Jeff Smith 6:35 p.m., June 27
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World Traveler: Nicaragua
I have a personal connection to Nicaragua as mother was born there. Her family presence dates back to the original European settlers, they hold the distinction of being the founding fathers of this uniquely beautiful country. I have spent my summers there since I was 15, I have seen the country go through much upheaval, suffer much pain and yet, it always ends up in the same place. It doesn’t change. The social and political views of this lush environment hamper the country’s ability to move forward. But, not everyone is unhappy, some people want it that way.
It is not my intent to write about politics, though I have a distinct opinion of the political process that affects my mother’s country. You see, I’ve met the powers that be, I’ve argued and discussed politics with those in charge and I have been dismissed as not understanding the issues at hand. I have lived with the Nicaraguan diaspora in Miami and have experienced the culture from so many levels. It is hard not to have an opinion.
But, I’ll keep it to myself for now. I’m here to speak about food, the food of a country rich in resources and pride. My first experience with street food occurred in Masaya’s open marketplace where vendors hawk everything you can imagine. This tropical paradise boasts of fruits the size of watermelons. Everything grows large here all because of the rains. And I love the tortillas, thick fluffy pillows of goodness. You haven’t had a tortilla until you’ve tried a Nica tortilla filled with chunks of fried pork and the requisite side dish of vigoron (yucca, onions, chicharones).
My fondest memories come from my family’s tradition of making Naca tamales every Christmas. The ingredients would be arranged production line style; masa harina, rice, potatoes, pork, prunes, mint, olives, onions and the list goes on. The banana leaves would be cut to size along with the string used to tie the tamales closed. Everyone would take their place on the line and the fun of assembly would begin. We would make over 100 tamales each time, enough for everyone to share throughout the holiday season. Of course, huge pots would be readied, as we had to taste the product and ensure it was as delicious as it looked. The process of steaming would ensue and the Flor de Cana, Nicaragua’s famous dark rum, would be served as we waited for the tamales to be ready to devour. And devoured they were, not a grain of rice would be left behind. They were so good.
Gallo pinto and churrasco are also favorites of mine. Nicaragua boasts of having the best beef in the world and I have to say, it is luscious. Gallo pinto (red beans and rice) are a staple food here, served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Churrasco smothered with onions, mint and parsley makes your mouth water at its sight. One bite and you are transported to heaven.
My time spent in Nicaragua has always been a food adventure, even in the worst of times the food has transcended the turmoil. The heart of the country lies within the food it produces. The comfort one draws from a simple meal of fried eggs, tortillas and gallo pinto cannot be denied. I have had many of these meals and have loved each and every one. Time to go and make some gallo pinto….