When I opened my restaurant La Bella Managua in 2005, Nicaraguan food was completely unknown in Toronto. Nicaraguan cuisine draws on almost every aspect of Latin American cooking styles, but it puts a unique twist on certain flavours.
Hinting at the tuber-based indigenous cuisine found in places like Brazil and Ecuador, I prepare sautéed sweet plantains and a dish of crispy fried marinated pork chunks and coleslaw atop steamed white yucca root. Gallo pinto, the Nicaraguan take on the Caribbean staple of rice and beans, involves mixing the ingredients into a red and black–flecked mashup, and Central American influence is also apparent on the menu in the form of tacos and quesadillas, and habañero peppers in the homemade salsa. People wanted to eat what they already knew. Slowly, customer by customer, word spread—first among Nicaraguans telling other Latin Americans, then among people telling their Canadian-born friends. It makes me feel tremendously proud, having this role. In a city where Nicaragua doesn't even have a diplomatic office, I pleased to be the lone representative of my homeland's culture and cuisine. Welcome to La Bella Managua!