Six Pics is a new feature here at Travel Rinse Repeat where I’ll share six pictures with a common theme. More than just photo essays, this series will dive into different aspects of a place or a culture. In this first edition, I’m sharing one of my favorite aspects of traveling: eating!
Thanks to an abundance of cheap street food and some amazing chefs (thank you, Finca Mystica), I ate a little too well in Nicaragua. From an abundance of strange and interesting fruits to a dessert that makes the nation proud, Nicaragua does not disappoint when it comes to food. And though Central American cuisine can sometimes be labelled bland or tasteless when compared to its spicier Mexican cousin, I found the diversity in flavors to be more than satisfying for my palette.
Here are six of the most interesting or important dishes that I encountered.
Gallo Pinto literally translates to ‘Painted Rooster’ though there is no chicken (or paint, thank goodness) in this dish. At its most basic, Gallo Pinto is a combination of rice and beans, though serving it with eggs, cheese, pork, or sausage is common as well. It is a staple of both Nicaraguan and Costa Rican cuisine, and both countries claim it as their national dish. On my short stay, I was all too happy to devour Gallo Pinto every time it showed up on my plate (which was quite frequently). But ask any Gringo expat who’s been living in Nicaragua for some time and they will almost certainly tell you how much they detest Gallo Pinto being served at every single meal.
Mamons are a common snack fruit sold by the bunch in Nicaragua. The small, green fruits look like miniature limes, but the edible inside is decidedly different. The rinds are easily removed revealing the satiny, yellow fruit with a texture more akin to a piece of raw fish than a citrus fruit. The flesh is sucked away from the pit which is usually discarded on the ground, planting the next generation of mamon trees and explaining the frequency of these fruit trees throughout Nicaragua.
Tres Leches Cake
Originally created in Nicaragua, tres leches cake has found popularity throughout Latin America and even in the United States. The cake is extremely moist which comes as a result of it being soaked in three different types of milk: evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream. The cake is a source of national pride for Nicaraguans and it was the one dish that I was told not to miss on multiple occasions. It turns out that soaking cake in sugar, cream, and fat makes it incredibly delicious. Surprised?
Found on just about every menu at snack kiosks or lunch counters around town, vigarones were one dish I couldn’t bear to stomach, try as I might. Shredded cabbage, boiled yucca, chimichurri, and various other vegetables are all mixed together with deep fried pigs skin or ears. In my one attempt at conquering this dish, I made it through all the vegetables, but one bite of the tough and salty pork rind was enough for me. The yucca was a highlight for me, tasting a bit like potatoes.
In the city park of Granada, generations of women labor over hot coal stoves to cook these stuffed corn tortillas. Thicker and fluffier than your standard taco tortilla, these grilled flat breads are filled with bits of gooey cheese and melted butter, making them a perfect late afternoon snack. And the best part? A stack of revueltas costs less than $1 USD.
It wouldn’t be the tropics without abundant access to delicious, cheap, and diverse forms of fresh fruit. Nicaraguan markets, street vendors and restaurants are all stocked with fruits in every shape, size, and color. Guavas, papayas, and plantains are commonly found on breakfast plates or consumed for mid-day snacks. And did you know that most of the pineapples served in Central America have white flesh instead of the usual yellow?
Bonus Pic: Toña
While it’s not technically a ‘food’, it would be near impossible to visit Nicaragua without coming across the beloved beer Toña. It’s a standard light lager that is enjoyed by locals spending an afternoon on the plaza, ex-pats at the Irish pub, or backpackers partying on La Calzada. While the flavor was nothing special, the volcano on the bottle label is a nice touch.
Have you ever tried any of these foods?