This post is thanks to a request from Kelly Manza's Spanish classes at Merton Williams Middle School. Thanks for the idea! Feel free to comment and ask for clarification or more detail about anything I missed!
First of all, Nicaraguan food is delicious. There’s not nearly as much variety as we’re used to in the United States, though, and a lot of it is quite heavy on the stomach. Meal times are pretty much the same as in the US – I eat breakfast at about 7:15 before going to school, then lunch is sometime between 12 and 1, and dinner is usually about 6pm. A lot of my students eat snacks at about 10am, and I’m told that teachers generally do as well, but I haven’t very often since I’m still so full from breakfast!
It’s not uncommon to get something else to eat, often from the street, in the evening (or really at any point in the day!). The thing is, there’s a lot of easy access to food here since there are so many people walking around carrying food to sell, or pushing carts of food, or with food stands set up in front of their homes. Walking around presents you with infinite possibilities for picking up a little of this and a bit of that at pretty much any time of the day.
One of the most typical Nicaraguan foods is called gallo pinto, and we pretty much eat it breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ok, maybe not for all three meals every day, but it’s not uncommon to have it twice a day. Gallo pinto is rice and beans cooked together – and if the rice and beans are cooked and served separately on your plate, it’s just rice and beans. The beans are different from what we’re used to, also – they’re red in color, and all Nicaraguans will tell you that they are MUCH better than the black beans we eat. One of the projects I did with my students was having them make menus in English when we learned food vocabulary, and one of the groups decided to split their menu into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I found it very interesting to note what they listed for each meal, particularly that they listed “rice and beans” as the first choice for breakfast. I almost corrected them, then I remembered I’m in Nicaragua, not the US, and they were absolutely correct to list rice and beans as a breakfast choice!
In addition to the given rice and beans/gallo pinto, many meals come with homemade corn tortillas. Corn is another staple here, so you’d be hard pressed to find flour tortillas, but the corn ones are quite abundant! Some people make their own tortillas, while others buy them – but always buy hand-made tortillas. The thing is, some people have a side business of preparing some sort of food, and everyone in the community somehow just knows who prepares what. So, when you need a few tortillas or a bowl of beans for dinner, you just pop over to that person’s house, ask “hay tortillas” (are there tortillas) or “hay frijoles” (are there beans today?), then buy however much you need. I find it so fascinating!
Martha told me that often, she will see if there’s anything in the fridge for dinner, and if not, or if there isn’t enough for the whole family, she will go over to this woman’s house to get some tortillas and beans if they’re available, or over to the pulperia (basically a convenience store found literally everywhere in Nicaragua) and see if they have eggs or mortadela (like a sausage or bologna type meat) and get whatever she needs to make dinner. It’s such a different way of life, and I’m really enjoying learning more about it!
Another super common food here is called cuajada and is Nicaraguan cheese. They eat it every single day, though I haven't had it much because I'm not much of a cheese person. Cuajada is quite salty, but I do have to admit is better than American cheese. I don't think Nicaraguans would survive if there weren't cuajada. One of the women I know (she's one of the daughters of my host mom) has a son who loves cuajada so much that, in order to get him to eat, has him eat a bite of food, then a bite of cuajada.
We also eat a lot of meat here – and on a few occasions, I’ve had meat at both lunch and dinner. The meat is a lot fresher, though; often, I will see a cart with two bueyes (special cattle that we don’t have in the US), and Martha will tell me “van al matador” – they’re going to be butchered. There are tons of essentially free-range chickens here as well, and people either prepare their own chickens, or they go to a meat store that has live chickens there that are prepared for you. There isn’t a single supermarket in El Sauce (there are in big cities, but don’t even think about looking for one around here!), so people have to either prepare their own or go to the little specialty shops to get what they need. The most common types of meat are chicken and beef, and they are mostly prepared either fried or grilled.
While ovens “exist” in Nicaragua, they are never used – I’m not even sure they work. You either cook on the stove part, or on an open flame that is kind of like a grill except bigger and runs on firewood. Martha actually told me a funny story from when she was in Rochester and enjoying a lovely fire with people from Ciudad Hermana – apparently, she asked what they were going to cook on the fire, and all of the Rochestarians laughed at the question, thinking she was joking. But really, it made absolutely no sense to her to have such a beautiful fire and NOT cook something. All of our meat here is cooked on the fire, so of course she would think that if they lit a fire, it was to prepare some food.
Luckily, in addition to all the rice and beans, meat, tortillas and more rice and beans, there is a lot of fresh fruit here – one of the benefits of living in a tropical climate where some sort of fruit and vegetable can grow at any given point in the year. Again, as there are no supermarkets to go pick up a bag of apples, people go to fruit and vegetable stands. On the stands, the fruit is sitting out on the table, and you ask how much it is then buy whatever you need – nothing comes prepackaged. It’s actually quite interesting, and you know it’s all fresh. If anyone has been to Nicaragua before, they know how delicious the fruit is – especially the pineapple! I could honestly eat it every day. Look for another post soon about the different types of fruits and vegetables – there are so many new ones that I’ve tried here, and they are absolutely delicious!!!