Foodie Or Not: Nicaragua Has Some Amazing Cuisine!
As the warm day turns to a cooler afternoon, local ladies set up various types of food stands, primarily referred to as fritangas. The intoxicating smell is noticeable from blocks away, as are the plumes of smoke, that are all too telling that a fritanga is up ahead.
Your mother will not have to worry how you are eating when you come to Leon, Nicaragua, because you will be able to get delicious food at reasonable prices. You will become very familiar with the spots throughout the city, as they are generally temporary, and disappear before the mornings.
A fritanga makes tasty, home-style Nicaraguan foods. These can also be brick and mortar buildings, such as Asados Pelibuey, or pop-up style eateries that are reconstructed daily. Fritangas have a pick and choose (comedor) style of ordering, and the food can be taken out or consumed at the establishment, or site.
The primary foods may include gallo pinto (rice and beans), arroz blanco (white rice), carne, pollo, and cerdo asada (grilled meats), plaintains prepared in a variety of ways, yuca, queso frito (fried cheese), papas con queso (deep fried cheesy potato balls), tortilla and cabbage salad. Fritangas also carry daily specials, as well as speciality frescos/ drinks. The best part is you can get a plate full of home-style food for $3 – $4 USD! You pick and choose the items you want so my price always varies a bit because I like to mix it up.
There are smaller stands that offer more focused food options such, as Nica style tacos or chancho con yucca (pork with yucca). The tacos are rolled with a variety of filling from cheese to chicken and pork. They are then deep fried and served with cabbage salad, crema, and chili. At $0.75 USD a taco, these make for a reasonable meal. There are even a few parks in town like Poets Park, and the park outside of Iglesia la Mercedes, that sell enormous hamburgers! That is one food that I was not expecting to find here!
There are also various fruit stands in the city selling in season fruit. Often times it is pre-cut for you, and ready to be consumed on the go. This could be stuff you may be used to like watermelon, pinapple, apples, mandarin oranges, or more tropical stuff like papaya, melocon, zapote, and mangoes.
Get ready to hear the sounds of locals, or vendedores, who don’t have a permanent spot to sell their food. These individuals, usual ladies in the mornings, have their own unique song. What is it they are singing? Whatever it is they are selling. It might be anything from warm, fresh tortillas to a sweet treat or dulces. Be sure to check out what the vendors have when you see them singing with their baskets atop their heads.
Leon is famous for its variety of sweets or dulce’s. They are particularly popular in the beginning of December for the La Purisma here in Leon, and of course for Christmas. La Purisma is only slightly similar to Halloween in the US & Canada, in that people run from house to house collecting candy, or other treats. The difference is that in order to collect the sweets, they need to recite something specific, about the Virgin Mary. The dulces start with the infamously Leonese leche burra, and include others like gofios, bollo de coco, nisperito, and many others.
Another Nicaraguan specialty is the Quesillo. A Quesillo is a rich Nicaraguan specialty that starts with a thick corn tortilla, about five inches across, and then a streched out piece of local mozerella cheese just slightly smaller in diameter is placed on top. After that sauteed onions are placed in the middle , and then crema is drizzled on top, and usually rolled up to go. There are several local places to claim the first or best quesillo such as in La Paz Centro, and Nagarote. The best one I have ever had was on the new highway to Leon, at a little street stand in La Paz.
Lets not forget Nacatamale’s, and the fresco’s or drinks that street vendors, and pulperia’s sell. Nacatamale’s are similar to the Mexican classic Tamale, and they differ slightly in that the Nacatamale’s are wrapped in banana peels instead of corn husks. They are often found outside of private residence’s throughout all of Nicaragua on the weekends, with the tell tale ‘Hay Nacatamale’ sign outside of their door. Fresco’s are either made of local fruits, or of corn, and unprocessed chocolate, or cacao, and served in a plastic bag (The universal “to go” container in Nicaragua.) with ice. They can be purchased at most traditional pulperia’s, and at most fritanga’s.
Then for desert we have traditional rosquillas, and they can come many ways- with cheeses, milk, and with sugar as well. They are a unique cookie, that is hard and crispy, kind of like biscotti. The major difference is that the main ingredient is corn, and they can be savory, instead of sweet. And of course, they are perfect for dipping in your morning coffee. Speaking of morning coffee, Nicaragua has some of the best, organic coffee farms in the fertile hills to the north of the country. Cities like Jinotega, Matagalpa, and Sebaco all are famous for their world class coffee.
Looking for a nice sit down meal? There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Leon that offer standard Nicaraguan cuisine, in addition to international specialties like sushi and curries. You can always start your day at one of the local breakfast spots to enjoy a typical Nica breakfast, or pop in a local coffee shop. One of my favorite things to do is stop in the smoothie shop and relax in the Central Park, while enjoying the refreshing coolness of a smoothie!
I didn’t even mention the open air markets at the bus terminal, outside the San Juan Park, or the Central Market, located behind the Cathedral. All of these places are going to sell the freshest local, and in season fruits and vegetables, at a fraction of the price you may be used to back home. It is so easy, and cost effective, to eat healthy here in Nicaragua. It is no wonder why so many people feel healthier here than they do back home.