Nicaraguan Food: What to Eat in Nicaragua

If you buy something through my links, I may earn a commission (at no extra cost to you).

*     *     *

There’s no excuse not to try traditional Nicaraguan food on your trip: meals are usually less than $5 and absolutely delicious!  The country has a lot of variety in its cuisine, with each region having different specialties.  From coconut and other flavors on the Caribbean coast to vigorón in Granada, there’s plenty to sample. 

Nicaraguan Food: 10 Traditional Dishes to Try

Add all of this Nicaragua food to your list of what to eat in Nicaragua.

Gallo Pinto (The National Dish of Nicaragua)

nicaragua food gallo pinto / nicaraguan food
A Nicaraguan breakfast of eggs, gallo pinto (rice and beans), cheese, ripe plantain, and tortilla – for C$50 or about US$2

Rice and beans are a staple of almost all Central American diets and Nicaragua food is no exception.  Gallo pinto, which translates to “speckled rooster”, is the staple of most meals.  The rice and red beans are each cooked separately and then fried together to combine into a tasty side dish.  You’ll find it at all three meals because it’s hearty, delicious, and cheap.  Each restaurant makes it a little bit different, though I consistently found it cooked a bit al dente for my tastes.

Tajadas

nicaragua food plantain chips / nicaraguan food
Why eat potato chips when you can eat plantain chips instead?

Plantains are another one of those foods that you’ll find everywhere in Nicaragua.  Here’s a cheatsheet to the different kinds you’ll see served up:

  • Tajadas (shown): Just like potato chips, except made from plantains.  The combination of natural sweetness with a light coating of salt is delicious on a hot day.  You’ll find them packaged at grocery stores, gas stations or offered as street food.
  • Madurors (see the breakfast picture, above): Sweet, yellow plantains sauteed and caramelized.  I can’t get enough of these.
  • Tostones: Green plantains cut thickly and fried.  These are popular in a lot of Central American countries and Nicaragua is no exception.

Do you love plantain chips as much as I do?  You might be able to find them in Latino grocery stores at home, too!  If not, order a case of Inka Chips on Amazon.

Vigarón 

nicaragua food vigaron / nicaraguan food
If you don’t have an objection to crispy pork skin (and you shouldn’t — it’s delicious!), you should try vigaron, a tasty Nicaragua food.

If you’re not a vegetarian, you should really try vigarón.  It’s simple but downright delicious.  The dish is served on a plate of boiled yucca (a tuber, sort of like potatoes), topped with chicharrón (crunchy fried pork skin), and topped with cabbage slaw.  Sometimes all of this is placed on a banana leaf, sometimes it’s simply plated.  Either way, the meal is a great blend of starch, crunch, and fresh vegetable flavors.  You’ll find this specialty in Granada in particular.

Nacatamal

nicaragua food nacatamal nacatamales nicaraguan food
You’ll find nacatamales at the market.

Have you ever had tamales?  Nicaraguan tamales, or nacatamales, are a great variation.  A plantain leaf is filled with masa (a cornmeal dough) and other fillings like meat, vegetables, rice, and achiote or other seasonings.   Just unwrap the banana leaves and dig in!  You’ll be more likely to find them as street food than on restaurant menus, so plan on a casual lunch or mid-morning snack.  Vegetarians take note: many contain lard even if it’s otherwise meatless.

Heads up: market vendors sell nactamales ready-to-eat but also uncooked for locals to take home and steam fresh. Make sure you know what you’re buying!

Quesillo

Quesillo is a great example of Nicaragua food. This tasty treat is what to eat in Nicaragua! (nicaraguan food)
Nicaraguan Quesillo – because for some reason salty cheese and pickled onions is considered tasty.

Confession: quesillo an acquired taste but nevertheless it’s worth trying.  Essentially, a quesillo is a fresh tortilla that’s stuffed with local cheese and then topped with cream, pickled onions, and salt.  

Eat like the locals: Your quesillo will be served in a clear plastic bag.  Although you can eat it like a burrito through the opening, locals tie the bag off with a knot, then turn the bag upside down and bite a separate, smaller hole in the bottom corner.  I have no idea why it’s eaten that way, but watch the locals and give it a try.

Fresh Seafood

nicaragua food seafood fish tostones
An incredibly fresh seafood dinner (red snapper, salad, and tostones)

Nicaragua has a lot of coastline and I barely saw any of it, but while I was at the ocean, I did my best to eat as much seafood as possible.  Concha negra is a popular local shellfish, but I actually stuck to the fish.  I had some amazing mackerel in a coconut sauce at El Barca de Oro in Las Peñitas and a super-fresh snapper dinner at a fritanga down the road.  

Most restaurants serve catch of the day rather than an always-available menu. Your flexibility will be rewarded!

Read More: Waves, Sunsets, and Turtles in Las Peñitas Nicaragua

Flor de Caña (Nicaraguan Rum)

nicaragua food el macua rum flor de cana
The national drink, El Macua. It may look pretty, but it can be potent. Thankfully it’s also delicious, refreshing, and ice cold.

I was far from impressed by Nicaraguan beer (Toña is most common, followed by Victoria), but the local rum, Flor de Caña, is really great and incredibly cheap.  You can buy a bottle of aged rum at the grocery store for about $6 or get cocktails at any bar. 

The most popular drinks?  Straight rum (it’s smoother than you think), mojitos, or nica libre (rum, coke, and a generous squeeze of lime). Also try the national drink: el macua is a blend of rum, guava juice, lemon, and sugar.  

Indio Viejo

indio viejo nicaraguan food
Indio Viejo

This authentic Nicaraguan dish sure doesn’t look special, does it?  Indio viejo, or the “Old Indian”, is a centuries-old recipe made from a base of masa, or corn dough.  It also has beef, onions, sweet pepper, tomatoes, garlic, achiote (a spice or flavoring), yerba buena (a Latin America mint), and the juice of a sour orange.  It had a good flavor, but all that masa led to a very grainy texture.  I probably won’t be making it at home anytime soon.

Read More: Cooking Indio Viejo and Iguana Soup in Nicaragua

Pinolillo

nicaragua food pinolillo
I never thought I’d say this, but cornmeal makes a decent drink.

Nicaragua food is yummy, but their drinks are also worth mentioning.  Pinolillo is made from ground, toasted corn and cacao powder mixed with either milk or water.  It’s usually sweetened and may also have a pinch of cinnamon or cloves mixed in.  It’s gritty from the cornmeal but is weirdly satisfying.  It’s a very popular drink, so look for it at the market and bring a bag of the powder mix back home to share with your friends.

This also seems like a decent time to mention the Nicaraguan habit of serving drinks in a bag.  When you buy a drink on the street, on the bus, or at the market, you most likely won’t get a cup or a bottle.  Instead, they’ll pour or ladle your drink into a plastic bag with a straw.  They knot it up securely (NEVER untie the knot unless you want a big mess).  It works better than you’d guess and you’ll find everything from water to juices to chocolate milk to sodas in these bags.

nicaragua food agua fresca drink in bag
I have no idea what type of agua fresca this was, but it was delicious.

Batidos

nicaragua food batido
The tastiest way to beat the heat! Try anything blended with a banana for natural sweetness.

Is it a batido or a licuado?  The terms seemed interchangeable, but smoothie shops in Leon are like coffee shops in the United States.  They’re incredibly popular and an affordable luxury.  Each is made with fresh fruit, ice, and sometimes blended with milk, yogurt or even ice cream.  Since the fruit is ultra-fresh, it’ll be more delicious (and sweeter) than you’re used to at home.

These foods and drinks should keep you busy for awhile during your visit, but if you’ve still got meals to fill, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of other Nicaraguan cuisine to try.

More Info to Plan Your Trip

Trying to stay healthy? Don’t drink the water unless you use a water filtration system.

Have extra time in Nicaragua? Be sure to visit Central America’s best volcanoes.

Want more tips on Nicaragua? Check out all my articles like how to get from Granada to Leon and what things cost.

27 thoughts on “Nicaraguan Food: What to Eat in Nicaragua”

  1. Chanel @ La Viajera Morena

    This was a great list! I am in Nicaragaua now so I will try some of your suggestions! Continuing on to read the rest of your Nicaragua posts 🙂

  2. Hey Becky, I am headed to Nicaragua for a couple of months and just found your site. (You have some great travel tips and awesome photos!) I was just wondering how you handled the water in Nicaragua. In general, people have cautioned against eating fruit I can’t peel, passing on the ice, and therefore sticking to beer (not against it, but I have good feeling I’ll get tired of it). Some people have even said to avoid ALL water and brush my teeth with bottled water.

    Also, how did you find your homestay in Guatemala? (I am near fluent – at least I like to think so – in Spanish so I am hoping to avoid paying for a Spanish immersion course.)

    1. @Ashley, Thanks for leaving a comment! The water in Nicaragua is definitely not meant for drinking, and I’d recommend avoiding it. I mostly drank tap water that I sterilized using a Steripen. It takes about 90 seconds to sterilize 1 liter of water and gives you flexibility to have water anytime (compared to running out at night when you forgot to buy bottled water to brush your teeth). It’s not cheap, but I’ve used mine for 2+ years now without issue and in the long run have saved money. More info in my review: thegirlandglobe.com/review-steripen-traveler/

      I ate lots of fresh fruit – things like bananas, mangoes, oranges, and pineapples that you don’t have to worry about, but every once in awhile, other fruits as well. I like to eat too much to worry about taking chances all the time, and most likely out of coincidence, I never had a problem. Much of the ice is bagged ice and not homemade, so it’s safe — but always ask. At a lot of street stalls (for smoothies/licuados) and bars, you’ll actually be able to see for yourself.

      Homestays ranged from fantastic to mediocre (none were bad), but that’s due to whether you click in personality with your hosts. Most of the Spanish schools will arrange homestays for you even if you’re not a student, and I think that’s a good way to do it. They’ve got contact information that would otherwise take you awhile to track down and their families are already set up for guests. I had two families in particular that offered to extend my stay after my classes were complete without going through the school for a lower price (but again, I think that initial “booking charge” to the school is a worthwhile investment). There are also other websites that can help you arrange homestays. Info at https://sightdoing.net/homestay-on-vacation/

      Enjoy your trip!

  3. Ah, this brings back memories!

    The Plantain chips were the staple of my diet when I was travelling through Nicaragua – however, the seafood was the real highlight!

    I found that by approaching small fishing boats in the evenings as they came ashore and asking to buy a fish or two, you could pick up some of the freshest seafood you’ve ever tried – and the cheapest!

    Then – it was either make a little fire on the beach and cook the fish – or take it to a local restaurant (they were always happy to cook it for you providing you bought a few sides and drinks!

    Gracias for the tips!

  4. Great article – I’m going to be passing through Nicaragua in November and can’t wait to try some of the local seafood, I going to take the above advice about trying to buy some fish from the local fishermen when they come in and then get it cooked.

    The vigaron and agua fresca also looks awesome – I can’t wait!

    Cheers
    Mark

  5. This was really helpful! I am looking forward to eating my way thru Granada and the Corn Islands. =)

  6. Hi! Great post here! I was born and raised in Managua, but moved to the US with my family in 1974, little over a year after the 1972 earthquake. I’d also include repochetas; basically, a grilled cheese sandwich, but made with tortillas and queso fresco. And just a couple of corrections I’d suggest: it’s VIGORON and MADUROS with no r at the end.

    1. @Cathy, I never heard of repochetas, but obviously now I’ll have to go back and try some! (Sorry, but I’m not entirely sure what “r” you’re referring to in vigoron and maduros?)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *