By ANDRÉS MARTÍNEZ
Photos by Mariah Carrillo and Andrés Martinez

It's three in the morning, halfway through the night. Not a sound is made as everyone sleeps except Susana Castro, 54, who is already starting her daily routine. The stars illuminate her path to the kitchen while dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens keep her company. She is the first of three women in the house to set up for the cooking of the day.

She begins by finding the right firewood for the fire—the right size and thickness is important. A gas stove is rare in these rural parts of Guatemala, but cooking over a natural, low-burning fire brings out the flavors of the fried chicken, tomatoes and tortillas.

The chicken couldn’t be fresher. Susana slaughters them, plucks their feathers and cuts them into pieces—all in the comfort of her dirt-floor kitchen, which is a part of her front patio. She regularly fries two of them.

Before the sun rises, Susana’s daughter, Dora Lacar, joins her. She is in charge of making the salsa along with helping Susana fry the chicken and black beans. Dora learned to cook from her mother when she was a little girl, just like Susana learned from her mother as well.

At 38, Dora is an expert chef and loves it. Her favorite dish to cook is salsa. She grabs the tomatoes out of the fire and smoke and peels them as if they were pieces of cotton—softly and fast.

Salsa is done by hand, from beginning to end. After peeling the steamy roasted tomatoes, Dora places them on an improvised mortar and pestle—a plastic strainer on top of a metal container—and uses a wood masher to crush them. This is her favorite part of making salsa because she can add “the final touches,” she said.