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Sea to Soup: Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast Cookin’

Atlantic coast cuisine is marked by its simplicity and freshness. That lobster on your plate was probably picked off the ocean floor this morning; the fish were swimming hours ago. The only way you’ll get fresher fish is by cooking it on the ship or eating it raw: ceviche with limejuice, tomato, and onion. Seafood on the Nicaraguan Atlantic is cheap by international standards, delicious by anyone’s standards, and well worth the wait (most Bluefields restaurants are slow, even by Nicaraguan standards). If your travel complaints don’t evaporate in the garlicky steam of lobster under your nose, then you obviously are going to need to spend another couple of days.

A dish of ceviche rests on a table.
Ceviche, made from marinated seafood and often served chilled, is a popular Central American dish. Photo © Clay Junell, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

Start off with yellowfin, snapper, or sea bass, grilled or fried. Conch, when tenderized correctly, is soft and delicate, less briny than other seafood but with a soft texture. Or enjoy a lobster al vapor, bulging with delicate white meat you can pull from the shell with your fingers, and drenched in butter and lime.

Mixed soup is served in a helmet-sized bowl choked with crab, lobster, conch, and fish marinating in coconut milk. Not hearty enough? Then reach for rondón, or rundown, a thick stew of fish (or endangered turtle), vegetables, and coconut milk thickened with starchy tubers and plantains. In August, don’t miss the Corn Island Crab Soup Festival, when Costeños cook tons of soft crabmeat into a festival you won’t forget. Atlantic coast crabmeat is particularly soft, with a delicate flavor unique to the tropics.

Lobster tail with local vegetables. Photo © Robert Lerich/123rf.
Lobster tail with local vegetables. Photo © Robert Lerich/123rf.

You don’t have to stick to seafood to eat well on the Atlantic coast. Even the gallo pinto tastes better here: That’s because it’s cooked in sweet coconut oil. Between meals, fill up with coco bread, football-sized loaves of soft, rich wheat flour cooked up with coconut and served hot out of the oven. Another treat is kind of like cinnamon rolls but without the cinnamon: hot coconut bun is sweet and sticky.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.