The most important tip I can give you on Nicaragua local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Nicaragua, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in
Food is very cheap. A plate of food from the street will cost 20-50 cordobas. A typical dinner will consist of meat, rice, beans, salad and some fried plantains, costing under US$3. Buffet-style restaurants/stalls called “fritanga” are very common, quality varies quite a bit. A lot of the food is fried in oil (vegetable or lard). It is possible to eat vegetarian: the most common dish is gallo pinto (beans and rice), and most places serve cheese (fried or fresh), fried plantains and cabbage salad.
There are a ‘few’ vegetable dishes such as guiso de papas, pipián o ayote– a buttery creamy stew of potato, zucchini or squash; guacamole nica made with hard-boiled eggs, breaded pipian (zucchini), and various fried fritters of potatoes, cheese and other vegetables. If you like meat, grilled chicken and beef is delicious, the beef is usually good quality but often cooked tough; also try the nacatamales, a traditional Sunday food, that is essentially a large tamal made with pork or chicken and other seasonings (~15 cordobas). Indio Viejo is a corn meal (masa) based dished made with either shredded chicken or beef and flavored with mint.
The typical condiment is “chilero” a cured onion and chile mixture of varying spiciness depending on the cook. Nicaraguan food is not known for being spicy, though either chilero or hot sauce is almost always available. Nicaraguan typical diet includes rice, small red beans, and either fish or meat. Nicaraguans pride themselves for their famous gallo pinto that is a well-balanced mix of rice and beans and is usually served during breakfast. Plantains are a big part of the Nicaraguan diet. You will find it prepared in a variety of forms: fried (subdivided into maduros/sweet, tajadas/long thin fried chips, and tostones/smashed and twice fried), baked, boiled, with cream or cheese, as chips for a dip, smashed into a “toston”. Green bananas and guineo bananas are also boiled and eaten as side dishes.
Nicaraguan tortillas are made from corn flour and are thick, almost resembling a pita. One common dish is quesillo: a string of mozzarella-type cheese with pickled onion, a watery sour cream, and a little salt all wrapped in a thick tortilla. It can be found on street corners or in the baskets of women who walk around shouting “Quesiiiiiillo”. The most famous quesillos come from the side of the highway between Managua and Leon in Nagarote (they also serve a local drink, tiste) and La Paz Centro.
The best selection of cheeses, from quesillo to cuajada, is in Chontales. A typical dish found for sale in the street as well as in restaurants is Vigoron, consisting of pork grind, yuca and cabbage salad, chilis can be added to taste. Fritangas (mid to large street side food vendors and grills that usually have seats and are found in most residental neighborhoods) typically sell grilled chicken, beef and pork and fried foods. They also commonly sell “tacos” and “enchiladas” that can be delicious but have very little in common with their 2nd cousins-once-removed in Mexico.
Tacos are made with either chicken or beef rolled up in a tortilla and deep fried, served with cabbage salad, cream, sometimes ketchup or a homemade tomato sauce, and chile on the side. They are a little like a Mexican taquito/taco dorado. “Enchiladas” don’t have anything enchiloso about them (not spicy). They are a tortilla filled with a beef and rice mixture, folded in half to enclose the mixture, covered in deep fry batter and then yes, deep fried. They are served similarly to tacos.
One alternative to the fried offering in the typical menu is carne en baho. This is a combination of beef, yucca, sweet potato, potato and other ingredients steamed in plantain leaves for several hours. One typical dessert is Tres Leches which is a soft spongy cake that combines three varieties of milk (condensed, evaporated and fresh) for a sweet concoction. If you travel to Chinandega, ask the locals who sells “Tonqua” It is a great fruit that is candied in sugar and is ONLY available in Chinandega. Most Nicaraguans outside of Chinandega do not know what Tonqua is. Tonqua is a Chinese word for a fruit, because tonqua is a plant that Chinese immigrants introduced to the Chinandega area.
What to Drink in Nicaragua
Rum is the liquor of choice, though you will find some whisky and vodka as well. The local brand of Rum is Flor de Caña and is available in several varieties: Light, Extra Dry, Black Label, Gran Reserva (aged 7 years), Centenario (aged 12 years) and a new top-of-the line 18 year old aged rum. There is also a cheaper rum called Ron Plata. Local beers include Victoria, Toña, Premium, and Brahva.
Victoria is the best quality of these, similar in flavor to mainstream European lagers, while the others have much lighter bodies with substantially less flavor, and are more like mainstream U.S. lagers. A new beer is “Victoria Frost” which is similarly light. In the non-alcoholic arena you will find the usual soft drinks (Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola). Some local drinks include pinolillo’ and cacao are delicious drinks from cocoa beans, corn and milk and usually some cinnamon, a thick cacao based drink, Milka’, and Rojita, a red soda that tastes similar to Inca Cola or “Red Pop” (if you’re from Texas or the southern United States).
Nicaraguans drink a huge variety of natural fruit juices and beverages (jugos naturales which are usually pure juices, and refrescos naturales which are fresh fruit juices mixed with water and sugar). Popular are tamarind, cantelope, watermellon, hibiscus flower (flor de jamaica), limeade, orange, grapefruit, dragon fruit, star fruit (usually mixed with orange), mango, papaya, pineapple, and countless others. “Luiquados” or shakes of fruit and milk or water are also popular, most common are banana, mango or papaya with milk.
Also common and very traditional are corn and grain based drinks like tiste, chicha (both corn), cebada (barley) and linaza (flaxseed). Most fresh drinks are around C$10-20. As in other parts of Central America, avoid juices made with water if you are not conditioned to untreated water, unless at a restaurant that uses purified water.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.