Leon, Nicaragua: Colonial Buildings, Rich Culture, and the Infamous Quesillo

Despite the tone of my last post, Leon, Nicaragua has much more to offer than just volcano boarding. In fact, before I even knew volcano boarding existed I was interested in visiting this colonial, political university town. Leon and its university played an integral role in the country’s relatively recent civil war, and I suspected that visiting Leon would mean diving headfirst into Nicaragua’s culture.

I was not disappointed: within hours of our arrival in the city we witnessed two different street festivals. Afterwards, we grabbed dinner at a fritanga, classic Nicaraguan street vendors that grill your food in front of you. We pointed to the food we wanted and then sat down at a plastic table set up in the middle of the street to enjoy our first taste of Nicaragua: grilled chicken, rice and beans, ensalada (a salad of cabbage, tomato, and vinegar), avocado, and fried ripe plantain stuffed with cheese. Yum.

The next day, we spent the whole day wandering around the city. Since it was a Sunday many businesses were closed, but we were still able to absorb Leon’s stunning colonial architecture and shop at some awesome produce markets.

The highlight of the day was the Museo de Tradiciones y Leyendas, the museum of traditions and legends. The museum is housed in an old prison leftover from the days of the Somoza regime. The museum’s purpose seems to be twofold: commemorating classic Nicaraguan legends and folklore with silly paper-maiche sculptures, and illustrating the grotesque torture and human rights violations that was performed on prisoners of the building during the civil war.

It is a truly bizarre combination.

After the museum we took a break in the central park with a raspado. Raspados are a Leonese dessert that resemble a snow-cone made with dense, candied fruit syrup instead of sugar-water. They’re served from brightly colored mobile carts that seem to be competing with each other for how boldly they can praise the Lord.

Our last day in Leon we finally got around to the quintessential sightseeing spot in the city: the roof of Leon’s iconic white cathedral. When we reached the top we were thrilled to find the roof was also completely white. We walked around, soaking up the views and generally looking very striking against the white background.

La Paz Centro and the Infamous Quesillo

After the cathedral, we made the way to the bus terminal to take the short bus ride to the nearby town of La Paz Centro. We made the pilgrimage to this quaint town for two reasons. Firstly, my best friend from childhood, Marisa, is half Nicaraguan and her grandmother is from La Paz Centro. Having grown up eating her family’s amazing Nicaraguan food and drinking Fleur de Cana (the national rum), I was excited to go see the town.

The second and arguably more motivating reason is that La Paz Centro is the home of the quesillo.

Quesillos consist of a single corn tortilla, a slice of thick, soft, mild white cheese, a healthy dollop of a pickled onion salsa that vaguely resembles sauerkraut, and a drizzle of fresh cream. It’s all rolled up carefully into a bag to make a portable, delicious, heart-stoppingly rich treat.

They are, as they say here, muy rico!

We spent a little while tromping around the town and then made our way directly to the most famous quesillo stand. We split three quesillos and two tistes, sweet cacao drinks served in traditional mugs made out of the dried fruit of the jicaro tree! It was totally worth the trip.

It was an excellent and delicious first few days in Nicaragua!

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