The diversity of Nicaragua is evidenced by its three very different cultural areas. The Pacific Coast was colonized mostly by the Spanish, and the music, dancing and cooking of the area reflect a strong mixture of Spanish and indigenous influences. The Caribbean Coast, with its history of slavery, shows heavy African influences in its culture. The Central area of Nicaragua projects the strong influences of German heritage, where they dance the polcas, a dance similar to a German polka.
But despite this diversity, Nicaraguans (called Nicas) consider themselves to be part of one culture. It is this unity that has allowed Nicaragua to remain one country despite the hardships of war, earthquakes and hurricanes.
Points of Interest
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America but the least densely populated. The country's name is derived from Nicarao, the name of a native tribe, and the Spanish word for water, agua, as there are two large lakes in the region.
Rice, beans, and corn are the foundation of Nicaraguan cuisine. The most popular national dish, gallo pinto or spotted rooster, is a savory mixture of rice, beans, onion, sweet peppers, and garlic but no poultry. The name refers to its speckled appearance.
Traditional sweets incorporate coconut, corn, and tropical fruits. Coconut milk is used in many drinks, candies, and desserts, including Antecoco. This creamy chilled coconut pudding is a Nicaraguan classic.
Corn is widely used in tortillas and tamales. Nacatamale is a popular dish of cornmeal, pork, rice, potato, onion, tomato, and green pepper steamed in plantain leaves. Yoltamales are a delicious sweet version of tamales prepared with fresh corn, queso fresco, cream, milk, and sugar and steamed in corn husks.
Nicaragua's Flor de Caña rum is considered one of the world's best. Yet, until recently, the country could not boast a national cocktail like Mexico's margarita and Cuba's mojito. In 2006, a national competition chose an official Nicaraguan cocktail... El macuá, a fruity concoction of white rum, guava juice, lemon juice, and sugar, named after a local tropical bird.
Native vegetables include ayote (chayote) and pipián (type of squash). A favorite side dish, Guiso de Ayote (or Pipián), combines either of these vegetables with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and minced bread in a cream sauce colored with annatto.
As throughout most of Latin America, Pastel Tres Leches is extremely popular. Both Nicaragua and Mexico lay claim to the origins of this famous custard cake, though it appears to have originated in Mexico and migrated to Nicaragua. Nestlé also takes credit for helping pastel tres leches spread throughout Mexico during World War II via recipes appearing on cans of evaporated milk.