Central American Foods and Cooking

The fertile volcanic soil of Central America allows modern farmers to continue cultivating ancient crops as well as newer Spanish additions. This helps them produce a wide variety of foods. The sugarcane is grown in Belize, as well as delicious tropical fruits like papayas and bananas. Important crops in Guatemala include coffee beans, the spice cardamom and corn. El Salvador also has sugarcane, coffee, and corn. Hondurans also harvest melons, pineapples, and citrus fruits. Further south, Nicaraguan farmers grow peanuts, coffee and bananas, sesame and soybeans while Costa Ricans cultivate foods like plantains (a related to the banana), beans, potatoes, rice and beans.

Panamanians are known for their coffee, bananas and sugarcane harvests. The coasts of Central America are home to valuable fish, shrimp, and other seafood catches. Farmers tend to raise livestock, such as sheep and cattle, while rural residents often keep chickens and pigs in their yards. This wide variety of resources has created a rich Central American culinary tradition. Regional chefs are skilled at using the finest produce and grains to create delicious, fresh meals. Central American cuisine was also enriched by the addition of Spanish colonists’ favorite dishes and influences from African slaves, Caribbean immigrants, and other native flavors.

Diners all over the region enjoy many popular dishes, crossing borders and connecting people from different countries, ethnicities, and lifestyles. Sopa de frijoles (bean stew) is one of these popular foods. Although there are many variations from one country to another and from cook to cook alike, this hearty, simple soup can be found throughout Central America. Fried plantains are another popular favorite, as well as many variations on rice and beans and rich desserts like arroz con leche (rice pudding). There are many national dishes. Guatemalan chefs take pride in their pepian, which is a thick stew made up of potatoes and chicken in a tomato, pepper and pumpkin seed sauce. Guatemalans love escabeche (a tart salad made of pickled vegetables and jocon-meat) in a green sauce with cilantro, green onions and tomatillos (a cousin of the tomato). Nearby Caribbean islands, such as Honduras and Belize, have contributed their flavours to the cuisines of Honduran nations. Pan de coco, a tropical-tasting coconut bread, is a favorite here. Other Caribbean favorites include johnny cakes (biscuits), and fried fish. Stewled chicken and stewed bean are also popular Belizean dishes. This is done by slow cooking the chicken, beans or other main ingredients in thick, spicy sauce. Sopa de Caracol is a thick soup that’s made with conch (a type or shellfish), coconut milk and potatoes. Yucca is a root vegetable that looks similar to potatoes. A popular dish in Honduras are pinchos, which is a grilled meat kabob that’s served with vegetables, beans and cheese.

Pupusas are cornmeal cakes filled with cheese, beans or meat. They are served with salsa and a zesty veggie slaw in El Salvador. Salvadorans enjoy sweet rice milk, called Horchata, after a spicy meal of pupusas. Maria Luisa cake is a favorite dessert, a layer cake made with orange juice, orange zest and orange marmalade.

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