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East meets South: How to Make Guatemalan Chow Mein

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Way back in September, I touched down on the tarmac, and envisioned being greeted by fried plantains, warm tortillas, and fresh guacamole.  But the first meal that I ate after arriving in Guatemala City was Chow Mein at a Chinese restaurant with the Genesis staff.  I was confused.  Why am I being offered Chow Mein on a tostada and why can I find a Chinese restaurant in every Guatemalan town that I pass through?  Why is there so much Chinese food (specifically Chow Mein or Chao Mein) in Guatemala?  So, I started my own investigation… (And of course I learned how to make the dish too – you can too! Read on for an instructional video and recipe).

Chow mein on a tostada

Chow mein on a tostada

Chow Mein, (also sometimes spelled Chao Mein and often pronounced as “Chow Ming” in Guatemala) is best known as a noodle dish from China.  However what many people don’t know is that this dish has come to dominate snack breaks in even the most remote villages in Guatemala.  Guatemala has a great love of Chow Mein and even exports a Guatemalan made do-it-yourself brand called “Chao Mein,” commonly encountered in many U.S. Latino Markets.  Chao Mein may be the only word of Chinese origin that has entered into the common day vocabulary of all 23 of Guatemala’s constitutionally recognized languages.  How did it get to be so crazy popular?

The most likely theory is that is descended from the Chinese railroad workers brought in by Cornelius Vanderbilt over a century ago.  The real spread of Chow Mein occurred through the channel of town ferias.  Ferias are roadside fairs that arrive during each Guatemalan town’s scheduled fair time to unpack Ferris wheels, confectionary stands, video arcades, and other novelties such as Chinese Comedors.  Between sheets of nylon plastic, one can find plastic tables guarded by bottles of “El Chino” soy sauce.  And so the story goes that via carnie culinary missionaries, Chow Mein went where ever the moving fair apparatus went.  Chow Mein was introduced as a special exotic meal to be enjoyed during times of celebration and now it unites cooks nationwide—including Genesis clients.

Now, make your own! Watch us do it and follow the recipe below.

Make Your Own Guatemalan Chow Mein  – read on for the recipe!

Serves 8


  • 1 lb. onions
  • 1 lb. tomatoes
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 güisquil (chayote, can substitute with potatoes)
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 1.5 lb. beef (can substitute for chicken, pork, shrimp or tofu)
  • 1 small bottle of cooking oil (for cooking meat and pasta)
  • 1 packet garlic salt (1 tb.)
  • 1 packet onion salt (1 tb.)
  • Small bottle Worcestershire sauce (3-4 oz. or to taste)
  • Small bottle of soy sauce (3-4 oz. or to taste)
  • 24 oz. Chow Mein pasta


  1.  Chop onions, tomatoes, celery stalk, carrot, chayote and chili peppers.
  2. Cut meat into small pieces.
  3. Add cooking oil and cook meat until desired state.
  4. Cook onions, tomatoes, celery, carrot and chili peppers (exclude chayote) until soft.  Add garlic salt, onion salt, and oil to taste.
  5. Once vegetables are soft, add chayote and cook until soft as well.
  6. Combine meat and vegetables.
  7. Place water and salt to boil.  Once boiling, add Chow Mein and cook for about 5 minutes.
  8. Once Chow Mein has cooked, combine all ingredients and serve with tostada or tortillas.
  9. Enjoy! Buen Provecho

Name block - Alexa Wilcox

One thought on “East meets South: How to Make Guatemalan Chow Mein

  1. Hello Alexa: Reaching out to you to ask for a few minutes for a conversation/exploration about Accion Ambassadors. I have been interested/following Accion Global for many years and work/volunteer with Accion Chicago. These are somewhat distinct organizations but overall connected at least in their objectives. Would really appreciate a reply and perhaps we can e-mail directly. Thank you very much.

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