Food. That’s what you’d like to hear about I imagine and have I got some amazing meals to share with you!
The food in Nicaragua did not disappoint but it wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting either. The tortilla plays a huge role in meal times across the rest of Central America, but in Nicaragua, not so much. It’s more of an afterthought: “Do you want a tortilla with your gallo pinto?“
The focus here is rice and beans, known as gallo pinto. It’s a staple in every single meal. At breakfast you’ll see it served alongside scrambled eggs and a small block of fresh cheese; coffee on the side. At lunchtime the comida corriente, or set menu, is really popular (and super cheap!) and tended to consist of a small steak, fried plantains, pickled cabbage, and of course, gallo pinto. Dinner time was a shot in the dark; oftentimes it looked very similar to lunchtime.
Here are my favourite meals of our trip, in all their glory.
1. Vigorón, Granada
Vigorón refers to a typical Nicaraguan dish, created in Granada, made up of chopped cabbage, tomatoes, onions and chili, marinated in vinegar and salt; boiled (and sometimes mashed) yuca; and chicharrones (fried pork rinds), served on a banana leaf.
My favourite vigorón was devoured at the parque central in Granada on a hot afternoon between naps, when we stumbled out to grab something quick to eat. The cabbage was so perfectly vinegar-y and the yuca just the right amount of softness. I have to admit that I can’t get on board with pork rinds (which is to say, I think they’re pretty gross), so it’s saying a lot about the rest of the dish that it entered my top five. Delicious.
2. Pupusas at Comidas Typicas Y Mas, Granada
Comidas Typicas Y Mas was on our favourite street to wander for food in Granada and served all sorts of typical Nica food. We ate there a few times but none was better than our first visit, on our very first evening in Granada. Why? Pupusas.
They’re made from corn meal and filled with either a blend of ingredients or one sole feature. Ooey gooey soft cheese, or quesillo; pulled pork, which tasted as soft as the cheese; beans mushed to a soft paste.
These little packages of love look like a half inch thick disc the size of your palm and they came served with that deliciously sharp vinegary cabbage slaw. I could murder a couple right now.
3. Gallo Pinto on the parque central, Granada
As I mentioned at the start of this post, gallo pinto, or rice and kidney beans, is the staple of the Nicaraguan diet. Nothing tastes better in the morning than a big plate of wonderfully seasoned rice and beans with some light, creamy scrambled eggs, a block of white, tangy cheese and a small corn tortilla. Add to that a cup of Nicaraguan coffee and trust me, your day is off to a stellar start.
My favourite comedor on the parque central in Granada is responsible for securing my deep rooted love for gallo pinto. The best tasting food we found in Nicaragua was on the street, at little sidewalk grills, or at unassuming cafes like this one.
Restaurants and hotels, in our experience, tended to pander to Western tastes and unfortunately that often meant a lack of seasoning and a more bland flavour.
Out on the street, you’re eating what the locals eat and it’s good.
4. Doña Pilar’s, Managua
[photo credit: dinnerdiary.org]
On our very last night in Nicaragua, we were holed up in Managua, a city we’d been told time and again was too dangerous for tourists. Well, too bad, because we had a flight to catch from there and we needed to stay the night!
I opened up ‘the book‘ and looked for something near our hotel where we could grab a quick bite before bed.
Their favourite pick was a fritanga which was one block from our hotel, Doña Pilar’s. “Fritanga” refers to a sidewalk grill and this place is the perfect example of one. It only opened at 6.00p.m for dinner and was an extension of someone’s house – dishes being carried back into the house to be cleaned and kids running in and out to play in the street – several plastic tables and chairs are set up and there’s a little cooking area backed by a massive, almighty grill.
The food on offer was typical Nica fare and it was easily the best we had the whole trip: the juiciest barbecue chicken I have ever had that was crispy, salted and cooked to absolute perfection. Alongside the chicken was of course, gallo pinto and chopped pickled cabbage. The rice and beans were seasoned so well and the cabbage salad added just the right amount of tang and freshness. We both said we could eat that meal everyday for the rest of our lives. And the price for such an amazing meal? $3. And that included a beer.
5. Comida corriente at the corner bar, León.
Maybe it was the epic journey we had to get to León that day. Maybe it was because of the unbelievably loud but wonderful female singer playing from the stereo (I so wish I could remember her name!). Maybe it had something to do with how happy we were to have our first litre of Toña beer on the table, in our glasses and quenching our thirst on that 90F day.
Whatever the elements surrounding it, this meal goes down as one of my greatest hits of Nicaragua.
We ordered the comida corriente, or daily special, and then waited in anticipation as we saw it come out to other tables and noted the satisfied smiles of others digging in. The meal was simple, filling, and hearty. Carne asada, a simple steak, seasoned and cooked so well and served alongside a small salad, a small pot of fantastic tangy, spicy chilis, plantain fries, and the inevitable gallo pinto.
We mmm-ed and ohh-ed our way through the meal, slurping down greedy gulps of the bright red refrescos (fruit juice) that came with it.
As with all of my favourites, I’m realising as I read back on this post, there was no fancy, stand-out ingredient or element to any of these stars. They were just typical, simply prepared Nicaraguan dishes, that stood out because of how well they were cooked, their seasoning and the great, fresh, local ingredients.
Thank you Nicaragua for some amazing food and crazy adventures. Now excuse me while I go and unbutton my trousers.