Parent Series: Exploring Nicaraguan Cuisine

After his son, Dan Lewis, came to Nicaragua as a 13-month Program Director, Dr. Fred Lewis and his wife, Dr. Liz Herr, came down to visit - twice! In addition to participating in many of MPI's programs, they also had the chance to travel throughout Nicaragua and experience much of what this beautiful country has to offer. In this blog, Dr. Lewis shares some of his favorite Nicaraguan foods and restaurants. Bon appetit!

Exploring Nicaraguan Food

Nicaraguan food has Spanish, Creole and indigenous influences. It is simple, fresh and, a bit to our surprise, we found it to be fantastic. We enjoyed a number of traditional dishes.  

Plantains

photo source: Wikipedia

photo source: Wikipedia

Plantains are found just about everywhere in Nicaragua. Dan introduced us to the three different ways plantains can be prepared. Very ripe plantains are sweet and can be sautéed into maduros. Tajadas are “potato chip”-like plantains. You will find them packaged and sold in grocery stores, gas stations and sometimes as street food. My favorite were tostones, especially tostones con queso. Green plantain slices are fried then topped with a slightly salty queso or Nicaraguan cheese.

Gallo Pinto

Gallo pinto is a staple in Nicaragua. Beans and rice are cooked separately then combined, sometimes with onion or garlic. Gallo pinto is hearty, cheap, and really delicious. Just about everyone (including the Manna Project Program Directors) has gallo pinto for, or with, all three meals.

Corn

Corn is also a staple and used for everything from tortillas to a sweet drink called chichi de maiz. Our driver introduced us to quesillos—the very best ones found in a roadside shop in Nagarote—a blend of cheese, cream, picked onion, and vinegar wrapped in a corn tortilla. Traditionally, quesillos are served in a plastic bag and consumed by biting off the corner of the bag and eating/drinking the contents.

Fresh Fruit

Fresh fruit is abundant and delicious, including bananas, mango, pineapple, papaya, and some others we didn’t recognize. Dragon fruit is pink and spiny and jocotes look a little like cherry tomatoes.

Coffee

Nicaragua is also very well-known for its coffee. Here I am standing on a mound of coffee beans at Finca Magdalena on Isla de Ometepe.

Recommendations

Nicaragua is encouraging tourism in the hope of joining its wealthier neighbor Costa Rica as a travel destination. If you are lucky enough to visit, here is a little restaurant advice:

Favorite Dishes

Although not a part of most Nicaraguan’s daily diet, we found the beef in restaurants to be extremely good. Churrasco, a spicy grilled steak, would be worth going out of your way for.  Fresh fish is abundant and fantastic. We enjoyed many of our meals accompanied by Tona, the local beer, which is kept ultra-ice-cold, a wonderful contrast on very hot days.

In León

In León don’t miss El Sesteo, known, among other things, for the fact that Mick Jagger ate there in the 1960s. It’s right on the Cathedral Square (the rooftop view from the cathedral itself also a highlight). We also had a great meal at Al Carbon; the best sandwiches and can be found at Pan y Paz.

In Granada

In Granada, there are also many good restaurants, our favorites being Bistro Estrada and The Garden Café. The town of San Juan del Sur even has it’s own brewpub, San Juan del Sur Cerveceria, started by three ex-pats from the University of Denver. Breakfast at El Gato Negro is fantastic.

In Managua

We stayed near the metrocentro mall in Managua. There are a number of good restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood, the “new downtown." We had a wonderful dinner at Don Candido, a short walk from our hotel. Some of our favorite dinners though were at Chik Chak, which is near the Manna Project house in the outskirts of Managua. A group of the MPI Program Directors joined us, so we had great company and food!

Food Safety

Before our visit, we were given various recommendations about how cautious to be when eating and drinking in Nicaragua. We generally drank bottled water, rather than tap water, and ate in restaurants rather than buying food from street vendors. Otherwise, we enjoyed fresh fruit and everything else on the menu, and we had no difficulties at all.

Everything is "Farm to Table"

In the U.S., trendy restaurants may promote the “farm to table” concept—local foods produced nearby. In Nicaragua, we realized the cuisine is, and has always been, by nature, local, simple, and fresh. If you are going to visit, though, go soon, as we did see a McDonald’s going in across the street from the Cathedral in León.


Thank you, Fred!

Do you have a question for Fred? Email him here

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