July 18, 2014

Miami Flavors: Spotlight on Nicaraguan food, ingredients

The varied cuisine of Nicaragua, from chicken-filled nacatamales to cheesy quesillos, is well represented in Miami.

Nicaragua, situated between Honduras and Costa Rica in Central America, is home to some of the most distinctive foods in Latin America.

Its cuisine is a combination of indigenous and Creole food. Despite being a small country, Nicaragua has regional cuisines within its borders; for example, those on the Caribbean coast are more likely to utilize seafood and coconut in their dishes, while those in the interior are likely to prefer meat and chicken.

Because Miami is home to the largest concentration of Nicaraguans in the country, it boasts many restaurants where locals and visitors can sample an array of dishes.

Fritangas are the most common type of Nicaraguan restaurant in Miami. These cafeteria-style restaurants serve prepared specialties and usually are takeout only or have limited seating. Best of all, a very generously portioned meal with a meat and several sides will typically cost less than $10.

Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for when seeking out Nicaraguan food in South Florida.

• Corn: The staple food of Nicaragua, it is found in everything from foods like nacatamal and güirila (white corn tortilla) as well as beverages like pinolillo (cornmeal and cacao drink) and chicha de jora (corn beer).

• Cheese: Cheese is an essential part of a Nicaraguan meal; it is featured prominently in dishes like quesillo and repocheta (fried tortilla with cheese and toppings). In addition, many dishes are served with a side of repocheta.

• Cow: Because Nicaraguans have been known to build dishes around nearly every part of the cow, one could say the country was into nose-to-tail cuisine before it became trendy. Everything from a cow’s udders to brain are used in a variety of dishes.

• Vigorón: The signature blue-plate special of Nicaragua. The meal consists of chicharrones (fried pork rinds), curtido (a cabbage salad similar to coleslaw) and boiled yuca. It’s often eaten as a hearty snack or a light meal.

• Nacatamal: A dense corn masa that is filled with pork or other meat, rice, potatoes, vegetables, herbs and spices. The masa is wrapped in plantain leaves (which are not eaten) and steamed. It often serves as a hearty late morning or midday meal.

• Quesillos: A Nicaraguan snack that one can typically find in roadside shacks between León and Managua in the home country. It consists of soft cheese (similar to mozzarella), fresh cream and pickled onions wrapped in a flour tortilla. Because it can be quite messy, it is served in a clear plastic bag and eaten in its package much like a burrito.

Miami Flavors is an occasional series that highlights the various ethnic cuisines that are prevalent in South Florida.

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