You’d never leave Paris without tasting a baguette. Or take off from Lima without sipping on a Pisco Sour. Known best for its magical surf and incredible landscape, Nicaragua is also a little-known foodie paradise waiting for you to explore its delicious and yet simple native cuisine — especially if you have a penchant for streetfood.
Nicaraguan cooks draw flavors both from well-steeped tradition and the amazing freshness of local produce. Though flavors will differ regionally, these are our favorite Nicaraguan bites not to be missed — and where to taste them.
Quesillo — Originating in the Northwestern townships of La Paz Centro and Nagarote this savory street snack has ignited a bitter rivalry between the two towns over whose quesillo reigns supreme. Typically consisting of a tortilla stuffed with cheese and topped with cream, pickled onion, vinegar and chile this will definitely tide you over as a between meals nosh. It’s usually served warm and wrapped up in a plastic bag to keep all that ooey goodness from getting everywhere.
Our pick: Quesillos Bone, La Paz Centro
Gallo Pinto — A near ubiquitous dish, you cannot escape Nicaragua without being served this beans and rice staple. The recipe will vary regionally with more coastal regions often incorporating coconut lending sweeter notes.
Our pick: Kathy’s Waffle House, Granada
Nacatamal — A traditional Sunday morning breakfast often served with black coffee. This meat-filled corn tamale, is wrapped in banana leaves before being boiled or steamed for several hours. Often stuffed with aromatic ingredients ranging from green peppers and onions to olives, raisins and chiles.
Our pick: Cocina de Dona Haydee, Managua
Rondon — A fish dish from Bluefields on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, that is mostly found on the Caribbean coast and is generally prepared with fried fish served cooked with peppers, onion, plantains, yucca and new cocoyam in a coconut milk sauce.
Our pick: Comedor Maris, Big Corn Island
Vigorón — Served on a plantain leaf, yucca is first deep fried (or sometimes boiled) and then topped with a cabbage slaw, tomatos and chicharrón (pork rinds). Native to Granada, the dish is flavored with vinegar, chili and mimbro — a local fruit similar to starfruit.
Our pick: kiosk “El Gordito”, main square, Granada
Indio Viejo — Translated as “Old Indian,” legend has it this dish was so named to encourage hungry conquistadors into thinking natives were feasting on one of their own. In reality, this delicious stew made of fatty beef, onion, garlic, tomato is flavored with chiltoma, achiote and sour orange and thickened with tortilla dough.
Our pick: El Menú, San Juan del Sur
Pinolillo — A traditional Nicaraguan drink, pinolillo or pinol, is made from a finely ground cornmeal that has been dried and toasted and mixed with water or coconut milk. It’s most often flavored with cacao, chili, cloves and cinnamon, and served cold in a dried gourd-like cup called a jicara made from the shell of the Jicaro seed.
Our pick: ChocoMuseo, Granada
Plantains — A starchier cousin of the banana, you’ll find plantains are incorporated into many a Nicaraguan dish. Served as a side, tostones are thick slices of green plantain that have been fried. Tajadas are usually thinly sliced strips of green plantain fried and often served with cheese and pork. As a sweeter alternative, platanos maduros are ripened plantains that have been pan fried to caramelized perfection.
Our pick: Los Ranchos, Managua
Sopa de Queso — Most often served during Lent, this rich soup showcases two of Nicaragua’s most common ingredients — cheese and corn. Achiote, bell peppers and onion highlight the freshness of masa and intense richness brought by an abundance of hard white cheese. To top it off, corn fritters are formed into ring like shapes and deep fried for garnish.
Our pick: La Trenza, Managua
Tres Leches — Common throughout Latin America, this cake is soaked in three kinds of milk — evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and cream. It’s just as moist and decadent as it sounds. On the country’s Caribbean coast, you’ll often find condensed milk has been substituted for coconut milk and topped with coconut flakes, giving the dish a decidedly tropical flair.
Title image via flickr: elaine_macc
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