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Nicaraguan Food: Beans, Bread and Fried Cheese

July 13, 2011

You need to fuel well for a full day of service work in Nicaragua. Thankfully, Nicaraguan food is delicious and hearty — think Mexican food but less spicy, with lots of beans, salsas and handmade tortillas.

corn tortilla, fried eggs and fruity salsa (breakfast)

Even better: I lived with a Nicaraguan family, so I ate what they ate. It wasn’t restaurant food catered to American tourists; it was authentic Nicaraguan fare. My host mother served different Nicaraguan dishes for each meal, smiling as she highlighted each dish’s ingredients.

rice and guacamole with a hard-boiled egg (lunch)

The typical Nicaraguan meal is gallo pinto:

gallo pinto: rice and beans with cheese, with tiste to drink (dinner)

I could eat rice and beans for every meal — that’s not too far off from my daily diet in the U.S. — but fried cheese and I never became good friends. It’s uber-salty and pungent — one piece is more than enough and two is pushing it.

black beans and fried cheese (breakfast)

Making those beans didn’t mean just opening a can. In spite of having a functional stove inside, my host mom preferred cooking her beans outside over a wood fire because of the smell. The scent of wood smoke permeated the backyard — I loved it — but can you imagine cooking that way for something you eat every single day?

The thing that sticks with me the most about Nicaraguan food is its freshness. You can’t just run to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods when you need more mangoes or tomatoes. It’s truly a farm-to-plate (or backyard-to-plate) culture.

rice, grilled chicken with salsa, fried plantains (lunch)

Fresh fruit is abundant

banana and watermelon (breakfast)

but fresh vegetables were in short supply. Women working alongside me at the preschool work site generously served us lunch one day but because of concerns about the water supply, we couldn’t eat the refreshing-looking salad.

grilled chicken, yellow rice, salad (lunch)

I can’t express how generous the women we worked with were. Despite limited resources, they provided us with snacks and gifts all through the week. As I knelt in the dirt, picking up trash and shards of glass, a woman said she wanted to make us arroz con leche (rice with milk). Yes, please!

arroz con leche

Sweet, creamy, delicious — Nicaraguan rice pudding!

Another fun snacks, found everywhere and enjoyed by everyone, were mamones, a tropical fruit that looks like a lime, tastes like a lemon and is basically nature’s candy.

The peel breaks off in a snap; pop the yellow fruit in your mouth and suck on it like a Jolly Rancher. Peels and pits littered the ground and mamones were loved by both kids and adults.

When you’re working outside in extreme heat, it’s important to stay hydrated. I pounded water and Gatorade all day but with meals, aguas frescas (fruit drink) are served with most meals. My favorite was pitaya (dragon-fruit), which is a gorgeous shade of magenta.

pitaya fresca with grilled chicken, mixed vegetables, rice and fried plantains (dinner)

Some of the drinks were made with maize (corn) instead of fruit. Tiste (pictured higher up in the post) is a unique combination of corn, cacao, sugar, cinnamon and water — think corn-y chocolate milk.

Not every meal was made at home or by local women. Our last day in Nicaragua was spent sight-seeing (more on that Friday) and we stopped by Lake Nicaragua for a boat ride and lunch.

grilled fish with salsa, fried plantains and rice (lunch)

Doesn’t get more fresh than that!

I’m already researching recipes to make my own aguas frescas as the perfect summertime drink but somehow I think fried cheese will be an “only in Nicaragua” experience.

Fried cheese: yea or nay?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brooke H. permalink
    July 14, 2011 10:28 pm

    FRIED CHEESE! yummmm that was my favorite food of the trip.

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  1. Thankful Thursday: Children of Nicaragua « Travel Eat Repeat

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