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Nicaragua Food and Drink

Traditional Nicaraguan food is unlikely to ever replace French or Italian cuisine among the world’s favorites, but it is hearty, filling fare. Like the cuisine of its neighbors, it derives its flavors from the mixing of ingredients and techniques from Europe and the New World. The sharp regional divides in the country are also reflected in the cuisine, with the foods of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts baring little resemblance to one another and plenty of local dishes popping up on menus.


The staple around which many meals are built is gallo pinto, a dish of lightly-spiced fried rice and red beans. Many Nicaraguans eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and after some time in the country, you might feel that you do, too. For lunch and dinner, the gallo pinto usually serves as an accompaniment to a large serving of chicken, beef or pork. Nicaragua may not be Argentina just yet, but the quality of its beef is improving and is often quite high.

At some restaurants, especially on the coast and on the lake shores, you can get a whole fish, fried and smothered in a tomato-based sauce. You can sometimes also find lobster, which divers catch by hand off the Caribbean coast. While most of Nicaragua’s haul of shrimp and crab ends up on North American plates, some portion of it does make its way to Nicaraguan restaurants. The best places to look for good seafood, reasonably enough, are the coastal resort restaurants and the small fishing villages.

Local Specialties:

For such a small country, Nicaragua does offer a great deal of regional variation in food. Around Bluefields, the cooking uses a lot of coconut milk and chili peppers, reflecting a strong Caribbean influence. The signature dish of the region is ron don, a starchy, vegetable-and-meat stew. Even a simple dish like rice and beans tastes different along the Caribbean, as it is cooked in coconut oil and sometimes simmered in coconut milk. The region around León offers up quesillo, a snack featuring soft, local cheese and onions, doused in cream and vinegar and then wrapped up in a tortilla. Granada’s specialty is vigorón, a dish of yucca, pork rind, cabbage and tomato, all served atop a plantain leaf. The northern region of Matagalpa produces sweet corn tortillas called güirilas. Around Masaya, you’ll find many menus listing tripe soup.

Every weekend, nacatamales are consumed in the thousands, or maybe millions, across the country. Similar to the Mexican tamale, the Nicaraguan version usually has meat, onions and peppers encased in corn dough. The whole concoction is then wrapped in a plantain leaf and boiled for hours. Nacatamales are easiest to find on Sunday mornings, when they are sold on many street corners.

Vegetarian Options:

Vegetarians can certainly survive in Nicaragua, but they will not have a wide range of choices. Gallo pinto is everywhere and is a good source of protein. It can be supplemented by fruits and nuts, which are widely available. In the bigger cities and spots on the tourist trail, you will find restaurants that cater reasonably well to vegetarians’ dietary needs.


Nicaragua is not a bad destination for those with a sweet tooth. In addition to all the fresh, exotic fruit produced in the country, there are a number of baked treats on offer. Perhaps the most famous is tres leches, a cake soaked in three kinds of milk, and which is popular throughout Latin America. A Nicaraguan specialty is cajeta de coco, a candy made with coconut and yucca. On a hot day, raspados, made of shaved ice and fruit juice and topped with a dash of condensed milk, can be delicious and refreshing.

Places to Eat:

Managua, Granada, Léon and the coastal resorts all have proper restaurants serving Nicaraguan and international dishes. Many locals, however, eat at street-side carts, stalls and stands, or at little diners called comedores. In smaller towns, you will not have any choice but to eat at such places; fortunately, the vast majority of them churn out safe, tasty meals for a pittance. Comedores often serve a multi-course, set meal called a comida corriente.

Alcoholic Drinks:

Nicaragua’s gift to the world of drink is Flor de Caña rum. Considered to be among the world’s finest, Flor de Caña is available virtually everywhere and at an incredibly cheap price, especially given the quality. More often than not, rum is consumed as a Nica libre, mixed with Coke, ice and lime. In a bar, if you ask for servicio completo, you’ll be handed a half-liter bottle of Flor de Caña, accompanied by the mixers needed to construct your own cocktails to taste. If the $5-7 price tag scares you off, you can switch to Flor de Caña’s cheaper cousin, Ron de Plata. Homemade liquor, widely available throughout the country in gallon-sized jugs and small plastic bags, is probably best reserved for those travelers who feel no strong attachment to their livers.

If you choose to drink beer instead, the two national brands are Toña and Victoria. They are largely indistinguishable lagers, though Nicaraguans are sometimes zealous advocates of one or the other. Although neither is a world-class beer, both are cheap and refreshing enough after a hot day under the Central American sun. Upstarts Búfalo and Brahva have carved out niches in the beer market, as well, and some imported beers are available in the bigger towns and cities.

Non-Alcoholic Drinks:

Teetotalers are well looked-after in Nicaragua, too. Refrescos are cold drinks, usually made by mixing grains or seeds with water, milk and sweet seasoning. Common varieties are chicha de maíz, made with corn; arroz con piña, a drink made with rice and pineapple that tastes better than it sounds; semilla de jicaro, made from calabash seeds; and Nicaragua’s favorite refresco, pinolillo, made from corn and chocolate. There is an almost endless variety of refrescos based on Nicaragua’s many fruit species, as well. Travelers who are new to the country might want to allow their stomachs time to adjust before knocking back these refreshing drinks, however, because they are rarely made with purified water.

There are also the more mundane carbonated beverages, referred to as gaseosas, which are available everywhere. Just remember that Nicaragua is recycling-mad, and taking a glass bottle out of a shop is an expensive proposition unless you return an empty one at the same time. One alternative is to have the shop owner pour your gaseosa into a plastic bag for you.

For a country that produces some great coffee beans, it is surprisingly difficult to find a good cup of café in many parts of the country. All too often, you will receive a large mug of hot milk, a jar of instant coffee, and sugar.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Nicaragua : When to go, When to go, Camping in Nicaragua, Managua History, Safety in Leon and the North West, Social and Environmental Issues in Nicaragua, Shopping, When to go to Río San Juan, When to go and Fincas in Nicaragua.

By Nick Rosen
A staff-writer here at V!VA's offices in Ecuador, I came to Quito after having worked on public health and development projects in Africa. Naturally,...
27 Apr 2009

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