Top 10 Things To Eat In Nicaragua
You’ve just arrived in Nicaragua and you’re looking for the top things to eat in Nicaragua because that peanut butter jar that you, the savvy traveler, have packed is down to its last spoonful. Your heart sinks when you realize that maybe they don’t sell peanut butter in Nicaragua. Pangs of hunger remind you of the deep animal urges that govern you.
You hold your beckoning belly and look out into a busy market of street food vendors. You gaze down another cobblestone street in Granada full of restaurants, ready to jump into the local cuisine. Since peanut butter is no longer going to be on the menu for your trip, what can you expect to be filling your plate and gut with this trip?
To get a sense of the unique food here, with its Spanish, Creole and indigenous influences, here are the top ten Nicaraguan dishes for you to eat while in the country.
Literally, painted chicken, gallo pinto is the staple food in most Nicaraguan’s diet. Never have grains of rice danced with so much flavor with frijoles.”How could this be,” you ask yourself, thinking, it’s just rice and beans? But Maria, the cook who made them, has a coy, culinary smile on her face, and now you know, Maria is magic, and so are the rice and beans in Nicaragua, tasting in a way no one ever imagined they could. On the Caribbean coast, they mix the rice and beans with coconut. Is it any wonder then why people there walk with a satisfied swagger and often burst out into random song?
The tongue is for tasting and storytelling, and indio viejo (old indian) is a dish peppered with legend. As the story goes, a huddle of indigenous Nicaraguans had just prepared a feast of indio viejo when a group of Spanish conquistadors came by and asked them, “Damn, what smells so good?” The Nicaraguans, suspecting that the Spanish had come to mooch off them, told them that an old Indian had just died and that they were serving him up with tortillas, sending the Spanish along their hungry way.
Indio viejo is actually a delicious, heavy meal that takes several hours to prepare. Using a fatty piece of beef as a base, it is made with onion, sweet chili, garlic, salt, tortillas, pig fat, hierbabuena and sour orange — the perfect plate of gluttony, served just before a nap in one of the ubiquitous rocking chairs creaking across the country.
For brave travelers not currently reading The Lord of the Flies, pebre is a dish consisting of pig head and other pig parts that the cook happens to have laying around such as liver, ears, tongue, face meat, skin and feet. Throw in some onion, garlic and achiote, mix in some rice into the soup, and you not only have a meal that would satisfy a rogue black bear, but something to tweet home about.
Elotes (Corn on the Cob)
There’s a simple secret to the corn in Nicaragua, which adds a second level of flavorful fantastic. It’s all in the second cooking. The corn is cooked in its husk and then reheated on a grill when it’s ready to serve, which allows it to retain much of its flavor. Expect lime and salt to be added for flavor.
Locally called tostones, it is this writer’s opinion that Nicaragua makes them better than anywhere else in the Latin American world. Not mushy like the Guatemalan variety, is it any wonder that the letters from crunchy, jungle-grown tostones can be rearranged to read as “Tootness!”— which is the nonsensical word you exclaim when you try them.
Along the market roads of Nicaragua, you will inevitably come across a vendor selling little packages wrapped in leaves. Inside these leaves, which are not edible, are meat, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, onions and sweet pepper, all cooked in a dough made of ground corn and butter. Nacatamal is boiled for five hours in the leaves, and can easily be consumed in less than five seconds if you put your mind to it.
Sopa Borracha (Drunken Soup)/Sopa de Rosquillas
Served around the Christmas holidays, the conversation goes like this:
Tomato Soup: Sopa Borracha, me and the chicken noodle think that you have a problem.
Sopa Borracha: Cinnamon! Sugar!
Tomato Soup: You can’t go on like this. Are you soup or alcohol?
Sopa Borracha: I came for Christmas! I am not even soup, silly tomato purée, I’m actually an alcohol-soaked bread. I laugh in the face of soup. I am a special blend of liquor, soaked in porous bread, mixed with coffee for power! My bread includes cinnamon, liquor, sugar and water and I taste like Christmas, and I pity the sober fool consuming anything other than me.
Sopa de Rosquillas (Donut Soup) – Because it is time to think outside of the bowl. Drunken Soup’s best friend since forever, donut soup, is made with corn donuts mushed into a sweet base. It’s great because — do I really need to explain? It’s soup made out of donuts and haven’t we been subconsciously craving this for years?
Now, it’s time for desert, and travelers to Nicaragua talk about Tres Leches like European backpackers speak about Nutella: in hushed, reverent tones that always end with the entreating question, “Do you have any?” Tres Leches is made with three kinds of milk — straight-up normal milk, condensed milk and cream. After that, throw some sugar, flour eggs and meringue in the mix and you are eating a dish that many a Nicaraguan child has stayed up all night dreaming about.
Ask a Nicaragua to choose between Pinolillo, a corn flour/cacoa-based beverage, and the person they love the most, and they won’t understand the question because they are the same thing. Nicaraguans love their thick, chocolaty Pinolillo like gringos love Nicaragua. And like gringos, it can easily be found in most market stalls.
Luke Maguire Armstrong lived in Guatemala directing the humanitarian aid organization, Nuestros Ahijados. His book of poetry, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About, is especially enjoyed by people who “don’t read poetry.”