expat / transitions / travel

Day 6/ 28: What da heck is Pollo Campero?

I thought for my Day 6 blog I’d share with you one of the most popular fast food chains in Guatemala, Pollo Campero. Just like riding your first tuk-tuk or visiting the Mayan ruins in Tikal, eating Pollo Campero is a Guatemalan experience by its own right. Happy reading!

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My first encounter with Pollo Campero was not in Guatemala though. There is a Pollo Campero not too far from my old neighborhood in Houston on Washington Avenue. To be quite honest, it’s next door to a really popular taco place. In Houston, Tex Mex is a huge deal, but keeping an open mind, I decided to check this place out. Despite having the word “pollo” in the restaurant’s name, I managed to enjoy an empanada, taco, and quinoa salad. I figured this had to be much healthier than eating a box of fried chicken. And, I was quite impressed, but honestly, amongst other food options available to us in Houston it’s not really that popular. Not a lot of people really know about Pollo Campero here.

Fast forward to moving to Guatemala and being in Spanish school in Antigua. My Spanish teacher was having a conversation with me about what foods are very unique to Guatemala. As part of my cultural enrichment, she insisted that I go to Pollo Campero. I was kind of surprised by this suggestion. I told her that I already did that and showed her the above picture of what I ate.

Maria made this shocked and disgusted look telling me that I didn’t experience the real Pollo Campero. She told me what I ate was way too healthy and my skinny butt needed some grease. She also told me that no self respecting Pollo Campero in Guatemala would serve tacos and quinoa. Maria told me that nobody eats quinoa amongst her friends and family.

She insisted that I go back and order the fried chicken. Really? Fried chicken? But, that’s not healthy? As my Spanish teacher, she commanded me to have dinner there if I wanted to gain real Guatemalan street red. Yes, I was forced to eat fried chicken for homework. Well twist my arm….

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The Real Pollo Campero

Really close to Central Park in Antigua, I went to PC. A friendly hostess sat me down and then a woman came to my table later to take my order. Her Spanish was very fast, but luckily I had a menu. I told her that I wanted the fried chicken (my health-conscious spirit cringed a little). She asked me, “Pechuga?” I grinned and asked her, “Que es pechuga?” I had no idea what a pechuga was. The waitress grabs her boob and says, “Pechuga!” Well, I guess I will never ever forget that awkward Spanish moment or that word ever again. Pechuga means breast. Got it!

Once my food came out to me, I realized what all the hype was about. The fried chicken is pretty tasty. And, as I looked around, I noticed families sitting around and just enjoying their time. It was very reminiscent of my childhood growing up in suburban Houston. My parents were big savers, and we only splurged on going out to eat maybe once or twice a month. Because of that, “going out” to eat consisted of us having dinner at Pizza Hut on Fridays. To me and my siblings, this was a big deal. Now in Guatemala, you could see that there is this sense of pride in the cleanliness and customer service at Pollo Campero. It was a slow fast food experience. You had  a menu, you had a waiter take your order, and you had someone bring your food out for you. In some locations, the Pollo Campero also featured a cafe area. The cafe has a real Italian espresso machine and features desserts. It’s a legitimate place where people often took dates too. In a lot of ways, this was their “Pizza Hut” moment.

The love and admiration for Pollo Campero is really strong amongst Guatemalans. While I stuffed my luggage with coffee, chocolates, and handwoven textiles, my fellow Guatemalan travelers at the airport were proudly carrying boxes of fried chicken. This was the one must-have item all homesick Guatemalans wanted flown in from a beloved friend or family member.

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