I wrote this post as I was flying home to Asheville from a week-long adventure in Nicaragua with 4 of my fun-loving family members in early April.
I ate remarkably well on this journey and I will be happy to take a few days off from eating rice and beans (especially rice as it featured at nearly every meal.)
I’ll start with my two favorite meals, one was at a little restaurant called, Cafe El Imperio in Merida where we stopped for a late lunch on a sightseeing drive around Ometepe. Whenever possible, Lori and I sat in the back of the truck as we traversed rough terrain in the sunshine. Much better sightseeing from there and we discovered a new kind of pilates (using core muscles to keep body parts from bouncing/crashing into metal truck parts. On this journey, we had visited a Finca (farm) that was access for a well-attended place on the base of an extinct volcano called Madera. The trails here allowed visitors to view some petroglyphs (example above) which were made thousands of years previously. Apparently, the island was thought to have been first inhabited 10,000 years ago.
The restaurant was in a well-tended front garden of a house. We were not only treated to a tasty meal, but we also enjoyed playing with puppies, watching a small child and chickens, and wondering at the way each fruit on one of the trees was wrapped with a small plastic bag.
I had grilled eggplant and tomatoes (Berenja y tomate a la plancha) and shared a very tasty empanada made with a coarse corn dough and stuffed with vegetables and olives. It’s smell, texture and tastes were remarkable. The smell was predominantly a combination of fire grilled smokiness and recently ground corn.
My other favorite dish was at Bosco and Carla’s restaurant, El Marlin in Granada. It was a dish that they “stole from Peru” called Causa Limeña. It was mashed potato puree, stacked with grilled vegetables and avocado. The people who own the restaurant are friends of Randy and Lori from their many Rotary service trips to Granada and surrounds.
Overall, I was impressed here, too, by the number of restaurants that had a vegetarian section on their menu or were very willing to make a vegetarian plate. In the area where we were, the main dairy used in restaurant dishes was cheese (especially a salty, feta-like local cheese called cuajada). This was easy to remove from my plate and give away to my traveling companions.
Gallo pinto, a dish that is a staple is nearly always made vegetarian. Mostly rice and red beans it is also sometimes flavored with onion or other tiny bits of vegetables and mild spices. I also enjoyed, several variations on pasta, steamed or lightly sautéed vegetables, platters of tropical fruit and juices made from the fruit of nearby trees. Like Granada, Matagalpa had a great selection of restaurants with flavors from around the world. At an Italian Restaurant known for its pizza, I had a delicious spinach ravioli dish topped with Pomodoro sauce. At a world fusion restaurant, I tried the yellow curry with vegetables at Lunaflor.
We visited La Finca Esperanza Verde, an organic and fair trade coffee plantation that does ecotourism as well. Their gorgeous land is set up with marked hiking trails and their grounds are covered with flower gardens and a large, well-tended vegetable garden. I had two great green salads at La Finca Esperanza Verde, one topped with avocados and onions, the other with grated pickled beets, dried cranberries, and cucumbers. Both were served with a creamy balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Here they have clean spring water and the salad ingredients are almost exclusively harvested from the garden.
This was my fifth trip to Nica over 10 years and it won’t be my last. I have very much enjoyed seeing how the restaurant food offerings have shifted over the last decade to be more inclusive of a variety of palates while most of the time staying true to their traditional food ways.