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Thursday, October 22, 2009

From one capital to another

We used to have a rapidly expanding Malaysian restaurant scene in Houston. "Used to" being the operative words - late last year, many of the emergent restaurants just as rapidly shuttered. Now, arisen at the same spot as the restaurant Kuala Lumpur is another restaurant named after a capital: Managua (7818 Bellaire Blvd).

Managua is the capital of Nicaragua, but I am a little unfamiliar with the cuisine of Nicaragua. I resolved to try the place out - stopped by one night to peruse the menu and order something. Inside, the place looks like someone's home; that hasn't changed much from the days of K.L. The place is also cash only (good thing I brought cash), and the ultimate caveat - no one speaks much English. I took that as both good and bad sign - in this neighborhood so close to "new" Chinatown, I'm surprised that they expected and were getting a predominantly Hispanic clientele, at the same time promising some authenticity to the experience.

I found Nicaraguan food clearly a variant of the Cuban/Mexican/Caribbean bent. For example, gallopinto, as it turns out, is simply rice and beans, aka Hoppin' John. Except in the choice of bean - Cubans choose black beans, and call the mixture "Moros y Cristianos". Gallopinto's use of red beans result in a mottling that is reminiscent of certain rooster breeds. I found the pickle vegetables (curtido) tangy and refreshing against expertly fried plantains. And the beef tongue in "special" sauce was tender, flavorful, and sat amidst mushrooms and carrots. Nicaraguan cuisine is supposedly proud of their fresh juices and concoctions, so I ordered some pinolillo, which turns out to be a traditional drink of cornmeal and cacao. Fortunately, sweetened, and served on ice. It was mostly quite sweet, with the cornmeal jutting in occasional gritty sip. It was drinkable, but not notable.

All told, I had a good introduction to the cuisine, although I fear I have yet to sample the dishes that convey the Nicaraguan identity. A good reason for a repeat visit, no?

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