Day 80: Leon, Nicaragua
I truly believe that understanding a culture means eating its food but having been on the road nearly 3 months I’ve noticed certain cravings for vegetables and other roughage. So while I eat dinner with my family, my lunch habits have varied as I feel the need for more greens in my diet.
But there’s nothing worse that breaking down to eat food from home only to find that it tastes nothing like what you are craving. Unlike other cities, Leon is a bit more difficult to find food from home, there are no American fast food chains for the desperate, but somehow I’ve unearthed three great finds.
1) Cafe La Rosita
One of the school organizers introduced the Cafe as a place for great paninis. While the restaurant is foreign-owned, its staff are a group of young Nicaraguans who are really nice. They were patient with my Spanish and got to know me by name.
Two weeks ago I had no desire to eat paninis but one item did tickle my fancy and that was salad. It had been so long since I had a really good salad, in fact I had a really pathetic one in Managua – not surprisingly. I had been in a bit of a slump and I was starting to think that my multivitamin wasn’t compensating for the 5-10 vegetables I was supposed to be eating each day so I started eating La Rosita Ensalada for lunch and noticed a quick turnaround in my energy.
2) La Terraza Mediterraneo
This bakery/restaurant is next to my school and I stumbled upon it when I arrived early and decided to wander the neighborhood. While most baked goods in Central America are painfully sweet, this is a European-style bakery and I can vouch for the savory ham and cheese pastries (see above). The woman who works for the bakery is really nice, one day she didn’t have change for my 200 cordoba bill so she just told me to take the pastry and I paid her for it the next day.
I did not eat in the attached courtyard restaurant but I heard good things, which isn’t surprising considering the bakery was the best I had seen throughout my trip.
4) La Union Supermarket
I was craving granny smith apples for breakfast but they’re not local so you won’t find them at the market. This supermarket brand looked familiar at first but I couldn’t place it until I was told that it was owned by Wal-Mart. I was surprised as Leon is protective of its national brands and is careful which companies operate in the city. Unlike Managua, you cannot find McDonalds because it would put the local hamburger vendors out of business. But Wal-Mart is smart and sold the supermarket based on its ability to provide products local supermarkets would not have access to, including its Great Value brand.
As painful as it is to support this giant, it’s conveniently located around the corner from Via Via and Big Foot Hostel so it receives a lot of foreigners. You’ll pay for the convenience but if you’re craving international groceries you can find them here.