If you haven’t been to Nicaragua, you probably haven’t met Vigorón. I had my first encounter with Vigorón just the other day.
Vigorón is not a person, nor a place, but a traditional Nicaraguan dish. Boiled yucca, a potato-like root vegetable, topped with cabbage salad – similar to coleslaw without the mayo, served with chicharrones and sliced mimbros.
Chicharrones, for those of you who may not be acquainted, are crispy pieces of pork skin traditionally cooked in lard, while mimbros are a small vegetablish thing (don’t quote me on that) with a super sour, almost citrus flavor. In traditional Vigorón, slices of mimbro are mixed together with the cabbage salad.
According to Nicaraguans, the ultimate bite of Vigorón is a piece of yucca, a bit of cabbage salad, a small slice of mimbro, and a bite of chicharron.
Now that you’ve met Vigoron, I wanted to introduce you to a few other dishes from Nica.
I think you’re going to like them.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is discovering the local food. It’s a window into the local culture.
Here’s a look at what I’ve found so far:
A “plato tipico”, or typical plate, usually consists of one of the following: grilled chicken, steak or pork, known here as pollo asado, res or cerdo. Lightly seasoned and barbecued, it’s good stuff.
Gallo pinto is a mix of boiled red beans and white rice. A staple here in Nica, it’s made better with chili on top.
Ensalada de repollo is the cabbage salad I described when I introduced you to Vigorón. It’s shaved cabbage and carrots and comes as a side to just about everything. Like gallo pinto, it’s made better with chili.
Maduros are what we know in the states as fried plantains. Here in Nica, they’re browned until soft and caramelized. If you’re a sweet and savory, pineapple and ham pizza person, you’ll love a bite of grilled meat and a bite of maduro.
Tejadas are plantain chips, sliced super thin and fried to a crisp. On the street, you can find women selling them in bags. Cabbage salad and chile are optional additions. I’ve even seen signs offering them with cheese on top. The nacho lover in me is looking forward to trying this.
Queso frito is thinly sliced cheese, which is fried. If you’re thinking that Nicaraguans like to fry things, you are correct. I have come to love queso frito, but who wouldn’t love fried cheese. It’s sort of like a deep fried Twinkie — not really necessary, but so good.
On the topic of cheese, the quesillo is a renown dish here in Nica. Cheese is the main event. Your classic quesillo is a fresh corn tortilla, layered with a thin slice of mozzarella-like quesillo cheese, a scoop of pickled onions, a sprinkle of salt, and a dollop of crema – the local version of sour cream. I didn’t say it was healthy. At least it isn’t fried.
For a Californian like me, who likes Mexican food more than a lot of Mexicans, ordering a taco or enchilada in Nica can really throw you for a loop. Order a taco, and you’ll be served what we know in Cali as a taquito — a rolled corn tortilla, filled with meat and fried. Here in Nica, they’ll top it with, surprise, cabbage salad. The kicker is they will then, unless you stop them, put ketchup and sour cream on top. Ketchup on a taquito? No gracias.
An enchilada here in Nica is not a rolled corn tortilla filled with meat, cheese or vegetables and covered with enchilada sauce and cheese. An Nicaraguan enchilada is a corn tortilla filled with rice and meat, folded in half and deep fried. I told you they like to fry stuff.
I was ecstatic to find that Nicaraguans love their chili as much as I do. Their vinegar based chili sauce is available everywhere, and makes everything better. Finely chopped onions and chili pieces give you amazing breath, but nothing a refresco can’t take of.
Refrescos are the drink of choice here in Nica. I should rephrase that by saying they are the non-alcoholic drink of choice. Rum and the national beer Toña, win as the drinks of choice.
Refrescos are fruit juices made with any blend of fresh fruit — from the sweet and sour calala fruit to the pungently flavorful guanábana fruit. I personally think guanábana tastes and smells like gym socks and would not recommend this refresco. I’m just saying. Refrescos are typically made with purified water (at least that’s what I keep telling myself) and served over ice.
Cacao is the only refresco I’ve found made with milk. To make it, the same cacao used to make chocolate is ground until it resembles a paste. The paste is then blended with milk and sugar and sometimes cinnamon. If I had to compare it to something, I’d say it’s like an iced version of Mexican hot chocolate. It’s also a meal on it’s own.
I’m digging the culinary landscape of Nica so far. I keep telling myself that all the fruit I’m eating is balancing out the fried cheese. We shall see.