Nicaraguan food isn’t nearly as popular and well known as that of other countries on the continent (think Guatemala or Mexico). Yet, if you decide to visit, you will be pleasantly surprised by the variety, the flavors, and the wholesomeness of it.
I have been to Nicaragua 3 times – it’s one of my favorite countries in the world – and have always appreciated Nicaraguan food. First of all, Nicaragua has some fabulous, fresh produce. Fruit abounds and it is always ripe at the point of perfection. Nicaragua is also the largest producer of beef and lamb in Central America (it’s the third most exported product), which means that meat eaters will find plenty of steak and meat stews.
Yet, vegetarians should not worry: there are plenty of options for them too. Perhaps, the country has yet to feed on the vegan movement and labels, but lots of Nicaraguan food is naturally vegetarian and vegan so you won’t have a hard time finding food that is nutritious and delicious, whatever your dietary needs.
In this post, I highlight all the food in Nicaragua that you should not miss. Before getting to the top Nicaraguan food, however, let me share some tips that will help you make the most of it.
5 Tips To Fully Enjoy Nicaraguan Food
Go on a food tour
Food tours are a great way to get acquainted with a cuisine you know little about. I always recommend doing one, wherever you travel, and it is no different for Nicaragua. Food tours there are only just starting – Nicaragua isn’t exactly a major tourist destination yet. But you can find a couple online that you may want to join to get a good idea of Nicaraguan food. Here are two I have selected for you:
- Tlakualli food tour – sold on Viator, one of the largest third party tour resellers, this tour includes a whopping 12 samples. It runs in Leon, costs less than $12 USD and its for a group of up to 12 person.
- Nicaragua gastronomy – this is a more expensive option, but the price is per group. The tour runs in San Juan del Sur.
Go to local markets
Modern grocery stores exist in Nicaragua. I still remember the excitement with which my friend announced that a new La Colonia, a luxury style grocery store had just opened a couple of blocks from her home.
Yet, the best places to learn about Nicaraguan food are local markets. Generally speaking, these are fun to visit and to catch a bit of local action – best in the morning, usually. Markets are perfect to get a good understanding of the local ingredients; and to get an idea of what locals eat and buy.
Learn about the staple ingredients of Nicaraguan cuisine
Food in Nicaragua tends to differ from one coast to the other. The staple ingredients of Nicaraguan food are generally beef, chicken, fruits and corn on the Pacific coast. Corn is used throughout, to prepare tortillas but also drinks such as chicha.
The Caribbean coast has flavors that are more similar to those of other Caribbean countries, with a strong presence of fish and coconut.
Other commonly used ingredients in Nicaraguan cuisine are rice and beans – used to prepare the ever present gallo pinto (more about that below); cabbage (repollo in Spanish) which is used for salads; plantains; and butternut squash.
Eat where locals do
You will find plenty of good restaurants in cities like Leon, Granada and on the coast. Yet, if you really want to get a proper Nicaraguan meal, you should eat where locals do. Locals usually opt to eat at home, but when they go for a meal they opt for comedores – budget eateries where they serve a set of ready-prepared dishes for a very modest price (usually ranging between $2 and $5 for a full meal).
Another option are the fritangas – more about this below.
Try street food
Street food is often the best way to go in Nicaragua. Once the sun sets, you will see locals pulling out small barbecues along the streets and generally in the main squares (in Leon, they are all near the Parque Central) and grilling beef and chicken, which they will serve with abundant portions of gallo pinto and fried plantains. These small carts are called fritangas and they are the most budget friendly eating option in Nicaragua.
25 Must Try Nicaraguan Food And Drinks
This is the perfect snack to accompany an ice cold beer at sunset. It consists of thin slices of plantain that are fried in oil till they are crispy. They are a sold everywhere in the streets of Nicaragua.
Common across Caribbean countries, this dish is made with thin slices of plantain that are fried in oil until they are soft. They are then drained, pressed together and fried again to look. The final result is a croquette that is moist on the inside yet crispy on the outside. For perfection, have them with mild cheese as an appetizer.
You will often see this dish served at breakfast. It is made of ripe plantain slowly cooked in oil with a bit of sugar until they are soft, sticky, moist and absolutely delicious. You can have it accompanied with eggs and gallo pinto.
This is probably the most common food in Nicaragua, and chances are you will have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s made with rice fried with onion and sweet peppers, red beans which are boiled with garlic, and then everything is mixed and fried together. You can have it with maduros and eggs for breakfast; with grilled chicken, pork or beef and ensalada de repollo (cabbage salad) and a corn tortilla for lunch or dinner.
Guirila are corn pancakes that are best served with homemade cuajada (curd cheese) and cream. They can be found in Northern Nicaragua, and the best places to have them are Chontales and Matagalpa.
This fast food consists of meat on a stick. It can be either beef or chicken, usually marinated in a sauce made of wine or beer. It’s a popular dish during celebrations.
As I have stated before, Nicaragua is a large producer of beef. So it is obvious that locals eat meat any time there is a celebration. Carne asada literally means grilled meat – in other words barbecued meat. It’s a favorite of locals for celebrations and family events. Carne asada can be found in different forms in many other countries in Central and South America.
Vigoron is one of the most typical dishes you will find in Granada. The dish is made with plantain leaves layered with yucca, pork, chicarrón (pork scratchings) and ensalada de repollo. The name literally means “very vigorous” – supposedly a reference to the fact that you’ll get a lot of energy from it. The best place to try it in Granada is a kiosk in the Parque Central called “El Gordito.”
This tasty but heavy dish is one of the most popular food in Nicaragua. It is made with shredded meat which is stir fried with onions, garlic, sweet peppers and tomatoes. As if this wasn’t enough, a dough that is made with tortillas previously softened in water and grounded is added. Finally, orange juice and broth are added.
Sopa de Mondongo
This dish is typical of Masatepe, in the region of Masaya. It is made with mondongo (tripe) which is washed in bicarbonate, orange and lemon. Once clean, the tripe is chopped and cooked with onion, sweet peppers and garlic. When it is cooked till soft, rice and chopped vegetables (usually chayote – which is similar to zucchini, as well as sweet peppers, onions and corn) are added. It is generally served with avocado and cheese.
Originally from La Paz Centro and Nagarote, in the department of León and where you should try them, quesillos aren’t exactly healthy – you may want to say that cholesterol is their middle name. They are prepared by layering a freshly baked corn tortilla with two thin slices of a quesillo, a local mild cheese. This is then wrapped up and stuffed in a ziploc bag, but not before adding a salad of pickled onion is added, a couple of spoonfuls of fresh cream and some salt. You will make a mess when eating them. But they are oh so good!
Similar to the Mexican tamales, nacatamales are made of dough prepared with ground corn and butter. This is then stuffed with small pieces of pork or chicken, rice, potatoes, onions and sweet peppers. This mouthwatering mixture is then stuffed into plantain leaves, folded and boiled until moist and soft and absolutely delicious.
Rondon is a fish soup typical of the area of Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast of Nicaraugua. It is prepared with fish cooked with sweet peppers; nargan – which is a local herb; onions, plantains, yucca and new cocoyam, a leaf found in the region. You will find something similar also on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
Baho, or vaho (it can be found spelled both ways) is a typical Sunday meal. It takes forever to prepare, so most families start making it the day before. It is made with beef, plantains and yucca which are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for a long time. It’s usually served with a cabbage salad and tomatoes.
This dish is made with diced lean beef cooked with onions and peppers and a good squeeze of lime juice. It’s usually served with the ever-present gallo pinto.
Atolillo is one of the most typical desserts you will find in Nicargua, similar to the flan de leche or even the crema catalana you will find in many other countries. Much like for the other international varieties, the main ingredient is milk which is cooked with wished eggs, sugar and cornflour until firm. It’s flavored with vanilla or cinnamon.
Cajeta de Coco
This typical dessert found in Nicaragua is made with coconut and yuca flour balls that are served with an abundant sauce that is similar to dulche de leche and more grated coconut.
Pastel de tres leches
This typical Nicaraguan dessert consists of a cake that is soaked in 3 kinds of milk (whole milk, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk) to give it a rich, thick texture. The end result is actually quite similar to a cheesecake.
The perfect way to accompany the delicious Nicaraguan coffee is with rosquilla – small sweet snacks made of masa flour and queso seco cheese which is added to the dough. They are baked twice to make sure they are really crispy.
Similar to rosquilla, but in this case the cookies are covered with a good dose of sweet, sticky syrup.
Freshly pressed lemon juice with a hint of sugar and lots of purified ice. There are many variations of it, but the plain one is the best – especially on a very hot day which in Nicaragua is pretty typical!
Flor de Cana Rum
Each Caribbean country I have visited claims to make the best rum. I have a personal preference for Guatemalan Zacapa, but I must say that Nicaragua does make good rum. The best one is Flor de Cana, which is produced not far from Leon since 1890. The best way to learn about its production and to get a good taste is on a guided tour departing from Leon, which you can book here.
You will find chicha in many countries in Central and South America, and there usually is little variation to it. Ask me, and I will tell you they are all equally bad, but you still should try it at least once. Chicha can come in different colors, depending on which color the maize used to prepare it is. It is really nothing more than a very cold drink made by soaking corn in cold water overnight, grounding it and adding water. The mixture is then cooked, and once cold sugar and other flavorings are added. The most common version is the unfermented chicha.
This favorite Nicaraguan drink is made with cornmeal, cacao and sugar. The best one is obviously made fresh, but most people now make it with a ready-made powder to which they add milk or water.
Hardly the best beer you will ever have, Tona is the most common beer you will find in Nicaragua. It’s a perfect and extremely budget friendly drink – especially if you can share the 1 liter bottle with friends. The only issue is that, once it is taken out of the fridge it goes warm in a matter of minutes since it is so hot outside.
Other Useful Information
Great Nicaraguan food cookbooks
If you want to recreate some of your favorite Nicaraguan food at home, you may want to get one of these cookbooks on Amazon:
Further readings about Nicaragua
If you are planning a trip to Nicaragua, make sure to read my other posts:
- The Most Awesome Things To Do In Nicaragua
- What To Expect When Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro, Nicaragua
- Five amazing sunsets that will make anybody want to visit Nicaragua
- 15 Cool Things To Do In Granada Nicaragua
- A Complete Guide To Leon Nicaragua
Further readings about international cuisine
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