Central American Cuisine, as is the case with South America, has been substantially influenced by the ingredients and flavor preferences of other cultures – specifically Asia, the Caribbean, India and, of course, due to centuries of colonization, Spain. Most notable in the larger, cosmopolitan cities, the international fusion of tastes and textures is there, albeit elegantly subtle.
Central American cuisine taken as a whole has its own consistency, and yet there are regional differences. Food items common throughout are peppers (sweet, mild, and hot), maize (corn), and beans. Red meats and poultry are more prevalent in the interior regions, whereas in coastal regions, you will find more seafood on the dinner plates.
There is some confusion about “Central America” and “Latin America”. They are not the same thing. Central America is a geographical region, whereas Latin America refers to a cultural entity. Latin America refers to countries – many in the same region as Central America – where a Latin-rooted language is spoken. Spanish, French, and Portuguese are prime examples. So, for the sake of clarity, this page is representative of Central American cuisine – not Latin American, per se.
The people of Belize are considered by most global culinary experts to enjoy the largest variety of foods of all the Central American countries. In Belize, breakfast is called “Drinking tea”. Popular meals are cheeses, beans and eggs, and something they call “Fry Jacks”. Beans and rice is a favorite lunch meal.
Regional specialties, like meat pies, onion soup (Escabeche) and Panades (fried corn shells filled with beans or fish), are served depending on where you are. Among the more common and preferred drinks are rum, beer, and fruit drinks.
In El Salvador, a primary staple and ingredient in many dishes is maize. Their national dish is called Pupusa. However, pupusa is really a reference to several variations of a type of meal and the style in which it is prepared and eaten.
Pupusas are always made with thick corn tortillas. The tortillas are stuffed, and that is where the variation comes in. Pupusas may be stuffed with any variety of cheeses, or perhaps fried pork rinds and/or beans. Sometimes the filling is squash. Other times the stuffing could even be spinach and seafood. Whatever the filling, they are always either grilled and heated through, or fried in a skillet. When served, there are a variety of popular condiments, including tomato sauce, salad, and coleslaw.
Costa Rica’s national dish is Gallo Pinto (painted rooster) – it is a meal of rice and black beans. Gallo Pinto is made in many different ways, and is served at most meals. Also always present at Costa Rican meals are tortillas. Another very popular meal in this country is called picadillos. Picadillos is a combination of meats and vegetables. Oftentimes it is served and eaten while sandwiched inside corn tortillas.
When it comes to the cuisine of Honduras, typical meals are abundant with vegetables and fruits. Commonplace dishes are fried fish, bean and/or conch soup, and tamales. Baleadas (Honduran style tortillas) and Carne Asada (Honduran style meat tacos) are also extremely popular.
It is interesting to note that Hondurans use much more coconut in their recipes. Apparently they have a bigger sweet tooth than other Central Americans. The use of coconut to add some sweetness to their main savory dishes is commonplace, as well as using it to add additional sweetness to their desserts.
Honduras’s national dish is usually considered to be a platter of pork and beef, beans, fried plantains, white cheese, and cabbage salad – with a garnish of sour cream. This immensely popular feast is called “Plato Tipico”, which translates in English to “typical dish”.
Nicaragua’s national dish is a spectacularly appealing, delicious and filling soup, called Sancocho de Gallina. It is made with chicken, yucca root, carrots, and corn on the cob, along with lots of aromatics and cilantro and other spices. Sancocho de Gallina is usually served over rice, or with white rice on the side.
Another national dish of Nicaragua is, like Costa Rica, Gallo pinto. Their version of the dish is somewhat different, though. In addition to the usual red beans and rice, Nicaraguans like to add shaved coconut meat and/or coconut oil.
Panamanian cuisine, much like the foods of Nicaragua, makes use of and abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, including lots of coconut. This places them both in similarity with Honduras, with respect to the use of coconut. Cooks from other countries, when it comes to Central American cuisine, do not rely as heavily on the use of coconut.
There are seven Central American Countries. They are all listed below. Click on the country of your choice, and off you go into the culinary world of that culture. Happy travels and take a hearty appetite with you, into the realm of …
… Central American Cuisine!
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