Foodie’s Guide to Nicaraguan Traditional Food and Drink
Nicaragua Traditional Food
Nicaraguan food and drink has a lot of different influences, but some of the most popular dishes date back to pre-Colombian times. Way back then, the varied menu on offer in Nicaragua was the result of a mixture between colonial Colombians, and native Nicaraguans.
Roots of Nicaraguan food
Nicaraguan cuisine has been around for centuries, dating back to the pre-Columbian era. You can tell by the names of Nicaraguan dishes. And that usually reflects the country’s rich history and cultural heritage. Nicaraguan cuisine became more diverse during the Spanish conquests, with Creole dishes supplementing the existing repertoire. Currently, Nicaraguan cuisine includes a variety of soups, main courses, and desserts. There are also many local refreshing Nicaraguan drinks, which I will review later in the article.
The stables of Nicaraguan cuisine:
Nicaraguan food’s base is maize, used in traditional dishes such as:
- Indio Viejo
The two main staples are rice and beans, which are usually served in a gallo pinto dish.
Gallo pinto is so ubiquitous that it is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
What food should you try when visiting Nicaragua
Corn is the king
For centuries, corn has been the basis of a number of Central American and Mexican cuisines, and for good reason! The crop grows really well, and it tastes amazing too. Therefore, from indigenous tribes to modern Nicaraguans, corn plays a large part in the diet.
Nicaraguans use corn in pretty much all their dishes. Even Nicaraguan drinks! Chicha and Pinol are great examples of corn-derived beverages, but there are others available too.
Caribbean Flavors in Nicaraguan Cuisine
In Nicaragua, the culture is like a spectrum, changing as you walk across the beautiful landscape. On the Caribbean coast, you can find a a number of traditional Caribbean flavors, such as coconut.
Tropical Ingredients in Nicaraguan cuisine
While coconut certainly makes up a part of Nicaraguan cuisine, there are plenty of other tropical flavors up for grabs too. The thing which separates this use of tropical flavors from similar cuisines is the fact that they’re paired so effortlessly with more traditional ingredients like onion and garlic.
Rice and beans are the basis of a Nicaraguan diet, at all meals. Nicaraguans eat it as part of breakfast, they call it Gallo Pinto. At lunch or dinner, however, they’re a part of a ‘Casado’, which is the local equivalent of a cheap, filling meal of the day.
In Nicaragua, non-typical meat makes up a large part of the diet. For example, the tail, stomach, brain, and testicles of a cow (or bull) are all fairly commonplace ingredients when using beef.
You can find fritanga (fritanga) in any Nicaraguan restaurant- a ubiquitous catering establishment consisting of a counter with various foods and several tables. Sometimes with a makeshift kitchen right on the street.
Gayo pinto is a mixture of boiled red or black beans and rice. Gallo Pinto – a bowl of simple and delicious rice and bean dish and perhaps the most classic dish of Nicaragua.
Mondongo is a very famous Nicaraguan dish. It’s perhaps the most famous colonial food and is one that the ex-pats seem to love hating.
Mondongo is a hearty soup, with tripe front and center. Ingredients, -hold your breath- cow stomachs and hooves, which float in the bowl. The cooking process involves removing the nail from the hoof to get at the tender meat beneath. If you’re so inclined, the meat actually very succulent, with a fine flavor.
Nicaraguan nacatamales – a Nicaraguan food staple!
Nicaraguan nacatamales are a real treat. They are different from Mexican-style tamale as the masa has a bit of bitter orange. Nicaraguan nacatamales are packaged in banana leaf instead of corn husks for steaming. The banana leaf also imparts a beautiful flavor to the tamale. Nicaraguan nacatamales usually contain rice, meat, potato, tomato, and sometimes even prunes, green olive, capers and raisins. Nicaraguan nacatamales are much more like a complete meal in an excellent package than your average tamale. Just like all tamales are, Nicaraguan nacatamales are time-consuming. That’s why in Nicaragua, nacatamales is a weekend dish. And the end result is definitely worth the wait!
Fruit in Nicaragua
In addition to rice and beans, Nicaraguan cuisine features a variety of tropical fruits, such as:
- jokote (Mexican plum)
Nicaraguans are using fruit in different ways: they boil them, fried them, or eat them raw. It’s also common to turn fruit into chips or bread. Whatever the form, Nicaraguan food is sure to delight the senses.
Corn is King. In almost every part of Leon or Granada, you can find a tortilleria.
Bananas in Nicaraguan cuisine
Nicaraguan traditional food list is incomplete without its most famous side dishes: the delicious and nutritious banana. Nicaraguan bananas come in all shapes and sizes, each with its own distinct flavor and use. The most common varieties of Nicaraguan bananas are maduro, tahadas, and tostones.
Maduro is sweet and often served as a dessert, fried in oil until they turn black.
Tahadas are long fried banana chips
Tostones are fried and flattened green plantains.
No matter which variety you choose, Nicaraguan bananas are a delicious and healthy addition to any meal.
Nicaraguan Drinks to try
One of the main things that Nicaragua is famous for is its amazing rum! The most popular brand is Flor de Caña.
You will find more traditional drinks like beer and wine throughout the country. If you’re dining in Nicaragua, consider going for Chilean wine to balance quality with cost. Beer is popular in Nicaragua, with the most common brands being Victoria and Toña.
If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic drink, we’d recommend pinol. It is water that has been flavored with toasted, ground corn – it’s much better than it might sound. A variation on pinol is tiste, which is made with cocoa beans and corn.
The only spot where you might be disappointed is with coffee – locals tend to like it weak and sugary. Tracking down a good cup can be hard. If you’re looking for something to scratch the coffee itch, try seeking out a good hotel or restaurant, they’re more likely to cater to American and European tastes.
For a hot drink that’s a little different, try agua dulce – a warm drink made from melted sugar cane, and served on its own, or with milk or lemon.
Nicaraguan cuisine is rich and varied, reflecting the country’s long history and culture.