.
I’d like to say we exercised ANY level of control but it would be a lie. We ate, and ate, and ate some more. By the end of lunch every last crumb had been successfully inhaled. Stuffed, but very, very content.
Lunch at Cafe el Artesano was certainly a splurge for all of us on our backpacker budgets and yet, when we extended our time in San Marcos yet again, John & Mandi were more than willing to head back to the cafe for another go.
I can report that with just four of us we ordered less food; this time was a spiedini plate, artichoke-goat cheese fondue with carmelized bell peppers, and a smaller meat tray portion. Again the wine ran freely and the bread bowl remained full. Again we stumbled away in a food daze, happy to have eaten our weight in cheese and processed meat products.
Our visas expired and our time at the lake came to an end. We headed back into Mexico and John & Mandi headed south along the PanAm as their compass apparently works more accurately than our own. Lucky Annette & Marshall remain at the lake, but perhaps without their trusty eating partners they may be able to exercise a bit more restraint.
San Juan is best known for being the textile village of the lake, but next time you are in the area keep these fantastic restaurants in mind as well. You will not regret it.