A stunningly well-maintained colonial city, right on the lake, in the centre of Nicaragua. With it’s colourful buildings, manicured streets, fabulous central park, and the simple fact that it’s connected to nearly everything in the country – if you’re visiting the country, you’ll likely be spending some time in Granada.
During our first visit to Nicaragua back in 2015, we were only in Granada for one full day before moving on, so on our most recent visit, we decided to stay for a full week.
Now while Granada is a beautiful place with a lot to offer, it’s also one of those cities that tends to draw a slightly different crowd than we typically roll with. Unlike León, it’s edgier sibling to the North, Granada caters more to short-term visitors rather than long-term backpackers. And seeing as the temporary travellers typically have a little more money to spend, prices around town tend to reflect this.
Although upon first glance at the menus in restaurants along the main strip may seem alarming to those on a tight budget, there are several other options available that are not only delicious but also dirt-cheap!
Seeing as the majority of food carts are centred around Parque Central, so unless otherwise noted, all of the following will be found there.
PupusasI was a little hesitant to include this one on the list, as it’s not technically a Nicaraguan dish. But since this post is about eating well and on a budget in general, why not give the best options?
Pupusas are a very simple Salvadorian dish of masa dough stuffed with really anything, but typically cheese, beans, meat, or any combination of the three. They’re then fried on a flat-top griddle until crisp and scorchingly hot, and served with cordita – an acidic cabbage and carrot slaw with a sharp bite that perfectly contrasts the fried dough.
There is usually one cart out near the Northeast corner the park, pupusas go for around 25 Cordoba each.
VigorónThis dish was a surprising one, we’d only stumbled across it on our final day in the city, and wish we would have found it sooner!
While technically being called a salad, the term may be a little misleading. Boiled and mashed yucca is served cold in a banana leaf and topped with chicharron and more of the cordita that is seen on many dishes in the region. Be sure to pick a stall with the often questionable-looking jar of pickled onions and chilis. It packs a bit of a punch, but is the perfect condiment for this oddly refreshing snack!
Vigorón can be found in Parque Central and in random carts and stalls around Granada. It should cost around 60-80 Cordobas.
EmpanadasThese were one of our favourite late-evening meals in the park. There are several stalls that sell simple empanadas for very cheap, but a couple of stalls serve it in the form of a full meal.
The empanadas in question have a simple filling of rice and onions but are incredibly flavourful. The delicious, fried pocket is served on either a bed of rice or plantain chips, your choice of meat – we tried both the grilled beef and the chicken option, both were fantastic – and topped with a cabbage slaw.
It’s a fairly carb-heavy dish, but for around 80 cordobas, you’ll be pressed to find a more filling meal for such a price.
QuesilloThis one is fun. The first time we came across this little gem was sitting on a sweaty chicken bus in Rivas waiting to make our way to Popoyo. One of the food hawkers that boarded the bus was selling these interesting little rolled tortillas dripping with hot sauce. Too hungry to actually enquire what it was, we simply ordered one and dove in. It was amazing. And it turns out, they’re all over Granada!
A warm tortilla has a bit of Oaxaca-style cheese (quesillo) and smooth crema placed inside before being rolled up and filled with a tangy mix of caramelized pickled onions and optional salsa picante (hot sauce).
The stringy quesillo and warm crema are a fantastically pleasing treat, while the onions and salsa give just enough bite to cut through their richness.
Found at stalls all over town, 30 Cordobas.
NacatamalesThese are without question our number one choice on this list. Nacatamales are the Nicaraguan version of the tamale – a common traditional dish found all throughout Latin America.
Quite simply, it’s a deliciously seasoned dough of masa flour mixed with vegetables and roasted achiote-spiced meat. What makes this dish different from other tamales is that the filling itself is stuffed into a plantain leaf rather than a corn husk, making the treat significantly larger than it’s cousins. As well, the addition of lard gives the dough an added layer of richness.
Served only on Saturday and Sunday mornings, this fantastic treat can be found in several different ways; just look for a sign or listen for the calls. Some street carts and stands in the market will offer them, occasionally you’ll see someone selling them from a basket on the street, or if you’re lucky, you’ll find a house near the centre selling them right out of their home kitchen!
Prices vary significantly on nacatamales, depending on where you buy, but can easily be picked up for around 50 Cordobas.
*Bonus tip: Many hostels around town include breakfast in their price, we found a place right in the centre of town for $17 a night that served a monstrous portion of food for breakfast!
If you’re headed to Nicaragua and are on a budget, don’t stress it when you first arrive in Granada and see the menus. You’ll have no problem finding some incredible eats during your visit that won’t break the bank.