Nicaragua has so much to offer, including amazing food. While some dishes share similarities with other Central American food, others are uniquely Nicaraguan. In this article, you will learn about 22 dishes, drinks, and desserts that are definitely worth trying.
Nicaraguan Food: 22 Dishes, Drinks, and Desserts You Must Try
Nicaraguan food is influenced by the wonderful blending of cultures here. Many of their traditional recipes are from the Indigenous people. The West Coast was colonized by Spain. The East Coast was once a British protectorate, and much of its population is of African descent. So the food will vary depending on where you are in Nicaragua.
You'll find that most of the food here comes from ingredients that are locally grown. Nicaragua is known as “the land of lakes and volcanoes.” Not only does that make it a beautiful country to live in, but also a land of fertile crops.
Check out the list below for some of the dishes, drinks, and desserts that you must try on your next trip to Nicaragua.
Warning: reading this list may make your mouth water.
14 Main Dishes Worth Trying
Easy to make and delicious, salpicon is the Nicaraguan version of mincemeat. It combines ground beef, with onions, peppers, and garlic. Finish off with a squeeze of fresh lime. Salpicon is traditionally served with rice, fried plantains, and a piece of fried cheese.
2. Indio Viejo
Literally meaning “Old Indian” this beef stew has been around since pre-colonial times. It has been said that this dish gained its name when European colonizers asked an Indigenous man what he was eating. Not wanting to share his food, he claimed that they were eating the oldest member of their tribe who had recently passed. Therefore the name “Old Indian.”
Among other ingredients, this orange stew contains shredded beef, tomatoes, and sour/bitter oranges. Corn flour is added as a thickener. Once you've tried it, you won't want to share it either.
A hearty and inexpensive meal, vigorón is a plate of crispy fried pork and yucca topped with a pickled cabbage salad. While North Americans may be accustomed to hotdogs being sold by vendors at baseball games, Nicaraguan vendors carry plates of delicious vigorón.
While living in Nicaragua, Nacatamales were my favorite. They are typically served on Sunday morning with coffee and fresh bread. But I could eat them morning, noon, and night. You can find them in most traditional restaurants, but the best ones we had were made by a sweet older lady who sold them from her home.
Nacatamales are made with a masa (a sort of dough) consisting of corn flour and lard. In the middle, you will find meat (usually pork, but sometimes chicken), rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and seasonings. They are steamed and served in a plantain leaf tied with a string.
Readily available, plantains are frequently served as a snack or side dish. They are the banana's more starchy cousin.
- Maduros: Maduros are made from ripe plantains that are fried in oil. They are sweet and have a soft, mushy texture.
- Tajadas: In Nicaragua, tajadas are long, fried chips made from the green/unripe plantains. They are more savory than sweet, similar in taste to a kettle-fried potato chip.
- Tostones: Tostones are another great way to eat green plantains. The plantain is sliced into rounds, which are fried on both sides. They are then removed from the pan, flattened, and fried again. The outside gets nice and crispy while the inside stays soft.
Want to give them a try? Here are 10 ways to cook plantains.
Asado/asada is the Spanish word for grilled meat. In the evening it is common to see street vendors setting up their homemade grills on the curbside.
Nicaraguan asado is often marinated in orange juice, making for flavorful and tender meat. You can buy it on its own or served with tajadas, gallo pinto (see below), and pickled cabbage salad. Try the chicken, pork, or beef- it's all delicious.
My husband loves quesillos, a quick and easy snack sold by many street vendors. The ingredients are white cheese, pickled onions, and cream served in a fresh corn tortilla.
Rondón or “Run Down” is a seafood stew found on the east coast of Nicaragua. You can find similar dishes in Jamaica and all along the Caribbean Coast. A yummy blend of coconut, fresh seafood, and root vegetables- it's a hearty dish that satisfies.
9. Gallo Pinto
Gallo pinto literally means spotted rooster, but has nothing to do with chicken. It's a mixture of rice and beans that is served as part of a traditional “Nica Breakfast” (eggs, gallo pinto, fried cheese, maduro plantains, and coffee), and also with lunch and supper.
To make gallo pinto at home, combine half a kilogram (one pound) of cooked rice with half a kilogram (one pound) of cooked red kidney beans. Fry it together with 1 onion, 1 head of garlic, 1 sweet pepper, and salt for flavor.
10. Chanco con Yuca
This is a pork dish with boiled yucca and topped with a pickled cabbage and tomato salad. The pork is marinated in the juices of sour/bitter oranges and garlic, and then grilled to perfection.
11. Pollo Jalapeño
As the name suggests, this dish consists of cooked chicken breasts smothered in a thick and creamy jalapeno sauce. While jalapenos can provide quite a spicy kick on their own, when combined with the heavy cream and rosemary in the sauce, you'll be in for a delicious (but not flame-inducing) meal.
12. Caballo Bayo
Caballo means horse in Spanish, but fortunately, that is not one of the ingredients in this meal. Caballo Bayo is a meal served during festivities and special occasions. Corn tortillas are served with a variety of toppings, generally displayed in clay pots.
Some of the items in this buffet may include: shredded cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo (tomato salsa), sour cream, chorizo sausage, moronga (blood sausage), along with other meats. Some side dishes may also be served, including gallo pinto (rice and beans), and fried plantain.
Sopa is Spanish for soup, and there are so many amazing soups for you to try in Nicaragua that this section could be its own category.
- A favorite among many locals is Mondongo, a vegetable soup containing beef tripe (the edible lining of a cow's stomach).
- Another popular soup is Sopa de Queso (Cheese Soup). This dairy-rich soup is typically reserved for special occasions.
- And don't forget to try the Ajiaco. In Nicaragua, some of the ingredients in this yummy soup are pork, spinach, pineapple, ripe plantain, and tomatoes.
If you are a “meat and potatoes” kind of person, then Baho is definitely for you. This hearty meal consists of slow-cooked yucca, green plantains, ripe plantains, and beef (marinated in bitter orange juice, onions, and garlic). Baho is topped with a pickled cabbage and tomato salad, and often served on a plantain leaf.
Learn more about neighboring Costa Rica
5 Nicaraguan Drinks to Try
Now that we've covered the main dishes, here are a few drinks that you should try during your time in Nicaragua. As a side note, if you're taking a cold drink “to-go” expect it to be poured into a plastic baggie with a straw.
If you're a coffee drinker, you will be in paradise in Nicaragua. In our house in the Carazo province, we could drink our morning coffee while looking out upon the fields that it was grown in.
Coffee is grown throughout the country, especially in the mountains of the north, and is one of its main exports. The coffee here is of high quality and delicious. As a bonus, most of the local farmers are happy to provide you with a tour.
Nope, we're not leaving Nicaragua to enjoy this drink. Jamaica is what the Nicaraguans call the flower of the hibiscus plant. It is dried, and then boiled in water, producing a red drink. Enjoyed either hot or cold, add some cane sugar, cinnamon, and ginger to complete this refreshing drink.
3. Natural Fruit Drinks
If you're looking for something healthy but tasty to drink, Nicaragua has many options for you. Pineapples, oranges, mangoes, watermelons, guavas, papayas, bananas, and my personal favorite – the pitaya (dragon fruit) are all grown in abundance here.
Both restaurants and street vendors will sell freshly made juices. And don't forget to try coconut water, straight out of the coconut.
Usually served cold, pinolillo is made with corn flour, cacao, and cinnamon. This powder is mixed into either water or milk, and can be sweetened or unsweetened.
Macuá is the National drink of Nicaragua. Made with locally produced rum and fruit juices (usually guava and lemon), it's certainly a tasty drink on a warm day.
3 Nicaraguan Desserts to Put on Your List
These are a deep-fried treat made with a dough of yucca flour and cheese. To top it off, these small round sweets are drizzled with a sweet cinnamon-sugar syrup. Need I say more?
A crunchy butter cookie made using corn flour and Nicaraguan cheese (which is dry and a bit salty). While some brown sugar can be added to the recipe, this dessert is not overly sweet.
Saving the best for last, chocolate! All of the ingredients needed to produce amazing chocolate are grown right in Nicaragua. For an indulgent treat, go to the Chocomuseo (Chocolate Museum) in Granada.
Not only do they give free tours outlining the history of Chocolate, they also offer classes to make your own. At the time of writing, they also had a chocolatey breakfast buffet and a chocolate spa. Go ahead, you deserve it!
Planning a trip to Nicaragua is worth it for the food alone. Have you visited this beautiful country? What were some of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below.