Nicaraguan Cuisine

Maduros (Sweet Fried Plantains) and Gallo Pinto (Rice and Beans) are ubiquitous to this land and almost impossible to not eat daily.  

I may exaggerate a tad but I’m not gonna lie, nor will I be Pollyannaish about it. Generally, Nicaraguan cuisine has less gastrointestinal goodness than Iberian,  Mexican, Peruvian, or Venezuelan  fare.  This shouldn’t be surprising as Nicaragua lies at a great economic disadvantage to almost all of its Latin counterparts.  This country actually ranks as one of the top three poorest lands in the entire western hemisphere.  This means that a huge chunk of the population lives hand to mouth and needs to focus on sustenance as opposed to fancy food.

Many people are forced to subsist on rice and beans alone, while less fortunate folks can only manage a tortilla with salt.  I’ve even read of an elderly woman dipping a tortilla in mud.  The latter was witnessed by Gioconda Belli, the Nicaraguan author whose book I’m currently reading, “The Country Under My Skin.” She witnessed a woman consuming mud back when she was a little girl, under the oppressive Somoza regime, many years ago.

This is the only beef dish I’ve eaten here. It’s very common. I didn’t feel good afterwards, like everytime I consume cow; thus, I’m off the beef. Granted, if I were to visit deep South America, I would have no option but to indulge.

So far, I’ve written very little about Nicaraguan cuisine.  But, since I’ve been eating it every day for the last four weeks, I’d like to share some of this tropical foodstuff with you.

During the beginning of my trip, I ate only local fare;  however, since it’s hard to consume the array of veggies that I’m used to in local joints and on the street, I’ve since sought out more expensive food prepared by westerners and Nicaraguans alike.

For the sake of this particular article, I’m only including food that was prepared by Nicaraguans at Nicaraguan establishments.

This is the most colorful and impressive food l’ve witnessed so far.  It’s called “Baho“. The photo was taken at the market in León.  Upon seeing these colors, I had to order a plate.  It was delicious, but, rather oily.  My plate consisted  of copious  Yuca, plantains, pork(reminded me of Irish blood pudding), chicken,  carrots, peppers, onions and more.  This dish is a must try that I haven’t seen in  many places. This rice dish I ate at the Mercado Humberto Huembes in Managua. The woman told me that it’s called Arroz a la Valenciana. Because the Spanish dish Paella is from Valencia, I immediately knew where it got its name.  This dish looks like  Paella; however, I won’t put it in the class of the original;  but,  I’ll give it a thumbs up for its good taste and dynamic ingredients.  Arroz a la Valenciana consists of chicken, chorizo, butter, onion, red pepper, tomato, peas, corn, salt and pepper.  With this dish, the preparer has the right to be creative. You can put anything you desire into it.   I haven’t seen one Arroz de la Valencia that is the same. Like Paella, every dish differs.

This is simply a chicken tortilla which is topped with the ensalada(cabbage) that compliments most meals.  Like many dishes in Nicaragua, the chicken is deep-fried in corn oil.  I recently asked a woman who was frying plantains if she ever uses olive oil.  She said:

Es demasiado caro(it’s too expensive).”

All in all, this dish is tasty and makes a great snack, even for me, as I continue to pursue virtual vegetarianism. Ceviche is a Peruvian dish which can be found almost anywhere in Latin America where seafood is available.  I give the Nicaraguans a thumbs up for their Ceviche efforts, and, even though it’s a copied culinary product, I am still calling this Nicaraguan fare.  While drifting alongn a road in Moyagalpa, I noticed a small sign outside someone’s home that said: “Hay Ceviche“(We have Ceviche or There is Ceviche).  The latter is a direct translation that doesn’t function in English.  This Ceviche tasted much better than it looks.                                         This is one of the best comida typicos (typical meals) I’ve had so far. It was at a clean, makeshift restaurant at a home in Ometepe.  The chicken was marinated and grilled to perfection.  The rice was grainy and the beans were super fresh.  After snapping the shot, I blended the black beans with the rice and found the savoriness to be stupendous.  It could have used a plethora of veggies mixed in.  With plenty of veggies, I deem that this could be a great plate that I’d love to try preparing when I have the luxury of cooking again.

Quesillos are a good snack.  They can be found in specialty restaurants but are commonly sold as street food.  A Quesillo consists of a tortilla, a slice of white cheese, onions and cream.  The plate you’re looking at is from a restaurant in León.  When purchasing these tiny meals on the street, they are rolled up and placed in a bag for easier consumption.  The one you’re looking at has picante mixed into the onions.   Spiced onion is sometimes a pleasnt option when ordering a Quesillo.

Nacatamales are typically dough mixed with corn flower, milk and lard.  They’re filled with either pork or chicken.  I opted for the chicken.  No Nacatamale is the same.  They can be filled with but aren’t limited to tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, rice, potatoes, mint leaves, raisins, olives and chili.   The concoction is wrapped in plantain leaves and then steamed for a few hours.  The one you see is the only Nacatamale I’ve tried.  Ideally I’ll make it a point to try a more visually appealing one soon.

This dish is called Pollo a la Plancha(roasted or grilled Chicken).  This particular  chicken was deliciously marinated with garlic, onion, and pepper.   The accompanying salad was better than average while the tortilla and rice were standard.  I was happy to get a few raw vegetables.  However, I don’t fancy white rice. I prefer something darker and grainier, something that is considered a complex or healthy carbohydrate instead of white rice which is considered a simple starch and hardly contains health benefits.   If any nutritionists are reading this and wish to correct me, please DO feel free to do so in the comments section, or feel free to email me at mike@earthdrifter.com.  Thank you in advance!

These are, as the name suggests,  typical Nicaraguan tacos.  They remind me of what the Mexicans call enchiladas.  I was given the option of chicken or pork.  I opted for the former.  Tacos can be found in restaurants and on the street.  They’re tasty, but, because they’re deep fried, my guess is that the many obese people that I see eat this artery-congesting concoction often.

This tasty product of Lake Nicaragua is called Sopa de Pescado(Fish Soup).  It’s wonderful how the whole fish appears to be swimming.  I’m not sure what produces the yellow/orange color.  The dish was delicious even with the work involved (picking bone after bone out).   I’ll be honest; this is not a dish that is available to the typical Nicaraguan.   I got it in a tourist area on Ometepe, at a restaurant/hotel owned by a Nicaraguan family and cooked by the older woman of the house.  It cost about $6.  Most locals on Ometepe don’t earn that much in a day.  Pondering upon the economic contrast between tourists and locals here on Ometepe reinforces the fact that life can be so unfair. Here is another fresh water fish from Lake Nicaragua.  I was informed by the little girl who served it to me that it’s called “Pescado con Salsa” While eating this $4 plate on a picnic table outside of a home that sits right on the lake, the jovial man who pulled up on his motorbike with a beer in hand, explained to me that this Tilapia was caught in his back yard the day before.  The dish was prepared by his wife. It was delicious.

As you can see, Nicaraguan food can look and be very good, even if it’s far from my favorite on earth, or in Latin America for that matter.

In no way have I covered all Nicaraguan cuisine.   I just posted some of the photos that I’ve acquired while eating  during the last month.

If there is something that you feel I wrote in error, PLEASE let me know in the comments section.  Also, if there’s a Nicaraguan dish that you know of that I haven’t listed, feel free to let me know.  I’ll then seek it out, eat it, photograph it and write about it.

I now need to ditch my computer and find some eats as I’ve worked up a serious appetite.

8 Responses to Nicaraguan Cuisine

  1. BinkyandtheToyThief says:

    I used to live in Leon, about 15 years ago, and I would do anything to taste that food again. I have tried making gallo pinto at home, never tasted like it did in Leon. The nacatamales I ate in Leon had just about everything in them and they were delicious, the best tamales I’ve ever had. I regularly ate maduros with the “ensalada” (which was the cabbage in vinegar with a few of those tiny round hot chile peppers) and the cream on top. I have looked everywhere stateside for a cream like what was dumped on just about every dish I ate in Leon, thick and sweet, but to no avail. Every Friday a lady from a nearby town would set up shop in the San Juan neighborhood in Leon and sell quesillos, they were my favorite, again if I could find the same cream and the same cheese here I’d be a happy camper. Funny that there is now a restaurant in Leon that sells them. I also ate a lot of tostones, and there were these “tortas” I’d get at the market in Leon that seemed to be lightly battered deep fat fried mashed potato patties. I also daily ate tajaditas, those thinly sliced green plantains fried and served with that cabbage “ensalada” on top. Heck, I miss walking to wrk everyday and getting a refresco in a plastic bag, my favorite was “melon” which was cantaloupe blended with orange juice and sugar, yum. This is just torture reading and writing about all these wonderful foods I miss so much!

    • Earthdrifter says:

      BINKY: Thanks for stopping by and providing such a supportive comment. I vividly remember a lot of what you’ve written here about Leon as I spent a week or so there. I wonder how far the closest Latino neighborhood is to where you are now. I wish you luck in finding it and some of the food items that you miss so much. I especially like the Quesillos that had some chili added to them. Surely visited the same quaint little Quesillo place that I did in Leon.

  2. Seantonio Verde says:

    Ironic that I’m sitting here at work reading your blog while eating my home-cooked meal which includes some nicely seasoned and tender, falling apart with a fork chicken on top of white rice with boiled white potatoes (I know, too many carbs). I’m by no means a nutritionist, but I googled “benefits of white rice” and mostly found similar findings as you describe; This website however, while perhaps a tad self promoting, listed many benefits of white rice
    That soup w/the fish in it reminds me of a soup I had in Peru. Nice pics once again.

    • earthdrifter says:

      SEANTONIO: I remember reading that it’s important to eat complex carbs like potatoes, yuca(cassava), wheat pasta and wheat bread. What we shouldn’t eat is white rice(the Asians will never change in this regard) traditional pasta and white bread.
      Yeah a lot of Latin American food is similar: consisting of rice, beans and plantains. Ceviche is awesome anywhere it’s made with fresh fish.
      The fish soup was great. There is a traditional Nicaraguan soup called Mondongo which has a tripe or cow stomach base.
      As for Peruvian cuisine, serious epicureans claim that it’s the best in Latin America. I’m not gonna argue, still, way to many starches in much of Latin American fare though.

  3. earthdrifter says:

    DAVID: In touristy areas in Nicaragua like Ometepe, Leon, Granada or San Juan del Sur, there are two economies, two demographics. This also holds very true in Managua, as that’s where the majority of the low percentage of affluent Nicas live.
    This is the second poorest American land after Haiti, but much richer than Haiti apparently, for what that’s worth.
    I’ve found that in general, I need to spend between $3 and $6 for healthy eats which is sometimes worth it and sometimes not. I got tired of eating fried, greasy street food. Good salads aren’t easy to find so when I do I shell out the extra.
    Everything costs more on Ometepe as things have to be imported in, since it’s an Island.
    Street food is very reasonably priced. In most parts of the country, not including Ometepe, I was eating bags of fresh fruit off the street for $.50. Street Quesillos that make decent snacks can also often be found for $.50 for a normal or $1 for a double.

  4. You have been eating like a champ down there. All the pics make me want to go next door for lunch at Go Burrito Go. Ahhhh but they closed down last month, dam. You list that some of the plates where $4.00, $6.00, etc., that sounds like a lot of cash for down there for food? Or was that at the touristy places only?

  5. earthdrifter says:

    MAIDA: Thanks a million.

  6. Maida says:

    Wow! Very interesting post. I LOVE the photos of all the dishes!

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