NicAsí Cooking Workshop

I love cooking and I love eating.  For this reason, I’m a keen fan of cooking schools/classes and have done quite a few over the past couple of years.   Add in that I particularly like to try dishes that are typical to the region I am travelling through and it was a no-brainer to sign up for the NicAsí Cooking Workshop while I was here in León.

NicAsi Cooking Workshop flyer

I rocked up at 8:45am to enquire about the workshop and was lucky enough that there was one running from 9am to about 1pm.  I joined Katrina (from Ireland), Daniel (from England) and our young Nicaraguan guide, Gerald, and off we headed to the local market behind the Cathedral.  After all – you can’t cook without fresh ingredients!

First stop was the cheese shop where Gerald had us try 4 different types of cheese common in Nicaragua. Queso fresco (fresh cheese) was a little like very mild fetta cheese, queso frito (fried cheese) is a little like fried haloumi (as you would expect), cuajada is a very soft cheese but with plenty of flavour, and queso duro (hard cheese) is nothing what you would expect from the name.  Smokey and salty, it is a long way from what we would think of as hard cheese in Australia.   Queso duro and cuajada (which I’d had before) were my favourites 🙂

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop buying cheese at local market

From there it was time to buy the meat for our dish.  We had a choice – we could either cook Iguana soup or the more typical Indio Viejo.  We went for the latter option.

Gerald had a shopping list which he handed to each of us in turn to buy the ingredients.  Although the workshop was primarily in English, he was keen for us to practice our spanish as well with the sellers in the market.

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop shopping list

I bought the meat – 1.5 pounds of beef from the leg – from this very industrious lady (bottom image, the top lady is the iguana lady) that gets up at 2:30am each day to slaughter an animal so that it is fresh to sell in the market.  She came equipped with a bluetooth earpiece as well!

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop buying iguana or ingredients for indio viejo

Katrina bought all the vegetables and fruit that we needed for the Indio Viejo (tomatoes, green capsicum, onions, plantains, sour oranges, mint) and Daniel bought the achiote (colouring more than flavouring) and other odds and ends to complete the dish.

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop buying vegetables for indio viejo in local market

From the market, we headed out to the barrio Subtiava on public transport.  Managed to get onto a surprisingly uncrowded bus.   These are rare in Central America!

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop empty public transport

There our first stop was to buy freshly made tortillas.  We were lucky enough that when we arrived they were still in the process of milling the corn for the “masa” (dough) so we poked our heads in to see the grinding process.  Before it can be ground, the corn is dried and treated with a slaked lime solution, and once it is ground it is ready to make tortillas.

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop grinding corn to make masa

And of course we each had to have a go at making our own tortillas.  The ladies gave us a very quick demo and then tried not to laugh as our efforts produced tortillas that weren’t terribly round, even with their tips and tricks to help.  These ladies start at around 4am and finish at 1pm – making about 1000 tortillas per day to sell to people who drop by, as well as hospitals and market sellers.

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop making tortillas

We each made one (that eventually turned out to be more-or-less round) that was then cooked on the open fire, and these formed 3 of the 10 tortillas we bought to go with lunch.

From there it was off to the the house of Aura who (along with one of her 4 dogs, her kitten, her 6 year old daughter and a parrot) set us to work chopping vegies/fruit and mixing more of the masa with the achiote and water.

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop chopping vegetables

After about 1/2 hour, Aura took the meat off the fire (it was just boiling away in some water and salt to cook) and we had to pound it to tenderise it and also so that we could pull it apart into smaller pieces (and get rid of the fat) to go into meal.   What did we use to pound?  A smooth rock of course!   I was the best at this step, bashing away with plenty of vigour on a rickety wooden bench (the others were too worries about the bench collapsing to bash hard enough).

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop tenderising cooked meat

Then everything went into the one pot to cook for another ~20 minutes and we made a salad of tomato, onion and orange juice to accompany.

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop finishing the indio viejo

Once it was cooked, we sat down to fresh tortillas, salad, the 4 different types of cheese we bought from the market and the main dish – Indio Viejo.   It was really, really good!  Very different flavour to everything else I have eaten in Nicaragua – a little sweet but still mostly savoury.  Gerald, Aura and her daughter also sat down to eat with us and we chatted about Christmas dinners amongst other things while we ate.   Really enjoyable lunch under the shade of a tree in the backyard of a typical Nicaraguan house.

NicaAsi Cooking Workshop salad plus indio viejo for lunch

Public transport back to central León was a hell of a lot more crowded – less than standing room only in the back of a covered truck (there were people hanging off the back) – but such is daily life in Nicaragua!

 

Recommendation: If you are interested in trying a very traditional Nicaraguan dish and keen to see a little more what typical Nicaraguan life is like – the NicAsí  cooking workshop is a must!

Booking:  The NicAsí cooking workshop runs out of the Vía Vía Hostel in León.  You can just call by and ask when the  next one is running

Cost:  The cost was US$25/person which included the tour, the food and the cost of the public transportation

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