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Cobán’s pride and joy is the limelight-grabbing celebrity on every restaurant’s menu: kak-ik. Ask some locals and you will quickly find out that they are awfully proud of this wildly popular dish, which features a fat turkey leg dipped in red, steamy soup and sprinkled with coriander leaves and the remnants of chilies and spices. The word ‘ik’ means spicy in Q’eqchi, and the main ingredient of the stew is the dried Cobanero chili. It is used alongside cilantro, mint and various varieties of herbs, with the most prominent one being achiote. Other ingredients for brewing this savory stew include samat, an herb found in Alta Verapaz, and several heads of garlic. Served with tamales steamed in banana leaves and a small portion of rice, the turkey stew is dished out hot, right from the stove.

The dish is a concoction of long history and living traditional spirit. Some Mayans say that kak-ik's red coloring evokes memories of blood used during rituals and ceremonies by their ancestors.Today, Mayan Q’eqchi women keep their traditions alive by killing and cooking the turkey as it has been done for generations.

Deemed national cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture and Sports in November 2007, and considered by many to be the unofficial national dish of Guatemala, kak-ik can be found in many restaurants all over the country, especially in its hometown of Cobán. Restaurante Pokomchi, also known as ‘la casa de chunto’ (house of turkey), is one of the best places to try this traditional dish.

By Nellie Huang
29 Sep 2009

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