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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,

16 Responses to The Truth About Nicaraguan Food

  1. Joella February 9, 2016 at 1:06 AM #

    I was also just in Nicaragua and didn’t love the food. I got food poisoning more than once which never happens to me! I’m a vegetarian and I actually think it was from the undercooked/poorly reheated rice I kept being given. I haven’t been able to touch rice and beans since I got home! I did have a couple of lovely meals. One was when I did a wonderful community tourism tour near Matagalpa and we ate at someone’s house on a farm. The other was a tiny restaurant (if it can be called that- it was more like someone’s house) that I randomly stopped at in a village on Ometepe. There was no menu, I just asked her to make me something vegetarian and it was wonderful.

  2. pippavague February 9, 2016 at 1:31 PM #

    Yes! I’m still here in the Isla de Ometepe and completely agree. I actually love gallo pinto still but I don’t love eating it with every.single.meal haha. Coming down from Mexico & Guatemala where food is such an important part of the culture, and so readily available it’s been a disappointment here. Especially on the island where everything seems to be either pizza or fried chicken (not useful when your gluten free like me). It’s nice to hear someone being honest about it, thank you! 🙂

  3. Gonçalo Duarte February 9, 2016 at 2:13 PM #

    Oh so sad to hear this…
    We just came from the Philippines and we had this experience as well: the worst country to eat. And Nicaragua was on our next destination top list… Have to rethink ;(

    • Vojtech February 21, 2016 at 3:10 PM #

      I also thought that Philippines are bad for food,but then I went to Cambodia…..

  4. Miriam February 12, 2016 at 5:16 AM #

    You know, I felt exactly the same about the food in Nicaragua. It seemed bland and without flavor. Luckily, what it lacked in taste, it made up for in beautiful nature and crazy adventures like volcano boarding.

  5. Brianna February 12, 2016 at 12:50 PM #

    There’s just only so many times you can eat beans and rice…. I hear ya.

  6. Sara Ribeiro February 12, 2016 at 10:14 PM #

    I’ve heard about Nicaragua food, now I see in your article to your experience.

  7. Trisha Velarmino - P.S. I'm On My Way February 23, 2016 at 7:46 AM #

    Never would I have thought that a Central American country could fall short on flavours! Thanks for the insightful perspective! Checking out the local cuisine is probably my most favourite thing experience when visiting a new place. Thanks for that tip about the Caribbean coast. Are the vegetarian options well done though?

  8. m March 24, 2016 at 9:11 PM #

    went to the west coast the food was awesome. now it wasn’t nico food but the sea food Canadian food etc. was great and cheap. also the beer too. tonia

  9. Nadhezda Morales Galeano June 15, 2016 at 12:40 PM #

    I totally desagree. The Nicaraguan food is different and tasty, with flavor and interesting. As i see, your experience wasn´t enough, and it don´t means that the entire Nicaragua food is bad. Did you taste the local “fritangas” or a kind of soup? And what about natural yogurt or juice with tropical and local fruit? You should visit that beatiful country again and write another post with more information not with just 2 or 3 different flavors. There are mary restaurant with delicious local food. Where did you taste it? . And of course… rent a car, the chiken bus are not the best option to move around and taste local food.

  10. Karina July 5, 2016 at 7:35 PM #

    We have delicious food in Nicaragua! The flavors the colors and the textures. Rice and beans are indeed a staple, as bread rolls are in American restaurants. Perhaps next time do some research, try the gorgeous jugo de pitaya, fritangerias, etc.

  11. David Gonzalez July 8, 2016 at 8:55 PM #

    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.

  12. J August 3, 2016 at 3:17 PM #

    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 what it’s worth. Go to Chipotle and stay ur ass in America.

  13. Serhat Engul October 13, 2016 at 7:23 AM #

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

  14. Donnell Dacillo November 4, 2016 at 1:51 AM #

    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 👋🏿

  15. C. Terán December 17, 2016 at 2:33 AM #

    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 es la dieta nica!”, “Nicaragüenses con poca educación nutricional” — one of the main problems with local dishes is their lack of nutritious value, and the over dependence on unhealthy ingredients such as pork lard (manteca). Nutritious vegetables are usually removed from dishes once they are half cooked or only used for flavoring but not eaten. And most everything is fried in grease and drinks call for tons of sugar!

    Many of the local dishes are bland and not truly reflect the great variety of ingredients available in Nicaragua. When it comes to condiments, hardly any of the recipes call for spices other than maybe ‘achiote’ or cumin, or a little salt and pepper. None of the popular spices used in the tropics or even elsewhere in Latin America or the Caribbean are part of traditional Nicaraguan culinary offerings. In general, herbs are seldom if ever used. Other than yerba buena, naranja agria and occasionally ginger, for instance, hardly any of the other local ingredients are included in Nicaraguan dishes, beverages, etc, even though a number of them are grown in agricultural areas such as the north.

    By the way, I am Nicaraguan not some foreigner putting down Nicaraguan cooking. I also happen to be very good cook that knows more than a thing or two about nutrition and healthy eating.

    And before I am criticized and called a “mata mama” that has betrayed my country’s culture, let me make it quite clear that my comments in no way make me love Nicaragua any less.

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