The Truth About Nicaraguan Food

It pains me to write this, but I finally found a country whose food didn’t speak to me.

I spent a few weeks in Nicaragua, mostly the west coastal areas of León, Granada, Ometepe and San Juan Del Sur, and fell madly for this country. A lot of the infrastructure and characteristics of its people reminded me of my first country love, Thailand.

But the food. The food was the exact opposite of love.

The food of Thailand is so rich with flavors. The noodle bowls have the rich broth, the bright citrus notes, the spicy herbs and chilies. The curries have peppers and coconut and chili paste blended together in unison. Even their cheap on the go snacks like sticky rice are often laced with coconut cream or other sweet pastes. Everything about that cuisine makes my mouth water. Thai people take great pleasure in their food. You can see the pride in the faces of those preparing meals for others.

In Nicaragua, food was seen and used more in necessity than something that could provide tasty experiences. This is for a reason.

The majority of Nicaragua is not financially sound; it is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Many of its residents can’t even afford to add meat to their diets. Ingredients for dishes are chosen to fulfill a nutritional need instead of a flavor need.

Beans and rice in the form of gallo pinto are overwhelmingly plentiful. In many regions, beans are the primary source of protein that compensates for a diet lacking in meat. Yucca root in the form of a popular dish known as Vigoron is a vegetable extremely rich in vitamins and nutrients but lacking in substantial flavor.

Often this food culture made it challenging to understand this country. Its people were so vibrant. The land of lakes and volcanoes was so diverse and unique. Even its transportation, chicken busses, were a riot.

But the food culture of the country was tough to chew (sometimes literally).

It was hard to find the bustling street vendors who shared their passion of cooking with customers. Which meant it was hard to find the true, local flavors. Although the street vendors that I did find were often boasting traditional Nicaraguan dishes like Vigoron and nacatamales they were typically in tourist spots and had jacked up rates and bland ingredients. There was no passion in their cooking.

A chicken nacatamale

In León, there is only one small stretch of 3-4 street food vendors. A typical meal here will set you back close to $5USD. Oftentimes, you can find meals in restaurants for cheaper than that.

I grew to loathe gallo pinto. I can really get into some good rice and beans, but gallo pinto was far from that. It didn’t matter where I found this dish, it was always undercooked and under seasoned. Does anyone actually like crunchy rice?

Even the restaurants trying to cater to tourists lacked anything special and many had prices that were extremely inflated to accommodate imported ingredients. Taco joints weren’t great, seafood spots struggled hard, and burgers left a lot up to the imagination.

Tostones con queso frito

One thing I have to give it to Nicaragua for is their plethora of vegetarian options. Even at the few street vendors I found, vegetarian options were prevalent. I probably wouldn’t have noticed this if I wasn’t traveling with a half-vegetarian… It makes sense once I learned of Nicaragua’s food economy. Without being able to afford meat, Nicaraguans learned to sustain themselves on purely starch and veggie diets. I found zucchini cakes, bitter leafy greens mashed together with potatoes, and plantains everywhere.

As a disclaimer, like I mentioned, I stayed on the west coast. I also stayed on the beaten tourist path. I’ve heard that the cuisine on the Caribbean coast differs greatly from the west especially because of the inclusion of coconuts, which always makes food better!

Oh, Nicaragua, my tummy is still grumbling for you, my dear,

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Anthony Spence Peña
Anthony Spence Peña

Just the fact that you had a chicken nacatamal tells me how clueless you are about Nicaraguan food.

It is a shame you had a bad experience, but for what I read I can tell you missed a lot of good dishes and barely scrapped the surface of Nicaraguan cuisine. If you can next time get some info on actually good places, ask locals, etc before actually speaking about a country’s cuisine.

Best of luck and don’t take other people bad comments at heart 🙂

fnunez
fnunez

Nicaraguan food is not rich in spice or exotic herbs, which is what most travelers are expecting to find nowadays. Nicaraguan food is not Mexican like or Thai like which is consumed and cooked with lots spicy chile’s and citrus. Nicaraguan food uses chilies a side and pickled relishes on the side for those who want to add more spicy flavor to your taste. There are a lot of grilled options, fresh fruits and plenty seafood flavors. Many entrees are citrus or vinegar base marinades. Many items cooked are often grilled or pan fried. If you go to the Atlantic… Read more »

Katherine Jones
Katherine Jones

I’m terrified to think the amount of people following gluten free diets or vegetarians that will read this post and take what is being said like the gospel. I agree that at places where they’re obvious tourist traps you will find that the food is expensive but look around and you’ll find places offering better choices at a much more reasonable price. I definitely can’t say there are many food choices for those with special diets which is probably why the ones giving bad reviews of Nicaraguan food couldn’t find anything they liked. Also, gallo pinto is a staple but… Read more »

Lucy Maltez
Lucy Maltez

I think food is such a sentitive topic. With whomever you speak, they will have their own preferences and opinions. People take offense when you criticise their food because whether we recognize it or not, food is very personal and emotional. We acquire food customs from our parents and culture we acquire without ever stopping to think about it. I live in Spain, it has some of the best food (ask any Spaniard) and chefs in the world (El Buli), and yet, I love Nicaraguan food because it is was what I grew up with. Nicaragua food is very simple,… Read more »

C. Terán
C. Terán

100% agree! For sundry reasons, Nicaraguan dishes and cooking fall short on many counts when compared to the cuisine of countries in Asia, Europe, and even Latin America (Perú, México). Lack of a great variety of flavors and dependence on a few ingredients are just two of the weaknesses of Nicaraguan cooking. Few Nicaraguans are either aware or out of pride will admit to the fact that in general the traditional Nicaraguan diet is not very healthy and/or nutritious. As noted by several articles published in Nicaragua’s main newspaper, La Prensa — “Nicaragua con serios problemas de alimentación”, “¡Qué mala… Read more »

Donnell Dacillo
Donnell Dacillo

You should feel ashamed of this review. You are the epitome of white, North American privilege. Do the world a favour and stay in the states. Girl bye ??

Serhat Engul
Serhat Engul

I have been planning my next trip to South America. Thank you for the great tips.

Katherine Jones
Katherine Jones

Honey, Nicaragua is in Central America not South America 😉

J
J

I’m from Nicaragua and I can tell you that your review is trash. I don’t know why you’re writing a review on touristy-Nicaraguan food. You didn’t go to any authentic places. Go to the actual parts of the country that aren’t for tourists, maybe then you’ll love the food. It’s def better than the food you eat in America anyways. Also, it’s a third world country… of course theyre not going to have the best cuts of meat readily available for your prissy American self. They’re main concern is to survive. Seriously, get over yourself and appreciate the country for… Read more »

Ctravel29
Ctravel29

You should try growing up and come back and write again after you do.

David Gonzalez
David Gonzalez

Wow that is some dry and nasty looking food. You clearly didn’t do any research or take anyone with you that knows were to go. Piss poor review. Fried plantains with with cheese WTF. There is all kinds of food you missed out on. vuelve a la vida and chacalines cocktail, Rondon, Indio Viejo, Caballo Bayo, pico de gallo, guapote, ext. You completely went in blind that’s like going to Chipotle and thinking that’s authentic Mexican food.

Maxine
Maxine

The plantains with cheese are actually really tasty. I just spent a few weeks in nica, spent time in Managua, masaya, masatepe, San Marcos, ometepe, jinotepe, several beach towns including the tourist trap that is SJDS. Food was generally bland with the exception of fritangas and “mondongos” and cafés. I got the worst food poisoning ever in popoyo beach, ruined the trip.

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