Never one to shy away from looking at the bad (and good) in this world, Tony Bourdain’s visit to Nicaragua is necessarily colored by the country’s past. It’s hard to miss it: even 40+ years after the Nicaraguan (Sandinista) Revolution, everyday Nicaraguans struggle – and that necessarily colors the experience any visitor (including Anthony Bourdain) has when visiting the country.
Anthony Bourdain visited Nicaragua to film season 7 (episode 3) of No Reservations; it was his only visit to the Central American country, but allowed him to dive deep into the political and cultural ramifications of having a close neighbor like the United States. In some ways, this episode foreshadows the type of episodes Tony would become famous for through Parts Unknown.
If you’re planning to visit Nicaragua, you should, of course, learn about the history, culture, and cuisine of the country; knowing the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Nicaragua can help. Below you’ll find a list of the restaurants where Tony ate, as well as the dishes he tried. These can help provide context and flavor (literal and figurative) to your trip. Let’s dive in!
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Mayangna, Ulwas, Matagalpa/Cacaopera, and Boas peoples, among many others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present peoples of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Nicaragüita Iris (Managua)
Tony starts off his culinary journey in Managua, the country’s capital city. He’s taken by his local guides – Héctor, Mario, and Álvaro – to an unassuming street food carrito named Nicaragüita Iris. He indulges in a double hamburger and hot dog – a feast most Nicaraguans enjoy after watching street racers.
Unnamed Restaurant in Mercado Mayoreo (Managua)
Héctor next brings Tony to Mercado Mayoreo, a crowded area near the bus station that takes travelers and locals to the north of Nicaragua. They stop at an unnamed restaurant where Héctor wants Tony to try a typical working-class meal.
They sample a salpicón – basically diced meat cooked with onions and green pepper. According to Héctor, it’s a perfect dish when it’s very hot.
Vaho Tradicional (Managua)
Once again, Tony meets up with Héctor; this time, he takes Tony to Vaho Tradicional, a small joint that’s been popular among locals for about 30 years. The restaurant serves the homonymous dish – vaho. This meal has Caribbean and slave influences.
A vaho is a dish made of beef marinated overnight in a sauce of garlic, onion, tomato, and bitter orange. The beef is laid inside a big pot that’s been lined with banana leaves and layered with yucca, fresh wild green onion, red and green peppers, and sweet and madero plantains in their skins.
The concoction is wrapped tightly in banana leaves so that the steam doesn’t escape and cooked for hours. It’s served with fresh, crunchy cabbage slaw.
Flor de Pino (Managua)
Unfortunately, Flor de Pino isn’t open to the public anymore. But the dish Tony had here is worth mentioning. The place is a humble institution in Managua run by Nelly Rostrán, a woman who’s cooked for every important person in political life.
The specialty here is carne de monte (meat from the hills). What’s this delicacy all about? Well, nothing less than bull nuts and iguana – it’s impossible for Tony not to recall that his experiences with lizards in general have not been exactly the best.
Nelly boils the skinned iguana while preparing a concoction made of hunks of pork with orange juice, vinegar, and mustard in another pot. She then adds the iguana to the concoction and brazes it until tender.
Next, the cuts the bull nuts in half, marinates them in pineapple, pepper, and lime juice, and finally fries them.
El Vaquero (Managua)
Need the a for your hangover? Nicaraguans seem to have it. At 6 am, Tony meets Héctor in El Vaquero a taverna where late-night revellers of Managua go for the after-after party.
El Vaquero is run by a dairy farmer turned restauranteur and the house specialty is leche agria (sour milk yogurt). Tony tries leche agria and also indulges in a nacatamal, a traditional Nicaraguan dish similar to the Venezuelan hallaca, consisting of pork, tomato, and herbs.
La Fritanga Buñuelo (Ciudad de Estelí)
This street-food joint has grilled chicken as its specialty. They simply grill the chicken over an open flame with a squirt of bitter orange or salsa chimole, a type of sauce or mild chilly paste.
Casa de Campo “Los Laureles” (Ciudad de Estelí)
In this discreet restaurant in Ciudad de Estelí, our friend Tony meets Eddie, a Nicaraguan rancher who tells the chef about the challenges of being a rancher.
Eddie takes Tony to Casa de Campo “Los Laureles”, where they try the traditional Sunday soup – mondongo. This soup is a delicious concoction made of mondongo (tripe), yucca, platano, corn, and ayote (squash).
Carnicería Valle de Flores (Ciudad de Estelí)
Tony goes with Eddie’s mother to Carnicería Valle de Flores, where she’ll get the meaty supplies for dinner. While the butchers are getting their orders together, Tony goes to the front and samples freshly made chicharrones on fresh tortillas, with chili, sauce, and a squeeze of lime.
Next, he tries chanfaina, a thick sauce with all the nasty bits Tony loves simmered in a tasty spicy tomato sauce with achiote.
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Nicaragua? Let me know in the comments below!