León, Nicaragua: Land of Lakes, Volcanoes, and Unforgettable Food

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Standing in the mercadito de Subtiava, central market in León, sweat running down my back and into my eyes, I marvel at the fact that so many women are able to cook over steaming pots and flaming grills without a hint of discomfort. My companion suggests we share a chancho con yuca, a popular dish in the region. It's relatively simple -- pork seasoned with achiote, a seed that adds a reddish color and a nutty, peppery taste, and boiled yuca, which is served on a banana leaf, topped with cabbage salad with enough vinegar to keep it bright.

At home, we unwrap the leaf and dig in; the meat is tender and super porky, the yuca thick and slightly sweet. The dish costs 40 Cordobas, about $1.50, which, split between two people is a pretty delectable deal.

My next tasting came on a street corner, where I was hypnotized by the smoke curling up from cuts of grilled chicken and various goodies hidden under plastic, protected from swarms of flies. After 10 minutes of debate, I went for the Nicaraguan version of an enchilada, which resembles a large, fried empanada. The corn tortilla is stuffed with grilled chicken, rice, and vinegared cabbage, and wrapped in a banana leaf. As a side I bought some tajadas -- fried plantain chips -- that added a nice crunch to the meal. This is a meal for the hands, and it was crazy tasty, all for 15 Cordobas, or about 60 cents. For that price, you can splurge and get two.

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Dana De Greff