In Nicaragua everyone eats beans. They are a staple of everyday life and culture that fuels city workers and maintains the rural economy. Gallo Pinto – a nutritious but calorific mix of fried rice and red beans – is served daily with breakfast and dinner. Rice with cooked beans on the side is the go to lunch. With a diet that places consistency well above diversity it can be easy to assume there is little to no culture surrounding food in Nicaragua. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Ask anyone what their favourite food is and they will tell you Gallo Pinto, almost unwaveringly. I once asked a friend how this could be given that it is far from the only traditional dish. I thought “surely there must be something special, more delicate that tops your list?” Not so. According to my friend, people weren’t just referring to any old mix of rice and beans when responding but the Gallo Pinto of their childhood. The steamy pot of grains sizzling over an open fire, cooked by their mothers welcoming every morning and night with a hearty meal. Eaten with a thick corn tortilla such a meal keeps you well fed and full throughout the day. Beans and corn are also mixed in with romanticised notions of Nicaraguan country life. The life of the campesino – a country farmer tending his crops in the mountains, providing beans and corn for his family and the nation – is much celebrated. Songs sing the praises of the humble farmer and politicians know the advantages to advocating rural life and culture.
I was lucky enough to be working on a video for a charity (Nuevas Esperanzas) in the community of Agua Fria during the bean harvest. The community benefits heavily from its location high up on the slopes of the Telíca volcano. The fertile volcanic soils provide the perfect place for cultivation. We arrived as one land owner, Rene, his family and friends were removing the beans from their husks and packaging them for transportation. The plants had been left to dry for about three weeks before they were furiously beaten to open their pods and release the deep red beans. The beating occurs in stretched tarpaulin raised at the edges so that after all the plants have been thoroughly whacked the produce can easily be collected and packaged into 100lb sacks.
All photographs ©Daniel Soley