In many parts of Latin America, with travellers and food there are two schools of people: the ones fresh off the plane that are incredibly excited to try the local cuisine and those who have been around for a month or five, who scoff at this first lot and secretly (or not so secretly) think to themselves, ‘If I have to eat one more plate of bloody rice and beans!’
Of course, there are some incredibly tasty, spicy, scrumptious, zesty and flavourful food options peppered through the various Latin countries. You could happily eat your way from authentic tacos in Mexico to the best barbecue meat you will ever eat in Argentina and every kind of empanada in between.
Unfortunately for us, Nicaragua doesn’t really feature on this scale. The bulk of their cuisine is made up of, you guessed it, rice and beans. Sure, there’s probably a piece of meat and some cabbage on the side or maybe an egg or two, but the rest is inevitably the same. And they don’t just show their all too familiar faces at dinner either. This is for every single meal. Rice and beans for breakfast. Rice and beans for lunch. Rice and beans for dinner. Three times a day for weeks on end. Can you guess which group of people we belong to yet?
Like many other travellers at one point or another, we invariably turned to our own home cooking whenever a kitchen was made available to us – no matter how inadequate it may have seemed.
Pasta and bland sauce cooked in a discoloured and heavily dented pan with no handle and no oil never tasted quite so good.
But some days a kitchen just wasn’t available to us. After a few weeks travelling down the Rio San Juan staying at tiny hospedajes sans any cooking facilities, forcing ourselves through yet more and more plates of rice and beans, all we wanted was to indulge ourselves (check, no rice and beans, anywhere in sight).
Stuff being immersed in the culture. After weeks eating the same thing over and over, it was time for something new.
In returning to Granada, a city where the offerings were diverse, our budget went right out the window. Rice and beans are cheap. Perfectly creamed hummus with just the right amount of spice. Not so much.
But we didn’t regret it one little bit.
While the traditional cuisine left us wanting more, lucky for us Nicaragua provided the perfect foodie playground for finding some seriously good meals from around the world. What started as a birthday splurge on perfectly puffed pita bread and a selection of Mediterranean delicacies in Granada quickly spread to a sampling spree of international eats all over the country.
We sliced our way through fluffy banana pancakes drizzled in chocolate sauce and moved on to fresh salad wraps with real, crispy bacon in Granada. We sipped on real Earl Grey tea and devoured Freya’s all time favourite breakfast Eggs Benedict on Ometepe. We ploughed through delicious vegetarian lasagne and zesty lemon squares in Playa Marsella and inhaled the best mojitos we could find in Leon.
So when you can’t stomach another plate of gallo pinto, even if it does only costs 40 cordobas ($1.40), it may be time to throw your budget out the window, temporarily, and find some food to get you going again.
For us, it was the best decision we ever made.