As I walked through the dark and deserted marketplace the smell of filth and urine was suddenly overtaken by something far more wonderful. I could hear the crackle of fresh pork being placed on a hot grill and the wafting smell of barbequed cheese. I could almost taste the tantilising deep fried potato goodness on my tongue.
I was in the colonial city of León, an often overlooked beauty in the centre of Nicaragua. This place in the world has something that many travel destinations lack, a pure and unaltered authenticity. Unlike its sister city Granada, León has that intangible nicaragüense feeling.
So here I was in this facinating city eagerly awaiting my next food adventure. Now I must tell you that I am utterly obsessed with street food. It is not just because I’m poor (although I am), it is for the exciting adventure that is discovering a new and wonderful food. From the fresh lime noodles in Thailand to cuy (guinea pig) in Colombia. From the weird to the wonderful I try it all and am usually delightfully surprised. I ate the best burger in my life sitting in a gutter in Peru, I will never forget the crepes I ate on a park bench in Paris, served to me with an air of disgust for my lack of french but so divinely delcious I could not care less.
Nicaragua was to be no exception to the sucess of my round the world street food mission.
As I passed a group of homeless men swigging from a paper bag I must admit I was feeling a little tentative about the situation. Common sense would tell the average person to turn and head home but I was so mesmorised by the tantalising smell around the next corner I continued on my way.
I arrived at the source of my infatuation and was not to be disappointed by the array of food before me. Smokey barbequed meats, cheeses, so many delicate fried packages I was overwhelmed.
Behind the grill sat two cheerful looking women who were not small in stature to say the least. My old boss used to say ‘never trust a skinny chef’ so it seemed I had definately come to the right place.
With her frilly apron pulled taught around her wide girth one of the ladies aproached me, her face brightened by a warm and inviting smile.
There were so many options, I was utterly overwhelmed. I began to ask the what everything was. As she went from one tasty tid bit to another I started to fret. How could I possibly choose? I thought to myself.
‘¿Que quieres niña?’ the second and equally round and merry lady yelled to ask me what I wanted.
They both laughed at the look of stress on my face as I stood perplexed, feeling the weight of this decision.
I decided to leave my fate in the hands of the experts.
“Voy a comer lo que me recomiendes” I’m going to eat what you reccomend I said excitedly to my two hosts.
For 60 cordobas (around 2 US dollars) I was given a plate that dreams are made of.
Perfectly seasoned tender grilled pork, the freshest crunchiest salad, crispy fried flavoursome chicken and rice balls and a salty cheese pancake. I sat on my plastic chair surrounded by mangy dogs and rubbish and ate like a queen.
Feeling utterly satisfied, my love affair with street food solidified once again I rose to venture along my merry way.
“Hasta mañana” I called over my shoulder to my new favourite chefs, until tommorrow.
As I walked back through the empty marketplace I reflected on the quality of the delicious food I have eaten in my travels around the world. The delicacies that have surpassed my expectations from the carts, trucks and side-of-the-road grills all over the globe.
On my way I passed by an expensive restaurant where two young tourists sat in the window slowly eating their tiny portioned western food. I felt truly sorry for them.
Food is one of the greatest adventures of cultural travel we can experience. Savour that flavour and become enraptured by the essence of the place you find yourself in. Truly feel like a local, even if only for a moment.
Buen Provecho !