The Nicaraguan cuisine consists of foods that can be traced back to a large number of different cultures. Some dishes are truly Nicaraguan and can be traced back to pre-Columbian traditions while other recipes have been brought to the country by European settlers several hundred years ago. Among the European influences, you will especially find Spanish and German influences. The Spanish brought their food culture with them when they colonized this part if central America. Nicaragua later made it very beneficial for Germans to immigrate to Nicaragua. They were given free land in the hope that this would vitalize the coffee industry. Many Germans were very successful in the country, and their food culture influenced the rest of the country. A number of stables in the modern Nicaraguan cuisine were brought to the country by Europeans. This includes Yams, Plantain (Platano) and wheat.
The Northern Highland of Nicaragua is to this day dominated by German descendants. The Nicaraguan cuisine is also influenced by African cooking. This is especially true on the east coast. The population on the east coast is to a large extent consisting of descendants of escaped slaves that found sanctuary on Nicaragua’s remote Caribbean shore. African escaped slaves and those working on the plantations played a very large role in introducing rice to Nicaragua and the rest of the new world.
Most modern Nicaraguan cuisine contains ingredients that you can get in your local supermarket. There is a lot of older recipes that contain local wildlife and vegetables but these are not commonly prepared anymore. At least not in the more heavily populated parts of the country. People living further out in very rural areas are likely to still complement their diet with any meat they are able to catch. This hunting is mostly illegal and you will not be able to find this type of cuisine in any restaurant. A notable exception from this is Iguana. Iguana is still widely available and eaten. This includes both farmed and wild-caught Iguana. Iguana and iguana eggs are rare in restaurants but cooked iguana can be bought at the nightly food market in Masaya. Raw iguana is available in markets all over the country. Turtle eggs are unfortunately also widely available and (illegally) consumed in beach communities.
The diet of the average Nicaraguan is heavily centered around Gallo pinto, corn tortillas, and chicken. Gallo pinto is relatively cheap and the dietary base for most Poorer Nicaraguans. Pork, beef, and fish are however also included in the diet as possible. Platano (Plaintain) also play a big role in the cuisine. A peculiarity in Nicaragua is that many people prefer to eat a lot of fruit before they have ripened. It is unclear whether this is due to a taste preference of due to them knowing that there will be almost no fruit left on the tree by the time they are ripe.
The Nicaraguan cuisine is built to use every part of the animal since many can not afford to waste anything. A good example of this is Sopa de Mondongo that is made from cow belly.
Richer Nicaraguans tend to eat a diet that is a lot more internationally and contains a lot more beef and pork. The rice does remain a staple. Western food is spreading in the cities, and you can now find MacDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Hut in the larger cities. This restaurants along with others with international food tend to be very popular. This is bound to affect the food culture over time. The relatively small part of the population that can afford to eat at these restaurants do however mean that the Cuisine for the average man is unlikely to change anytime soon. There are movements among the upper classes that want to preserve the Nicaraguan way and prevent that the more wasteful western habits spread in the country.
There are many small restaurants where you can eat contemporary cuisine. This is especially true if you leave the tourist areas and eat where Nicas eat. Many of these restaurants are genuine but not very good because they sell cheap food made from cheap produce. Contemporary cuisine in more expensive restaurants can be better. One exception from this is carne asada. You can find the best carne asada sold on the side on the road sold by ladies with tiny woodfired grills.
El carnivore is a very good restaurant located in central Leon. They are very close to popular tourist hotels such as La Perla. The menu is based around meat and offers a selection of classic and contemporary meat dishes. All food is very well prepared and cooked to your liking. The restaurant is less than 5 minutes from the city center.
The nightly food market held at night by the artisanal market is one of the best places in the world to try Nicaraguan food. There you will find a lot of different vendors selling well cooked Nicaraguan cuisine. It is a mix of traditional cuisine, contemporary cuisine and exotic dishes that are rare in Nicaragua as well. The food market opens at 5 p.m..