Nicaragua is the biggest country in the Central American isthmus, surrounded by Honduras, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, and the Pacific Ocean. The country is best known for its numerous lakes and volcanoes. It is home to the two largest freshwater lakes in Central America, Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua.
The population of Nicaragua is comprised of different ethnicities including mestizos (which make up the majority of the Nicaraguan population, about 69%) and people of Spanish descent. Other minor ethnic groups include Germans, Italians, British, Turkish, Danish and French. Nicaragua’s diversity is undoubtedly mirrored in its food, with endless exotic dishes to try.
Most Popular Nicaraguan Dishes
Nicaraguan food is a blend of indigenous Native American cuisine, Spanish cuisine and Creole cuisine. However, traditional food varies from the Pacific to the Caribbean coast. Staples of the Pacific coast mainly include local fruits and corn, while the Caribbean coast’s cuisine generally consists of seafood and coconut.
Corn is, however, a staple of Nicaraguan dishes, as it is in numerous other Latin American countries. It is used in several of the commonly consumed dishes, like nacatamal and indio viejo. Other commonly used ingredients include rice, beans, peanuts, cabbage, carrots, beets, butternut squash, plantains, bananas, fresh ginger, onion, potato, peppers, jocote, grosella, mimbro, mango, papaya, tamarind, pipian, apples, avocado, yuca, and quequisque.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of Nicaragua along with recipes for you to try for yourself.
Gallo Pinto is a dish made using rice and red beans as a base. Prepared along with peppers, bell peppers, onions, and garlic, Gallo Pinto is considered the national dish of Nicaragua.
The name “gallo pinto” means “spotted rooster” in Spanish. It refers to the fact that the dish is multi-coloured due to the usage of rice and black (or red) beans, making it look very similar to the spotted rooster. However, the exact origin of this dish is still unspecified as both Costa Rica and Nicaragua claim it as their own.
Nacatamal is a dish prepared using corn dough filled with chicken or pork and then covered in banana leaves. One can also add ingredients such as bell peppers, rice, onions etc. to the filling to make it more flavorful. People also sometimes add raisins, prunes and olives to the dish on certain special occasions.
The name “nacatamal” translates to “meat tamale”. It derives from the Nawat language of the Nicarao people on the Southern Pacific Coast. Generally accompanied by fresh bread and coffee, nacatamal is frequently eaten on Sundays at mid-morning.
Vigorón – Yuca and Cabbage Salad
Vigorón is a traditional Nicaraguan salad dish prepared using boiled yuca (cassava), cabbage and pork rind. Generally eaten with bare hands, it is served over a banana leaf. People in Nicaragua usually eat it as an appetizer but many also enjoy it as a main dish or as a snack.
In his book Granada, Dr. Alejandro Barberena Pérez mentioned that María Luisa Cisneros Lacayo invented the recipe of Vigorón in 1914 in Granada, Nicaragua. He further explained how a poster promoting an early 20th-century medicinal tonic by that name led her to name the dish Vigorón.
Quesillo is a dish prepared using a thick corn tortilla wrapped around soft cheese (with a similar consistency to mozzarella cheese), pickled onions and a sauce of sour cream or liquid cheese and vinegar. They are either served covered in a plastic bag or on a plate.
As per tradition, people add a substantial dash of homemade chili sauce before consuming, and serve it along with a chocolate and maize drink called tiste, which is generally served in a gourd cup.
Indio viejo is a stew dish prepared using maize dough with shredded beef and onion. It is thick in consistency and its appearance is somewhat similar to porridge.
Indio viejo’s origin dates back to the pre-Columbian era, when the dish was prepared using a mortar. It has a slightly sweet taste that comes from the use of yerba buena and bitter orange. It is traditionally consumed along with tostones (fried green plantains) and cuajada (curd cheese).
Rondón is a stew prepared using fish, shrimp, lobster and any other seafood cooked in a pot containing root vegetables such as yuca (cassava), plantains, potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, chilli peppers, and fish stock (which is sweetened with coconut milk). It can also be optionally prepared using beef, pork or turtle meat.
The name “rondón” is a pronunciation that originated from the English word “run down”, a description of how the sauce is quite runny and can run down you when you eat it.
Baho is a dish prepared using beef, green plantains, mature plantains, yuca (cassava), onions and peppers. The ingredients are added to a large cooking pot and are then gradually steamed together. The pot is sealed at the top with layers of banana leaves which helps the ingredients to absorb all the flavors.
Generally served on a banana leaf, the dish is topped with vinegary cabbage slaw at the end.
The name baho originates from the Spanish word vaho, meaning “mist” or “steam”. It signifies the method in which the dish is prepared. The dish is generally enjoyed on the weekend and is believed to be a great cure for a hangover.
Carne Pinchada is a widely consumed Nicaraguan fast food prepared using meat (either chicken or beef) as the main ingredient. The meat is initially marinated in an alcoholic sauce prepared from Tona or Victoria beer or wine which provides the dish with a unique taste. The meat is then grilled and served on a stick. Carne Pinchada literally translates to “stabbed meat” in English.
Churrasco is a traditional Latin American barbecue technique where chops of beef, veal, lamb, pork and chicken are skewered and then grilled over a wood fire. It is a very popular dish in Brazil but is also a widely followed cooking method in many other countries across South and Central America.