It might require some legwork, but our contributor found that tracking down vigorón on the streets of Granada was well worth the scavenger hunt.
Photos by Chelsey Perron
It was a sunny day, and the breeze off Lake Nicaragua floated past Granada’s colorful colonial houses. We were on the hunt for a specific dish, one whose name we’d heard murmured by Nicas everywhere: vigorón, Nicaragua’s favorite street food, which is said to have been invented here in Granada, the oldest colonial city in Central America. Where better to try a dish that pays homage to the country’s rural roots than in the shadow of centuries-old Spanish cathedrals? The more we asked, though, the more fingers pointed down the coast—a leisurely lakeside walk just outside the center of town. Colorful buggies and the clopping of horse hooves reminded us that there was a faster way to arrive at “the vigorón ladies,” but the breeze was so pleasant, and with each inquiry we learned something new about the dish.
“It’s best in the morning—it’ll keep you satisfied!” an old man claimed, while another informed us it was best eaten in the madrugada, after the bars had closed. “Que rico!” exclaimed one woman approvingly; the next inquired if we were sensitive to the local water, fanning the flicker of caution that’s always a part of sampling street food. We weren’t too concerned, though, and soon enough, no more questions were needed.
We didn’t know many details of what we were seeking—we’d heard just that it was a meal in a dish, typically served atop banana leaves—but one look at the happy crowd before us told us we’d arrived at the right place. In the center was a robust elderly woman calling, “Vigorón, vigoróooooon!” She looked us in the eye and asked for the only input needed: Single meat or double?
With one hand and a leaf working to keep the sun and insects at bay, she began building our meal on a plate. First on top of the banana leaves was a generous serving of pale yellow yuca stalks, softened and seasoned for more than 30 minutes in salted boiling water. Then came a heap of sweet, tangy cabbage slaw studded with shaved vegetables and pickled starfruit, awash in its own brine. The third and final topping? Chicharrones, large golden strips of fried pork skin dripping with fat, still crackling from the hot oil. Much like bacon, the edges fry up super-crispy with hundreds of golden bubbles, while the meat and creamy fat inside stays tender, a wonderful textural contrast.
Taken together, the acidity of the cabbage salad cuts through the pork’s grease, and the yuca soaks up all the juices that pool in the bowl, one final treat just when you think you’re finished. We’d gone with double meat, so we also received a kebab of grilled, marinated pork, spice-rubbed red and surprisingly tender—all for less than three dollars a pop.
Leaf-covered bowl in hand, I felt like we’d found the prize at the end of a scavenger hunt—one designed by locals so that only the most inquisitive travelers could savor it. The layers of flavor piled into the bowl were Nicaragua’s most traditional, far heartier than any we’d tasted in a restaurant here. And for once, we were the only foreigners stopping in for a bite. We might have traded white tablecloths and silverware for that park bench and plastic fork, but there was no doubt about it: We had found the best “fast food” in Granada.
About the author: Chelsey Perron is a lover of all things Latin America, especially when it comes to feasting on Argentine choripan and fresh-from-the-sea ceviche. She spends her days hunting for the most unique tours, attractions, and accommodations in Latin America, and is obsessed with discovering amazing eco-lodges and sustainable options, like treehouses that deliver farm-to-table meals. Follow her travels at taproottravel.com or tweet her hello @ChelseyEnroute.