My boyfriend and I signed up for this class knowing we would be making Indio Viejo, a delicious Nicaraguan stew-like dish with beef and veggies, thickened with cornmeal. What we didn't know was that this course also offered the chance to cook iguana soup, and the other couple who signed up had chosen to make this- and we agreed to try some of each other's!
It was $20/per person for those of us who signed up to make the Indio Viejo, and $24/pp for those making the iguana dish. I guess iguanas are pricey here, but still, what a low cost for a half day's tour!
We started with a tour of central market. This was excellent, because my boyfriend and I had been the say before and were intimidated by the smells, the narrow hallways, and our lack of Spanish. Our guide Harrie showed us everything- we got to sample 5 cheeses in different stages of fermentation, and he showed us the salted meats, fresh seafoods, live bound iguanas, and even illegal sea turtle eggs (it's against the law to eat them here but it's not enforced- of course we didn't buy any, we just looked). Then Harrie handed us our shopping lists with the ingredients for each dish and we used our weak Spanish (with the help of our Nicaraguan guide-in-training who translated and made sure we didn't get ripped off for being foreigners) to interact with the merchants and buy our produce. We used the money we had already paid with the class for, so there were no extra costs.
Then we rushed into the back of a camionetta (the trucks filled with locals that swerve violently around every corner)- this was the craziest ride I've ever had by "public transportation" but totally part of the Nicaraguan experience- if we hadn't done the cooking tour we would have only walked/taken taxis around, so we're glad we went with Harrie, who knew the routes. When we got to the outskirts of Leon, Harrie said "quick guys, get off the truck as quickly as you can, they don't like it when you take a long time, and it might start up with you still on it!" ... hearing this we rushed off! (This was all with a sense of adventure by the way, we were enjoying ourselves and this gritty experience... no complaints!)
We were now in a suburb just outside of Leon. It was a sunny quiet neighborhood with no other gringoes. We stopped at a tortilleria to watch the women make corn tortillas- then we made our own and they cooked them on the stove for us to use for lunch!
Then we walked to the house where the cooking began. This was somebody's actual house, we walked through their living room to access the kitchen. The girls who lived there came in, smiling, and guided us on how to chop the produce and what ingredient was going into what dish.
The other couple had to KILL their iguanas (we were so glad our beef was already dead). This is the only unpleasant part of the experience: while I will eat ANYTHING (and I did eat these iguanas later), I can't imagine having to kill anything other than a spider. We hoped the death would be swift, but our classmates were instructed not to chop, but to SAW the heads off of these poor creatures, who had already spent their mornings bound up and manacled from the market to the kitchen. It was awful to watch, and I felt sorry for the iguanas. I know that if, in the United States, we connected to our food face to face like they do here, we'd have far more vegetarians.
Finally lunch was ready. We started with a bowl of chopped vegetables with chiles in them, and we tore off pieces of the hot tortillas we made to scoop of this pleasant mixture. Then the iguana soup. Then our indio viejo, which was so tasty.
Utterly full of food we thanked our kind hosts and waddled back to the road where Harrie instructed us once again to get into a camionetta as fast as we could to take us back to the central market. We ended the day with a beer at the bar of the hostel that the tour is run through (can't remember the name of the hostel).
I was impressed by the no-frills authenticity of this tour. The food was delicious and we learned a lot about Nicaraguan culture. I'm glad we did this.
Also, we met at 9 in the morning and were back at about 2, 2:30 even though the tour says it goes until 1... change your afternoon plans accordingly if need be.
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