What Is Traditional Nicaraguan Food? 15 Typical Dishes

Nicaragua is known for its exotic wildlife, rugged volcano adventures, and historic cities. But you need fuel for all that exploring. That’s why this tiny country has mastered the art of gastronomy that’s flavorful, filling, and fun to eat.

With lots of plantains, cheese, and maíz, you’ll never go hungry in Nicaragua. Here are 15 traditional Nicaraguan foods that will give you a taste of what to expect on your visit:

Gallo Pinto

Gallo pinto might just be the most popular food in Nicaragua. It sounds simple enough–after all, what’s so special about rice and beans? But when it’s coming from a Nicaraguan kitchen, these two humble ingredients become a side dish to dream about. 

Nicaragua’s gallo pinto is a blend of red beans, rice, and onion cooked to perfection. You’ll find it as a staple in the typical Nicaraguan breakfast, but it can be eaten at every meal. 

HN Hint: On the Caribbean coast, Nicaraguans cook gallo pinto with coconut for a tropical kick.

Tostones

Plantains are another favorite food in Nicaragua. While you can find them boiled, crispy, or sweet, fried tostones are a classic variation. Made from smashed green plantains, these soft round chips are dense and chewy. A sprinkle of salt on top complements the slight sweetness, pairing well with ice-cold cervezas. 

This typical Nicaraguan food often comes with a cube of fried cheese on toptostones con queso is an easy dish to share.

Quesillo

León holds the title for inventing this traditional Nicaraguan food. Quesillo is considered a street food that’s somewhere between a snack and a meal. Typically served in a plastic bag, Nicaraguan quesillo is a handheld tortilla wrapped around a slice of melty cheese, pickled onion. Finish it off with crema, and you have yourself a cheese lover’s dream! 

You can also find quesillo served at larger Nicaraguan restaurants. In this case, the tortilla is usually presented flat on a plate and eaten with a knife and fork (but where’s the fun in that?).

Güirila

Güirila is a traditional Nicaraguan food best known in the Matagalpa region. It’s a specialty street food that’s simple enough, but strong in its distinctive sweet and sour flavor

The foundation of güirila is a sweet tortilla made from young white corn. The maize is pureed, grilled flat between two banana leaves, then typically topped with cuajada, a type of cheese curd. It can also be served with meat to make the güirila tortilla more hearty. If you get the chance to try this traditional Nicaraguan food, take it! You won’t find it everywhere.

Vigorón

Vigorón is Granada’s signature dish. It’s a typical Nicaraguan dish that you could describe as “everything but the kitchen sink.” Stacked high on top of a banana leaf is a heap of boiled yuca (cassava root), fried chicharrones (pork rinds), shredded cabbage soaked in vinegar, and diced tomatoes. The result is a busy blend of flavors and textures ranging from sharp and tart to soft and starchy. This is one messy dish, so you can eat it with your hands, but use a fork if possible.

HN Hint: For the best vigorón in Granada, ask for a woman called “La Abuela.”

Nacatamal

Available only on weekends, nacatamal is a traditional breakfast dish in Nicaragua. Nacatamales are heavy–Nicaraguans enjoy them with black coffee, or occasionally cola (don’t try to pair this food with beer unless you want your stomach to burst!). 

Nacatamales are held together by a thick masa de maíz. The hefty filling consists of achiote pork, rice, potato, onion, tomato, and orange juice, all of which gets tucked tightly into a banana leaf wrapper. Some variations also include fruit. The stuffed leaves are then steamed over boiling water until fully cooked and ready to eat. It’s a rich, indulgent meal to start your day.

HN Hint: The Nicaraguan nacatamal is made with love–so much so that you won’t typically find it at a restaurant. Instead, look for homes with a small sign that says “HAY NACATAMAL” on weekends (particularly Sundays) and get it directly from local families.

Baho

Like the traditional Nicaraguan dish nacatamal, baho is predominantly offered on weekends or special occasions. It’s a savory feast with slow-cooked beef as the star. Nicaraguan baho is steamed in an enormous vat lined with banana leaves. The base is prepared by arranging the core ingredients into concentric circles: alternating green and ripe plantains form the outer ring, while chunks of yuca are placed inside. On top lies marinated beef, more yuca, and sliced onion, peppers, and tomatoes.

Often served with a vinegar cabbage slaw, baho is decadent and delicious. Get it from Mercado Central in León. 

Indio Viejo

Indio viejo is Nicaraguan through and through. It is one of the most traditional dishes you can enjoy in the country. Legend has it that this thick stew was named after an indigenous leader fibbed to Spanish colonizers that he was eating “an old Indian” to avoid handing over his meal. It worked–and the indio viejo remains popular today. Thickened by masa dough, indio viejo is easily spotted by its porridge-like consistency and signature deep orange color, which comes from achiote spice. 

If you like maize, sour orange, and shredded beef, then try this typical dish the next time you’re in Nicaragua.

Sopa de Mondongo 

Feeling adventurous? Pronounced “moon don’t go,” sopa de mondongo is made with tripe. This typical dish is traditional to Masatepe, but you can find it just about anywhere in Nicaragua. Packed with meat and vegetables, this traditional tomato-based soup is flavored with citrus and a sprig of mint. It is sometimes served with avocado and cheese. 

Nicaraguans believe that sopa de mondongo will heal anything, so if you have one too many cervezas, this might be the traditional food for you!

Arroz a la Valenciana

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Much like Spanish paella, Nicaraguan arroz a la Valenciana is a rice skillet made to serve a crowd. Nicaragua prepares this typical dish with a tomato base, sweet peppers and peas, and a generous amount of meat. There is a mix of proteins in traditional Nicaraguan arroz a la valenciana: chorizo, shredded chicken, ham, and sliced hotdogs are all popular additions.

HN Hint: Arroz a la Valenciana is prepared differently on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua. It is a creamier dish with tropical coconut flavor. 

Arroz a la Valenciana is sometimes called arroz de piñata because it is often cooked for birthdays and special occasions. 

Pescado a la Tipitapa

A traditional Nicaragua food for seafood-lovers hails from Tipitapa, in the Managua region. Usually made with guapote (rainbow bass) or red snapper, pescado a la Tipitapa is a typical dish that fries the entire fish whole. 

Pescado a la Tipitapa is deboned, lightly breaded, and covered in a slightly sweet tomato sauce with peppers and onions. The fish is incredibly fresh–in true Nicaragua fashion, it’s almost always caught the same day it’s served. Expect a large platter complete with rice, tostones or fries, and a small salad when you order this dish. Don’t forget to add a squeeze of lime on top!

Buñuelos

Buñuelos are a favorite Nicaraguan dessert. They’re essentially little donut holes–think hush puppies, or dense beignets. Yuca forms the dough for this dessert, but in Nicaragua it is typically mixed with cheese. The crispy fritters are drizzled in a cinnamon sugar-infused honey and served hot.

Nicaraguans indulge in buñuelos on weekends and holidays like Easter. They’re quick and easy to prepare, but taste absolutely decadent. Pair them with Nicaraguan coffee to round out the dessert.

Rosquillas

Lovingly made by hand, rosquillas are traditional Nicaraguan cookies. They look like small golden rings and have a little crunch. Rosquillas are simple cookies with a touch of sweetness. Much like Italian pastries, they don’t require much beyond the basics: fine corn flour (masa harina), Nicaraguan cheese (queso seco), butter, eggs, and cane sugar (panela).

HN Hint: On special occasions, rosquilla dough is baked into a softer, square dessert called cosas de horno.

Rosquillas are traditionally baked for Semana Santa (or Holy Week) and Easter. The toasted cookies are meant to be dipped in hot coffee, then eaten when soaked through with flavor. You can sample the most traditional Nicaraguan rosquillas in Somoto, but they are found all over the country.

Arroz con Leche

Arroz con leche is a creamy rice pudding topped with ground cinnamon. This traditional Nicaraguan food is as sweet and rich as it is comforting. This typical dish is infused with spices by adding cinnamon sticks to the boiling rice water. For extra flavor, you will sometimes find arroz con leche with vanilla and raisins.

Served hot or cold, arroz con leche is a mouthwatering Nicaraguan dessert that’s easy to make and even easier to love.

Tres Leches Cake

If there’s one sweet treat that’s beloved in Nicaragua, it’s tres leches cake. Though many Latin countries claim this popular dessert, Nicaraguans will tell you that it belongs to the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.

As the name suggests, an airy sponge cake is soaked in three different types of milk: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream. A whipped frosting and single ruby red fruit (usually a cherry or strawberry) adorn each slice of this delicious Nicaraguan dish. If you want to celebrate a birthday Nicaraguan style, you can’t go wrong with tres leches cake.

Conclusion

These 15 popular Nicaraguan foods are just a small sample of all that you can enjoy on your visit. From sweet plantains to savory baho, heavy nacatamal to honey-dipped buñuelos, and everything in between, you’ll have your hands and stomach full of rich fare in Nicaragua.

Have you tried any of these traditional Nicaraguan foods? Which was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below! 

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Meet your Tour Guides

Hola! We’re Gail & Luis, a team of two with a deep love for Nicaragua. Luis, a professional tour guide, is the knowledgeable source behind the blog. Gail, an American writer, is the voice. 

We started this blog as a way to stay connected from afar and support Nicaragua in our own small way.

Today, our mission is to open hearts and minds to the wonders of Nicaragua and make it easier than ever to start planning your trip.

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