Sunday, December 8, 2013

Matagalpa, Nicaragua

If you're going to Matagalpa for the first time, don't trust the Footprints guide, for one thing. Listening to people who live there proved quite iffy too. The bloggers I read were similarly full of shit. I'm not sure whether some people have no taste or just like pretending that everything they do is thrilling, in order to impress their friends with their fabulous lives or something. Point being, here's some real advice.

Things I really enjoyed:


Next door to Matagalpa Tours, Artesanos Cafe and Bar was the coolest place we went in Matagalpa.

Desayuno Nica - 60 Cordoba ($2.40 USD) - with gallo pinto, huevos al gusto, tortilla, cuajada, and pico de gallo - One of the better meals we had in Nicaragua, really. Every time we ordered eggs, we got one egg over easy and one over medium, even when we tried to specify both over easy. Ah well.

Cafe Nica Sensillo 25 cordoba ($1 USD), Cafe Nica Doble 40 c ($1.60)
They use a steam-driven espresso machine to make "Cafe Nica," which, at least here, turned out to be what I would call an americano. They were great, as good as second tier coffee shops in the US, which is the best you can do in Nicaragua.

At night it becomes a bar with live music.

With several locations throughout Matagalpa, you'll do well to hit up a Barista Coffee Shop:

Cafe Nica:  20c ($.80 USD) - A great cup of coffee! It smelled like brown sugar but wasn't sweetened. This was the best coffee we had in Nicaragua.

Espresso doble 40c - Yummy rich espresso

Desayuno Nica: with gallo pinto, a fried egg with salsa roja, perfect plantains, fresh pico, and the spongy, salty cuajada cheese, this was definitely the best breakfast we had in Nicaragua, and maybe the best meal.

Plato de frutas: papaya and watermelon (apparently that's what was in season in November), with a sour cream and mayonnaise cream sauce. Very nice.


Go to the Parque los Monos:

It costs three cordoba, which is $.12 USD. It's actually really sad and maybe you shouldn't go support it because they have a bunch of animals locked up, and after our visit we were told that at least in the case of the monkeys, they aren't fed, or are barely fed, and thus they rely on visitors to buy food from the couple of stands where they sell junk food and bananas.



They go ape shit (if you will) for Cheetos (well, for anything, but maybe especially for these cheese puffs).
Once you've fed them, you're friends, in that they will look at your hand in search of more food, seeing as they're fucking starving.


We hope they feed this guy.

There's a cute place called Monkey Gourmet/Restaurante Monkey across from Parque Morazan that offers tours that teach you how to make coffee Tuesdays to Sunday at 10am and 5pm. I don't know how those are, and I wouldn't eat there, but the place is cute and has a nice view. I would order one Tona for each person you're with. Here's why:

They line and salt-rimmed frozen glasses, so the beer foam actually became icey, and it was delicious! For our second beers though, they just brought another bottle. 35c for a beer ($1.40 USD)


The sad thing was the top floor was closed off - maybe it's for private parties. So we were only on the second floor, and it's open, but it's not in the sun.


Go on a tour with Matagalpa Tours:

We did one called The Creation of Pinolillo and Moca. Make sure you book your tour ahead of time so that there aren't any problems. Well, there still may be issues - it's Nicaragua - but try your best. The day of our tour, the chocolate factory* we were supposed to go to wasn't in production, so we didn't do that part, but we did get refunded a bit for it.
We learned how to pick coffee beans.

The coffee beans are washed, then they go through the pulperia shoot, which is fun to say.

The coffee plantation owner's wife cooked us all lunch.
With a chicken that had been wandering around back there shortly before. They gave us coffee from the plantation after the meal, but they keep the lowest quality of the beans for themselves, and it was like motel coffee in the US.

This was her stove.


We learned how to make pinolillo. You toast a bunch of corn kernels, then add some cacao beans and toast some more.



Then you mill it all. Then you add water and drink it hot or cold.

It tasted like the cereal milk you'd get if you added watered-down chocolate milk to Shredded Wheats.

Then we went on a two hour hike that was pretty cool. This is a sloth. We also saw a couple monkeys.
Paprika off the tree



To finish off the tour, they took us to another Barista Coffee House location and bought us these mocha helados, which are just like the mocha frappuccinos from Starbucks, with fresh whipped cream and all. It'd been so many years since I'd allowed myself that kind of treat, so I downed 4 Lactaid and enjoyed the hell out of it on that hot day.



Maybes:

Our hostel, the Royal Marinas, was for the most part great. It was comfortable and spacious, the air conditioning unit worked nicely, there was even hot water if you turned the water on very low, and the people who work there are very nice. It's a couple and their son, who had been living in Seattle for years before moving down to help them with their hostel. His English is perfect and American, and he's very chill and helpful, except his restaurant recommendations were way off. It may be, though, that Matagalpa doesn't have (m)any good restaurants to offer since the Footprints, Tripadvisor.com, and everything all pointed to the same shitty restaurants.

Toro Bravo:

The nice thing about Toro Bravo is that there are three tables upstairs that are outside, with a pleasant view of the river.


PiƱa colada: Among the many things not to order here (or almost anywhere in the country) are frozen tropical drinks, which will be made from a mix. Shana kept trying, bless her little heart.



Ceviche Mixto: If you do eat here, get this. There's lots of good fish. In Nicaragua, ceviche is apparently always served with these social crackers, but otherwise the ceviche always proved a good idea.


Brocheta Pequena: It came with three types of meat, and one was okay, one was nice, and one was great. If only I knew which was which, I could tell you which of the non-mixed option to get. Lo siento.

Fajitas de Res: 165c ($6.60) - We asked for medium rare, the rarest they would do here, according to a clear chart on their menu. We pointed to it and said, "Roja Ingles, por favor," but it came out well done and chewy. Bah. Ruined.

Pescamar:

This salad came with and preceded my fish order. This was typical in Nicaragua, even at the nicest places: some iceberg, one slice of tomato and cucumber, and a few beet shreds (beets apparently being in season).

Red Pargo (180c): I meant the non fried version, but sadly they thought I wanted it frito. It was still pretty good. It was served with unnecessary rice, bland red sauce, and some decent fries.
Fish Churros (100c) - As you can see, it came with a side of the same salad that accompanied the fish. In my imagination, fish churros seemed a more mysterious order than the fish sticks they turned out to be. Except they weren't fish sticks in the sad, frozen, processed way, but rather strips of real fish that had been battered and fried by humans. I thought they were actually quite good.


Camarones Diablos (210c or $8.40 USD) -  The shrimps weren't fresh, which we finally realized was always going to be the case here. The sauce was decent enough to dip fries in, but I'm not into diablo sauce, and when I like it, it's much hotter than this one was. Why weren't the Nicaraguans spicing their food?! we wondered.

The good part about this restaurant was the mysterious man we met. He lived in San Francisco and was going around central america looking for somewhere to spend four months of the year. I was very impressed with his alcohol setup. He had a bottle of Flor de Cana rum, a bowl of lime slices, a bottle of sparkling water, an ice bucket with tongs, and a glass. It was super cool. I invited him to come dine with us. Had I realized he had all that at his table (I originally couldn't see it behind one of the chairs at his), I would've suggested Shana and I join him, whoops. I decided to start ordering that rum situation at dinners afterwards. The conversation was good. We never discussed our jobs. He had a wonderful professorial beard. Then he smoothly picked up la cuenta por todos.


Things to Avoid:

Around the corner from our Royal Marinas hostel was another recommendation from the son of the owners, El Balcon. One section of the restaurant looks out at city and the mountains, one is fully inside, and one, in the back, is under an open sky.

Alitas Rebozadas (Empanizadas) (110c): We ordered this because I didn't know what "alitas" were, which turned out to be chicken wings. As a vocabulary lesson, this was quite effective; as chicken wings, not so much. They were crusty with a less than pleasing batter. Shana ate one bite and quit.

Deditos de Pollo (110c): Another vocabulary lesson, but this one was less costly. They were basically chicken tenders, and I liked them, though Shana didn't. Somehow the batter was lighter and tasted better to me on these.

Those two meals were on the antojitos section, which we thought would mean they were smaller plates than the carne section, from which we ordered Pollo al Chimichurri, which came with this starter salad, the salad that had just come with both of our full meal-sized appetizers.


Pollo al Chimichurri (185c or $7.40 USD): So with this we got boiled veggies on the plate and the salad as a starter. The chicken was a bland, lean fillet, but the chimichurri sauce was tasty. We decided we should probably have eaten street food for dinner here, or we should have bought and cooked something.

Things I wish I had been able to try:

I hold out hope for this one restaurant, Las Praderas, that might've actually been really good.


View Matagalpa Guide in a larger map


Menus, for those interested in menus the way I am:

Artesanos Cafe:




Pescamar:




El Balcon:





*
We did buy some of their chocolate.
Delicious stone ground chocolate (just like Taza and Olive & Sinclair). It's even better if you let it melt in the heat a bit, which is easy to do in Nicaragua.