Overland miles: 4756 Tacocount: 73 Days without sodas: 7
We couldn’t leave Nicaragua without the traditional round-up of the top-dog morning meals greedily consumed by your PFB correspondents. We picked these breakfasts and brunches as they’re all readily available to the average budget traveller, but it is fair to say that wherever you are, a typical day for a Nica will usually start with that Central American staple, gallo pinto.
Our hostel in Leon, Lazybones, served a reasonably priced selection of simple breakfasts poolside (which is unusual in that most hostels don’t boast their own pool). It made for a very relaxing setting to set ourself up for the day and soak up some morning rays, whilst possibly trying to improve our flagging Spanish. Here’s how that awesome rice and bean combo looked when Clare ordered a Desayuno Tipico (typical breakfast) on the first morning:
This is actually my favourite version of gallo pinto (left) in Nicaragua, because they had fried the rice and beans together until the bean juice had been soaked up by the grains and the rice took on a rich, crunchy, nutty flavour. It really was quite moreish, and that’s all you’re going to hear from me on the subject of rice and beans for now, and possibly the remainder of this blog. Clare also got a little wedge of salty white cheese (top), which we’d first seen in Guatemala, and was a nice tangy counterpoint to the creamy huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs, right). All in all, a pretty decent effort for a hostel breakfast, which only cost US$2.60 (£1.60).
For once, the traditional roles were reversed, with Clare ordering the fatboy breakfast, and I plumping for the healthy option, the fruit plate. Pretty much a classic option everywhere we’ve been so far, the plate will contain about four tropical fruits (of which two will be a type of melon), yoghurt and a smattering of granola (the better ones give you a decent heap of it alongside the fruit). While it’s not something I would personally rave about that often, I chose this shot because it manages to convey a sense of health and education in one meal setting – not something often associated with the breakfasts I like to order:
That morning we felt we hadn’t had our caffeine fix to ready us for a day touring the sweltering city, so we popped into Libelula, a laid-back cafe-restaurant a few blocks away, which was advertised as a good place for coffee and brunch on the tourist map we’d picked up at Lazybones. It turned out to make the best cappuccino we’d found in Nicaragua. Hot (not necessarily a given in these parts), strong and packing an immense flavour punch, it knocked the socks off anything we normally got as part of our hostel breakfasts. It was nearly as good as the coffee we tasted at the Fat Cat Cafe in Antigua, and a match for the stuff we got hooked on at Cafe Cristalina’s in San Pedro La Laguna. I’m including it here though, mainly because of the sensational latte art the barista created in my cup. It was nearly too beautiful to drink:
Out of the city, we still managed to track down some cracking starts to the day. On Playa Santa Domingo in the island of Ometepe, for instance, we checked out a veggie restaurant called Natural, which had been recommended to us by a travelling friend. I chose the Torta Campesina, another photogenic beauty to cheer up the soul on an overcast morning by the restless lake.
The torta was essentially a crisped-up omelette heaped with fresh tomato and served with homemade bread rolls, but the egg filling was perfectly seasoned and given a sharp dimension with the addition of finely chopped spring onion. It was a fantastic brunch option, fresh and light – although I should have saved the rolls and asked for some jam to spread on them for a desert course. We were so impressed we went back there the next morning for a fruit plate that came with a generous serving of wholemeal granola. Unfortunately, the service had slowed to an ineffectual lollop, our waitress chose to communicate with us via a series of grunts and shrugs, and their coffee was lukewarm with bits in it. We didn’t return after that.
Our very last breakfast in Nicaragua was possibly the best yet, despite operating in a fairly stale and unappetising environment: harbourside in the down-at-heel port town of San Carlos, at the other end of a ten hour night ferry across Lake Nicaragua, at 8.00 in the morning. Breakfasts at these junctures in the journey are more than refuelling opportunities; they are critical, make-or-break pit stops that can send you into the gravel traps for good if not executed well. After a cursory scan of some intriguing set menus, and buoyed by the enthusiastic welcome of its owner, we pinned our flagging hopes of resuscitation on La Fortaleza, and slumped into a free table. I ordered the Number 1 without further consultation, and was rewarded thusly:
On first sight, it doesn’t look like a heavyweight contender. But it managed to include all the classic elements of the tipico, throwing in several thrilling novelties for good measure. So left from the freshly made tortillas sit eggs that were scrambled to perfection, whites and yolks separated in places for contrasting texture. Above the eggs lay cuajada – a new type of white cheese, soft and creamy rather than hard and rubbery. At the top of the plate, a decent slice of spicy sausage surrounded the gallo pinto, hitting the starchy elements up with bags of earthy flavour. And to the right, that strange but enticing bowl of sweetened sour cream we first encountered in Flores helped to meld all the dry items together. The only thing you could possibly ask for on top would be some fried plantain, but that might have been gilding the lilly a bit.
It was a breakfast of champions, and we felt instantly restored; able once more to navigate border control on our boat trip into Costa Rica.