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Nicaraguan Cooking: My Grandmother's Recipes

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Nicaraguan Food

Just like many other parts of Nicaraguan society, Nicaraguan food is a blend of clashing cultures. The people living in the region before the arrival of the Europeans utilized locally available foods, such as fish along the shorelines, wild pecari in the dense forests and of course the emblematic maize produced in arable parts of the landscape.

When the Europeans arrived they brought many American products back to Europe, such as cacao and vanilla, but they also introduced a wide range of Old World crops to Central America, including important staples like plantain, yam and wheat.

Last but not least, Nicaraguan cuisine has been heavily influenced by Africans brought to Latin America as slaves. This African heritage is especially noticeable along the Nicaraguan Atlantic coast; a traditional haven for escaped or shipwrecked slaves that established their own communities and intermingled with the local Amerindians. Recent studies also suggest that African slaves working at the plantations played a more active role in establishing rice, especially of the African variety, in the New World than previously thought.

As the cuisine of wealthier countries started to shift from sustenance to consumers that favoured prime rib, sirloin and chuck, and turned their noses up on sheep testicles, cow tripe and pork marrow, the harsh economic realities of everyday life in Nicaragua made such an attitude impossible. To this day, Nicaraguan cuisine is characterized by utilizing locally produced foods and using every last piece of fare to the absolute maximum. Cow belly is turned into sopa de mondongo, locally grown peppers and achiote is used to add colour and flavour to a dish, and a wide range of different maize variants are cultivated to make anything from basic tortilla and tamales to candy and fermented drinks. Today, these ancient foods are celebrated for their high nutritional value and the Nicaraguan food philosophy is put forward as an environmentally friendly alternative to the wasteful practises of richer countries.

If you come across an old Nicaraguan recipe that contains meat from an endangered species, please substitute with something else since the endangered animals of Nicaragua need to be left in the wild. This includes sea turtles and their eggs, as well as several types of lizards and snakes.

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