CENTRAL AMERICAN FOOD TRIP – WHAT TO TRY WHEN YOU VISIT
November 16, 2019
Central American food is mostly unknown to foreigners, most only knowing common ones such as tortillas, beans, and tacos. However, it is more diverse than that! I visited all Central American countries and tasted a lot of delicious local food. Some of them share the same cuisine, but the preparation is different, that it can be considered a new dish in itself.
Here´s a list of all the food in Central America that I tried in all the seven Central American countries I visited.
LIST OF CENTRAL AMERICAN FOOD PER COUNTRY
Guatemalan food is a milder version of Mexican food; it is not as spicy, and the flavor is tamer. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not delicious! Most street food stalls have many options to choose from, and they serve it in heaping portions.
Like Pepián and Jocón, certain foods have existed since the Mayan times, with recipes passed down for generations. The best place to try these is in Antigua, it may not be as authentic, but based on experience, the flavor is still superb.
Eating out in Guatemala will cost you around 15 to 20 quetzals (around 3 to 4$) if you eat in a local food stall and approximately 30 to 35 quetzals (around 5 to 6$) in a sit-in restaurant.
Tostadas y Taquitos
When I was in Flores, I always ate at this food stall at the tourist town bridge. I was there every day that the sellers became familiar with me and gave me heaping portions of food whenever I eat there. I always ordered the tostadas and taquitos, combined with various toppings such as chow mein, picado de carne, buche, ensalada, and many others.
This typical Mayan dish is a chicken-based stew cooked in a tomatillo and cilantro based sauce. I tried it at Rincon Tipico in Antigua, and it was a special dish served only during weekends. The flavor is mild and herby, with a sweet aftertaste.
It is one of Guatemala’s oldest cuisine, dating back to pre-hispanic times. It is a stew made of a variety of roasted spices, which gives it a bitter aftertaste. I tried this dish at Rincon Tipico in Antigua, but you can find it almost everywhere in Guatemala.
Belizean food, for me, is one of the most unique in Central America due to the Caribbean-inspired ingredients used in their cuisines, such as coconut, chili peppers, and fish. Rice and beans, a staple in many Central American and Caribbean food, are also typically served with other hearty Belizean food. You can also find standard Central American food items here like tostadas, pupusas, tacos, and tortillas.
Eating out in Belize is affordable. I only spent 7 Belizean dollars (3.50$) per meal in a restaurant and just 5 Belizean dollars (2.5$) on local food stalls.
Belizean Chicken Stew
It was the first meal I tried when I arrived in San Ignacio. It is a very traditional stew with a Caribbean-flair consisting of coconut milk and other typical ingredients, accompanied with rice and beans, another Belizean staple. I tried this at Cenaida´s Belizean Food in San Ignacio.
Fried Jacks is a classic breakfast food sold everywhere in Belize. It is a fried dough filled with refried beans, chicken, cheese, and other yummy ingredients, and then generally eaten with a spicy chili sauce. It tasted so good that I ate it whenever I can when I was in San Ignacio, Belize.
I have to admit that I only knew about one Salvadoran food before coming here, the pupusa. Everybody I met in Central America, Salvadoreños and foreigners, raved about it, saying that it´s one of the best they have. I do agree, but Salvadoran food is more than just pupusa! I also tried other yummy Salvadoran food and saw some extreme once that I haven´t tasted, like iguana eggs and meat in Ataco.
Eating out in El Salvador is also as affordable as in Guatemala and Mexico. A meal in a restaurant costs around 7$, while it may cost as low as 3$ in food stalls.
Pupusa is the defacto national food of El Salvador, and it is sold all over the country’s pupuserias. It is pancake-like dough typically made of rice or corn flour, then filled with various ingredients ranging from chicharron, refried beans, chicken, cheese, and shrimp, then accompanied with curtido – a spicy cabbage pickle. It’s my personal favorite in Central America, and I ate it whenever I can. I always order chicken-filled pupusa, and I can devour at least three pieces per meal.
Yuca frita con chicharron y pescadita
This meal consists of yucca (cassava) served fried or mashed, then topped with chicharron (pork cracklings) and pescaditas (dried fish). It’s the closest to my heart because of the chicharron and dried fish, both common in my country. I first tasted it when I visited Ataco.
This local dish is a thick soupy substance made of masa de maiz, water, salt, alguashte, and sometimes with beans. It tastes a bit salty/mealy and is very heavy in the stomach.
Sadly, I didn´t have much experience with Honduran food since I stayed in the country for only two days, and almost nothing was open due to the nationwide strike when I arrived. I know that Salvadorans share some similarities with Honduran food, but I cannot confirm because I haven´t tasted a lot.
I only ate at one local stall, the only one open during that time, and it cost me 55 Honduran Lempira (1.5$) per meal.
Yuca con chicharron
Both Honduras and El Salvador consume yuca as their staple food but prepared distinctly. Hondureños boil it, while Salvadoreños eat it fried or mashed. The Honduran version came with chicharron and an onion-tomato based salad. It was cheap and filling and kept me alive when everything else was closed in Tegucigalpa during my stay.
COSTA RICAN FOOD
Costa Rican food is hearty, filling, and delicious! Almost all local joints around the capital would always have a combo meal, each consisting of a main dish, two carbohydrates, and fresh juice of the day. I always felt full everytime, so full that I only ate twice a day when I was here.
As for eating out in Costa Rica, it´s not as cheap as other Central American countries. A meal at a local joint will cost you around 2,000 Costa Rican colones (4$), and 8,000 Costa Rican colones (12$) in a nice restaurant.
It is a typical Costa Rican plate comprising a meat dish, salad, rice and beans, and plantain. It is a complete meal found in almost every canteen in the country.
Chifrijo consists of CHICHARRON, CHIMICHURRI, and FRIJOLES. It comes with nacho chips and rice, so it is cumbersome on the stomach. The version I ordered was so flavorful that I ate everything on the plate.
Rice and beans
I did not personally order this, but I was able to taste it. It is a dish served with coconut milk and Chile Panameño. It was sweet and also had a curry-like flavor, which blended well with the chicken and sweet banana dish included in the meal.
Chumi is a Costa Rican dessert similar to a snow cone served in a cup. They then add flavored syrup, condensed milk, milk powder, and marshmallow. I ordered crema while my friend ordered Chiclet flavor (which I find absolutely disgusting). This dessert is too sweet for me, and I constantly added water to tone down the sweetness.
Nicaraguan food is one of my favorites in Central America. Aside from it being tasty, they always came in huge portions, often complemented with additional side dishes and a fresh juice. Most restaurants will have a set combo for the day, or a buffet setup where you choose what you want and pay depending on weight.
The cost of eating out is also the most affordable amongst all Central American countries. A full meal will only cost you around 100 Nicaraguan Córdoba (3$).
It is another version of Rice and Beans and usually comes in various meat, vegetables, and tajada. I always ate this meal in Nicaragua – almost everyone sold it cheaply, and it can fill you up fast.
This dish is made of white corn masa tortilla filled with white cheese and meat, then grilled in a banana leaf, finally slathered with a creamy, cheesy sauce. I ordered the meat version, and I liked it. What made it different from other similar dishes like pupusa and arepa is that the dressing of Guirila is creamier and sweeter. In contrast, a pupusa is more acidic and arepa more mealy.
Since Panama is dubbed as the “Dubai of Latin America,” it has more fast-food chains than local restaurants. Local food joints are so rare that even the hostel workers can’t recommend anything that serves local food. I wouldn’t be able to taste the real deal if it weren’t for my local Panamanian friends who bought me to restaurants that serve classic Panamanian food. Seafood is pretty common here, with a dedicated big seafood market near the old town where locals go for their fresh catch of the day.
Eating out here is the most expensive not only in Central America, but Latin America in general. The price is comparable to a meal in the USA, costing around 15 to 20$ per person.
Lechona guisado, Tamales Panameño, y Platano de Tentación
It was hard to find a restaurant in Panama City that serves authentic Panamanian food, so when a friend invited me to one, I immediately said yes. Lechona is a pork dish cooked for hours in a special sauce, while Tamales Panameño is distinct from other tamales. This version has an almost pureed potato consistency. Lastly, Platano en Tentacion is a plantain dish cooked with brown sugar and cinnamon. These three combine well, and the contrasting flavors make it a good dish.
Pescado frito a lo macho, arroz de guandu, y patacones
I tasted it after touring Panama with my friends. It is a Corvina fish topped with a mixture of seafood sauce and served with Arroz de guandu and patacones (fried plantain). It was memorable for me because I have not eaten seafood for the longest time before eating that meal, which reminded me a bit of home.
***Have you tried any of these yummy Central American food? What do you think of them? Comment down on the section below!***