WANTED NOTICE: Guatemalan Fiambre for Day of the Dead
I hadn’t thought about fiambre in years. Until yesterday when a friend of mine from Guatemala shared a photo of her and another friend digging.
And then the desire began, and the search to find it.
Fiambre is a Guatemalan dish traditionally prepared for the Día de Los Muertos, consisting of an almost garish cornucopia of preserved meats, cheeses and vegetables of indigenous and Spanish origin, the latter having an Arab influence.
I lived in Guatemala for almost eight years, but that was a long time ago. And my Guatemalan mother-in-law, who in paz descanse, did not make a fiambre. Too much work, says my husband, and too expensive.
The word “fiber” comes from the Spanish word “frío”. The dish is served cold. I like to think that it is out of solidarity with our deceased relatives who can no longer have a hot meal.
Like many traditions, the origin of fiambre is debated. National Library of Guatemala note several possibilities: Something that was assembled from rare ingredients after the Santa Marta earthquake of 1773; a dish that the Franciscan friars prepared because they did not know how to cook.
Fiambre can be… a lot. It usually contains dozens of ingredients including sliced hot dogs, ham, blood sausage, hard-boiled eggs, olives, capers, radishes, red peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, corn, pacaya (a palm flower native to Guatemala that looks like a baby slender corn) … I could go on.
If you’re the type of person who needs to eat all of the components of your meal separately, fiambre may not be for you.
I’m not going to lie and say this is one of my favorite dishes. But I am a sucker for tradition.
So I called our benchmark Guatemalan bakery in Orange County. No fiber.
Do you know where I can buy it?
Yes No. We say in Los Angeles but I really don’t know where.
So I took to Twitter.
Within half an hour, I had a dream offer from someone I had never met:
I live far south in Huntington Beach. My benefactor was in downtown LA. It was too much to ask. But he offered again, and I accepted.
Hours later, Guillermo Cabrera rolls up to my back door with an aluminum container filled with fiambre, the egg and sausage filling arranged on top in geometric culinary beauty.
Cabrera was doing the last shift delivering his 75-year-old mother’s fiambre to family members around LA. Her sister had taken the morning shift.
Cabrera said his mother had been working there for three days, cutting ingredients, pickling vegetables. He explained that his mother’s arthritis is getting worse. “Who knows if she’ll get there next year?” Cabrera said he plans to learn so he can keep the tradition alive.
Fiambre is definitely a labor of love. And the ingredients don’t come cheap.
I only bought fiambre a few times when I lived in Guatemala because the high price was a big blow to my income as a freelance journalist. And anyway, the plates that friends gave me from their family kitchens were a thousand times better.
Cabrera left to make his last delivery of the evening, to Calabasas, but we parted ways promising to exchange tamales for Christmas. (If you haven’t eaten Guatemalan tamales, you’re missing out.)
Wait what? Have I dreamed about this whole social media fairy tale? I tweet and a stranger brings me fire?
It really happened. My husband and I slipped into this delicious fiambre for lunch today. And also prepare a plate for our muertos.
What questions do you have about Southern California?