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Wanted: Guatemalan Fiambre For Day Of The Dead

Plate of colorful Guatemalan fiambre, mixed meats, vegetables and cheeses.
Guatemalan fiambre prepared by Hayde Austin.
(Jill Replogle/LAist)
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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 in. Then the hankering started, and the search to find some.

Fiambre is a Guatemalan dish traditionally prepared for Día de Los Muertos. It's made up of an almost gaudy cornucopia of preserved meats, cheeses and vegetables of native and Spanish origin, the latter with Arabic influence.

I lived in Guatemala for nearly eight years but that was a while ago. My Guatemalan mother-in-law, que en paz descanse, didn't make fiambre. Too much work, my husband says, and too expensive.

The word "fiambre" comes from the Spanish word "frío." The dish is served cold. I like to think that's in solidarity with our dead loved ones who can no longer get a hot meal.

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Like many traditions, the origin of fiambre is debated. Guatemala's national library notes several possibilities . Maybe it was thrown together from scarce ingredients following the Santa Marta earthquake of 1773. Maybe Franciscan friars made up the dish because they didn't know how to cook.

Fiambre can be… a lot. It usually has dozens of ingredients including sliced hot dogs, ham, blood sausage, hardboiled eggs, olives, capers, radishes, red pepper, cauliflower, cabbage, corn, pacaya (a palm flower native to Guatemala that looks like spindly baby corn)... I could go on. If you're the kind of person who needs to eat all the components of your meal separately, fiambre may not be for you.

I'm not going to lie and say it's one of my favorite dishes. But I am a sucker for tradition. So I called our go-to Guatemalan bakery in Orange County. No fiambre.

Do you know where I can buy some? 

Ay, no sé. They say in Los Ángeles 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:

screenshot of text: "My mom made some, can I get you a plate? In reference to fiambre.

I live way down south in Huntington Beach. My benefactor was in downtown L.A. It was too much to ask. But he offered again, and I accepted.

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A couple of hours later, Guillermo Cabrera rolls up to my back gate with an aluminum container packed full of fiambre, the egg and sausage garnish laid out on top in geometric culinary beauty.

Cabrera was doing the late shift delivering his 75-year-old mother's fiambre to family members around L.A. His sister had taken the morning shift.

Cabrera said his mom had been working on it for three days, chopping ingredients, pickling vegetables. He explained that his mom's arthritis is getting worse. "Who knows if she'll make it next year?" Cabrera said he plans to learn how to make it so he can keep the tradition alive.

Day of the Dead altar with food, photos, ceramic skulls and orange flowers.
(Jill Replogle/LAist

Fiambre is definitely a labor of love, and the ingredients are not cheap.

I only bought fiambre a few times when I lived in Guatemala because the high price was a big hit to my freelance journalist income. The plates friends offered me from their family kitchens tasted a million times better.

Cabrera left to make his last delivery of the evening, to Calabasas, but we parted promising to exchange tamales at Christmas. (If you haven't had Guatemalan tamales, you're missing out.)

Wait, what? Did I dream this whole social media fairytale? I tweet and a stranger brings me fiambre?

It really happened. My husband and I tucked into that delicious fiambre for lunch today. And we put out a plate for nuestros muertos, too.

Where To Get Fiambre In L.A.

(You’ll have to wait until next year. Fiambre is generally only sold for the week or so prior to Nov. 2. For now, try some other comida chapina at these places.)

  • Guatemalteca Bakery: 7630 Van Nuys Blvd, Van Nuys (and their other locations).
  • Muchá Comida Chapina: 11541 Sherman Way, North Hollywood.
  • Panadería Victoria: 3535 Imperial Hwy, Inglewood.
  • Puchica Guatemalan Bar & Grill: 4523 Sepulveda Blvd, Sherman Oaks.
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