Skip to Content

Nicaraguan Food: Typical and Traditional Cuisine

Specially-seasoned Nicaraguan pork with tajadas (fried plantains), rice and beans, salad by the wonderful chefs at Monty's Beach Lodge

Like in many Latin American countries, Nicaraguan food goes back as far as pre-Columbian times and has been transformed and influenced over time.

This is evident in the name of some of its dishes and the ingredients and spices used in them.

Most of the traditional Nicaragua menu is known as “criollo,” which is how Indian-Spanish fusion cuisine is referred to throughout most of the Caribbean, Central, and South America.

Vigoron
Vigoron: cabbage salad known as curtido (chopped cabbage, tomatoes, onions, chili pepper marinated in vinegar and salt), boiled cassava & chicharrones (fried pork with skin or with meat) wrapped in banana leaf.

A Brief Overview

There is a significant difference between the Pacific, Atlantic/Caribbean, Northern, and Central Nicaraguan foods—particularly the type of vegetables and spices consumed.

Yet, there is one omnipresent base ingredient: corn.

Its extensive usage goes back to ancient indigenous cultures in the Americas, particularly Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc.

Furthermore, this ingredient is not limited to food but also used in a variety of traditional drinks such as Pinole (pre-Columbian drink with cocoa, cinnamon, toasted ground corn), Chicha (fermented corn beer) and other fruit-based nonalcoholic beverages.

Nacatamal: the Nicaraguan answer to tamales, popular all over the country. Made out of mashed corn and lard, stuffed with either chicken/pork seasoned with tomatoes, onions, garlic (photo: H.C.)
Nacatamal: the Nicaraguan answer to tamales, popular all over the country. Made out of mashed corn and lard, stuffed with either chicken/pork seasoned with tomatoes, onions, garlic (photo: H.C.)

Ingredients typically found in the tropics triumph here as well.

These include fruits such as mangoes, jocotes, papaya, plantains, avocado, and tamarind, in addition to starchy root vegetables such as cassava and quequisque (also known as Malanga or yautia).

Herbs and spices include garlic, onions, tomatoes cilantro, oregano, achiote (annatto), cacao, cinnamon.

They portray how well seasoned, yet non-spicy, Nicaraguan cuisine is. Moreover, how the mixing of the sweet, savory, and sour is the norm—especially when it comes to seafood (to kill that “fishy” taste and smell).

Other unique features of Nicaraguan recipes are animal innards such as tails, stomachs, brains, testicles, skin (particularly of pigs), feet, and even blood (to make the traditional moronga).

Central and Pacific Cuisine

The inhabitants of the Central and Pacific regions of Nicaragua prefer simple gallo pinto (rice and black beans, cooked with oil in a frying pan) with either beef, chicken, pork, or (particularly on the coast) seafood—alongside fried snacks and dairy products.

Sample dishes include:

Indio Viejo

Indio Viejo is a thick chicken or beef stew, made with cornflour “masa,” garlic, onions, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and a squirt of sour orange.

The use of achiote or annatto also gives the dish an attractive deep-orange color.

Quesillo

Quesillo is a thick corn tortilla with soft cheese, pickled onions, sour cream.

Tajadas with fresh local cheese – NOM! Special thanks to Ometepe Secret Adventures for such a great introduction to Nicaraguan cuisine.
Tajadas with fresh local cheese – NOM! Special thanks to Ometepe Secret Adventures for such a great introduction to Nicaraguan cuisine. (photo: ometepesecretadventures.com)

Tajadas con Queso

Tajadas con queso are fried plantains, sliced thin or thick, with salty local cheese & repollo (cabbage salad) as toppings.

Caballo bayo, already served. Photo: Jorge Mejía Peralta, Flickr
Caballo bayo, already served (photo: Jorge Mejía Peralta, Flickr)

Caballo Bayo

Caballo Bayo is the Nicaraguan twist on Mexican fajitas: many ingredients typically served in clay pots, from which guests pick their favorites to make their tortillas.

Fillings and toppings include fried/shredded beef or chicken, mashed beans, creole chorizo, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, moronga (pork blood sausage), chicharrón, green & red sauces.

Guapote
Guapote, an Ometepe specialty, lightly breaded in delicious Spanish spices — topped with a sweet and salty mango tomato sauce. Thanks to Ometepe Secret Adventures for such introducing me to such delicacy.

Local Fish with Tropical Fruit and Vegetables

Local fish dishes such as guapote are typically seasoned while cooking with savory ingredients such as garlic, black pepper, cilantro, onions, but topped upon serving with sweet tropical fruit sauces that may include, say mango and tomatoes (as pictured above).

Nicaraguan seafood
Nicaraguan seafood

Atlantic and Caribbean Cuisine

On the other hand, Nicaraguan food in the Atlantic coast is heavily influenced by Afro-Caribbean spices and flavors, mainly coconuts, chiltoma (sweet peppers), and chilies accompanied by roots such as yuca (like cassava), malanga.

Moreover, coconut oil is typically used for cooking instead of lard or cooking oil.

These combinations give ‘Nica-Caribbean' cuisine a distinct flavor.

The most popular dishes on this coast include seafood: lobster, shrimp, crab. You name it.

When it comes to fish, it is eaten either dried, fried or in soups.

Rondón

Rondón is a creamy coconut milk-based stew of turtle meat or fish with beef or pork, originally from the city of Bluefields.

It is seasoned with sweet peppers, chilies, onions, plantains, yuca, quequisque, and an herb named nargan.

We recommend you opt for the fish variety though, as turtles are endangered.

Gallo pinto con Coco

Gallo pinto con coco is just like the traditional Nicaraguan rice and black beans dish, but cooking oil is substituted by coconut oil when frying.

Pan de Coco

Likewise, pan de coco is bread whose flour includes ground coconut. It is the perfect accompaniment of rondón.

Gaubul

Gaubul is a traditional Caribbean-Nicaraguan drink, little known even in the Pacific coast of its own country.

It is the mixture of cooked, mashed green plantains with fresh cow milk, coconut water, and sugar to taste.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Mandy

Wednesday 31st of August 2016

are just a visiter or an expert

Kathryn Irby

Thursday 19th of May 2016

What kind of bread is typically eaten with a meal in Nicaragua?

Saiful Islam Khan

Wednesday 10th of December 2014

Wow, how charming & colorful these dishes are! Mind-blowing traditional cuisines with various tests and experiences! Any ethnic food has own tests, decorations, colors & facts indeed. Thank you Laborde to share such a nice post through the site! I wish you'll keep your sharing on towards food lovers throughout the world.

Best regards, Saiful

De'Jav

Wednesday 12th of November 2014

Yum yum haven't been to Nicaragua yet on my list of places to visit. Love the Latin American cuisine though. Definitely a different flavor than lower Central or up South America Panama or Colombia.

Rebe from Travnation.com

Wednesday 12th of November 2014

You need a post about El Salvador so we can all talk about pupusas.

Rebe.

Dave

Thursday 13th of November 2014

Ah yes, I experienced them first hand earlier this year, but I was only there for a few days. Delicious!

Comments are closed.