Explore Central America
Central America Food and Drink
Like South America, the cuisine of Central America has been very much influenced by the flavor profiles and ingredients of other regions including Spain, Asia, India and the Caribbean. The fusion of international flavors is subtle, and their presence is much more noticeable in larger cities. Despite many gastronomical differences among the countries of Central America, they all have certain indigenous ingredients in common such as corn or maize, peppers, beans and seafood in the coastal regions.
Of all Central American countries, it is the Belizeans who arguably enjoy the widest variety of foods. “Drinking tea” is what eating breakfast is called, and foods such as fry jacks, cheeses, eggs and beans are common at this typically large meal. Rice and beans is popular at lunch time as are regional specialties such as panades (fried corn shells filled with fish or beans), meat pies, or escabeche, an onion soup. Fruit drinks, beer and rum are among the most common beverages.
The national dish of Costa Rica is called gallo pinto (painted rooster) and is a dish of black beans and rice. This dish is prepared in myriad different ways, but is often served at every meal. Tortillas are omnipresent at Costa Rican meals, and another popular meal called picadillos, a combination of vegetables and meats, is often served and eaten inside a corn tortilla.
Many Salvadoran dishes are made with maize as the primary ingredient and their national dish is called pupusa which is more a style of eating rather than one particular dish. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas that are served stuffed with a variety of cheeses, beans, fried pork rinds, squash, seafood and even spinach; once filled they are fried on a skillet or grilled until heated through.
One of the most popular Guatemalan regional dishes is pepián, a stew made of meats and vegetables that is most commonly found in a town called Antigua. Guatemalans are known for eating certain foods on certain days; paches (potato based tamale) is enjoyed on Thursdays while traditional tamales are served mostly on Saturdays. Gallo is the national brand of beer, and lemon sodas are very popular non-alcoholic drinks.
Interestingly, Honduran cuisine uses more coconut, in both sweet and savory dishes, than any of the other Central American countries. Fruits and vegetables are abundant and dishes such as conch or bean soup, tamales, fried fish, baleadas and carne asada are very common. The national dish is considered to be plato tipico (“typical dish”), which is a platter of beef and pork, white cheese, beans, fried plantains and cabbage salad garnished with sour cream.
Gallo pinto is also considered to be the national dish of Nicaragua, and unlike Costa Rica this dish of rice and red beans is often is often prepared using shaved coconut or coconut oil. Like Nicaragua, Panamanian cuisine uses many fresh vegetables and fruits, including plenty of coconut. Their national dish is sancocho de gallina, a soup made of chicken, cilantro, yucca, corn and other aromatics and spices. It is typically served with white rice on the side, either to be eaten in or with the soup. A very popular beverage in Panama is chichi, or fruit juice, however it can also refer to a fermented beverage made from germinated corn.
Despite the wide variety of dishes available in Central American cuisine, one thing remains constant: food is meant to be enjoyed with family and friends, and in many countries the meal is so important that even talking is considered impolite. Nonetheless, the flavors are all bright and fresh fruits and vegetables are grown and consumed in abundance.
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