11 Fascinating Ways That Nicaraguans Eat (and Drink) Corn
On a recent flight from Miami to Managua I sat next to a middle-age American banking consultant who is based in the Nicaraguan capital. It was my first trip to this poor-but-peaceful nation, and my neighbor was curious why I was visiting. The volcanoes, I said, and the beaches, and the colonial architecture, and the corn-based cuisine. At the mention of corn, the man seemed embarrassed for me, as if I had accidentally passed gas or had spinach stuck in my teeth.
“The corn here isn’t very good,” he said, almost apologetically. “The kernels are very small. The corn is better everywhere else. If you’re expecting the sweet corn with the nice big kernels you get in America, you won’t find it here.”
Admittedly, that conversation was not an auspicious start to my corn quest. But I took his comments with a grain of salt, so to speak, because throughout Nicaragua’s history, corn has been so basic and omnipresent that you even find it in the country’s beverages. It’s in the food carts on the street and in the fine dining restaurants at the resorts. You can’t hide from Nicaragua’s corn.
As I drove along the Pan American Highway that runs the length of the country, I passed fields and forests of coconut palm, banana, cedar, pine, teak, mahogany, madroño (the national tree of Nicaragua), cotton, sorghum, melon, and, yes, corn. I didn’t notice much difference between the cornstalks in Nicaragua and those I’ve seen in Iowa, so I felt a little better about my goal of eating and drinking as much corn as I could find. Here, then, are my favorite corn-based drinks and dishes from a land that I now think is on the brink of discovery as a tourism — and food-lovers’ — destination.