Sharing food of Guatemala

Guatemalan-born Mercedes Walkham and husband Thomas.

Mercedes Walkham will offer a taste of the Guatemalan street kitchen when she showcases and celebrates food from her former homeland at a Mid Canterbury Timebank learning exchange event next month.

Food is a big thing in Guatemala, says Mercedes, and putting out good food for people close to you is a way of saying “I love you”.

“My mother cooked all the time when me and my two sisters were growing up and I have fond memories of cooked school lunches and dishes like eggs, black beans and plantain.”

Not eating the food provided was offensive to Guatemalan hosts, she said, as it was in other countries.

Mercedes met Mid Canterbury-raised Thomas Walkham in Guatemala 10 years ago and the couple married a year later.

After a stint in Nicaragua, the couple swapped the volcanoes, rainforests and ancient Mayan sites for the plains of Mid Canterbury seven years ago.

Mercedes shortly expects to be notified of her New Zealand citizenship, which means she will be able to hold two passports.

Last time she renewed her Guatemalan passport she had to travel to Canberra, Australia to do it.

“The embassy in Australia told me at the time that there were just nine people in New Zealand on Guatemalan passports, which is not many considering we have a population of over 16 million.”

Mercedes said she now knew 20 Guatemalans who lived here, 10 on each island.

She said the move to New Zealand had been hard for her at first.

There has been cultural differences, a completely different climate and she had missed family.

To help her assimilation she had joined the Newcomers Network and Mid Canterbury Timebank and had made friends through both groups.

In 2018 she shared her culture and heritage at a Latino workshop organised by Volunteering Mid & South Canterbury, Mid Canterbury Newcomers Network and Welcoming Communities.

Ashburton is well and truly home for her these days, she says.

She enjoys the cultural diversity in her workplace at Anzco, where she works in human resources, and keeps in touch with family and friends in Guatemala through FaceTime.

Mercedes has enchiladas, toasted tortillas topped with a vegetable mixture, egg and sauce, and dobladas, folded tortillas covered with sauce and sprinkled with cheese lined up at her March 14 cooking workshop. Dessert is called rellenitos and features plantain and chocolate.

To find out more about the workshop email to

– By Mick Jensen