In 2007, the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports named one dish part of the country’s intangible heritage: kak’ik. Kak’ik comes from a Q’eqchi’ Maya tradition dating back to the days before Spanish conquest. This community of Maya people originally resided in what is now the departments of Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz. Women (who traditionally prepare the dish) use native turkeys, cilantro, tomatoes, chilis, and achiote, a spice that comes from a bright-red plant with such a vibrant color that it’s sometimes called the “lipstick tree.” The resulting broth is famed for its spiciness.
There are nearly a million Q’eqchi’ people living in Guatemala today and, along with their population, kak’ik has expanded beyond the boundaries of its traditional homeland. Though often eaten for special occasions such as weddings (with all necessary preparations, including the killing and cleaning of the turkey, taking place at home), the dish can also be found at restaurants from Antigua to Lake Atitlán. Perhaps the best place to try kak’ik is Cobán, the capital of Alta Verapaz and still home to the largest concentration of Q’eqchi’ people in the nation.