transport | urbanism | adventures | pontification
One of the most enjoying parts of my cultural immersion mission has been the food. I’ve made an effort to try a range of typical foods in my project countries, and the gustatory rewards in the first third of my trip have been numerous.
In Belize, rice and beans are a staple, to the point that there’s a famous Belizian song called Rice & Beans (your rice and beans nice | your rice and beans nice | give me more | give me more – listen by clicking on Track 4 here). Rice and beans are most often accompanied by potato salad and stewed chicken flavored with annatto. Marie Sharp’s, a ubiquitous and delicious carrot-based hot sauce, went with pretty much everything.
I also thoroughly enjoyed fry jacks (deep-fried tortillas folded over refried beans, cabbage, and chicken) in Belize. In the north, Mexican dishes such as salbutes, garnaches, and burritos were more common, while in the south, I enjoyed traditional Maya cooking.
In Nicaragua, the rice and beans are usually combined and called gallopinto (spotted rooster). As typically Nicaraguan as food gets, gallopinto allegedly got its name from a villager who bragged about the size of a spotted rooster he had. He overeagerly invited the whole village to come enjoy the rooster on the day he was going to slaughter it. When too many people showed up, there wasn’t enough meat for everyone, and he had to serve rice and beans. From then on, everyone jokingly would tell him how much they had enjoyed his gallopinto.
Another dish with a story is Indio Viejo. According to legend, it got its name in the days of the conquistadors. Spaniards marching through a local village expected the villagers to feed them some of their beef stew, even though there wouldn’t be enough left for the villagers. When the Spanish asked what was in it, the village chief replied “an old Indian who just died.” The Spanish decided to march on without lunch, and the villagers enjoyed their meal in peace.
Gallopinto and Indio Viejo were two of the dishes I learned to cook in the cooking lessons I took. Others included arroz a la valenciana (paella) and enchiladas (fried and more like empanadas than the Mexican-style enchiladas I’m used to). Nicaraguan cuisine also involves lots of plantains. Sometimes the plantains are cooked while they’re green (verde), and sometimes when they’re yellow/brown (maduro). Sometimes they’re boiled (cocidos), and sometimes they’re fried in disks (tostones) or strips (tajadas). An abundance of fresh fruit is one of the best parts of Nicaragua. Freshly squeezed juice is always available; passionfruit, pineapple, and pitahaya were some of the ones I had regularly. I also tried one called chila (or something similar); at first I thought it was called chicle because it tasted like bubble gum.
By far my favorite food so far has been the nacatamal. The tamales I’d tried before pale in comparison. Typically eaten with coffee on relaxed Sunday afternoons, these oversize Nicaraguan tamales are stuffed with pork, tomatoes, onions, rice, and tomato. Finding a stand down the street that sold these greasy delicacies for $1.25 was a dangerous discovery indeed. I tried to make up for my weekend nacatamal gluttony by healthy cooking for myself during the rest of the week.