Traditional Central American Food by Countries and Dishes

Quesadillas from Costa Rica

One of the joys of travel is sampling the different cuisines in different parts of the world. Central America is a wonderful place for a gastronomic vacation. Many of us are familiar with Mexican food – but how familiar are you with the foods of the countries that make up Central America, to the south-east? Let’s take a look at some of the top Central American food to be found in each of the seven Central American countries:


Belize‘s melting pot of cultures gives it a vibrant and diverse culinary culture, that draws on a range of different food traditions. While here, you should be sure to sample, amongst other things, local Garifuna dishes such as ereba (cassava bread), often eaten with fish, hudutu (pounded plantains) or gravy (lasusu). Another popular option is Bimacacule (a sticky, sweet rice).


Guatemala‘s cuisine is largely influenced by Mayan cuisine. Corn, chilli and beans are all key ingredients in many traditional dishes. Certain dishes are traditionally eaten on certain days – such as paches (eaten on Thursdays) – a kind of tamale made from potatoes. There is also special food for certain occasions – one example is the fiambre, eaten on the Day of the Dead and All Saints Day (November 1st and 2nd). This is a chilled salad that can have more than 50 ingredients. One not to be missed main dish is pepian – a kind of stew.


Seafood and coconuts both play a crucial role in Honduran cuisine. Plenty of fresh fish and crustaceans are almost always included on the menu. However, there are also other dishes here with a strong Mayan influence that are also well worth trying while you are in the country.

El Salvador

El Salvador‘s cuisine is a blend of indigenous and Spanish cultural influences. Tamales, empanadas, pastelitos and pupusas are all amongst the things you should try here. These stuffed delights are pretty much ubiquitous, and varied enough that you are sure to find one to suit you.


Another varied cuisine with multiple influences, there are plenty of national dishes that visitors should be sure to sample in Nicaragua. These include Gallo Pinto – rice, beans and onions fried together, which can be and is eaten for any meal of the day. Also popular are indio viejo, a thick soup, and rondon, a seafood and coconut stew.

Costa Rica

While much of the food found in Costa Rica is similar to that found in the United States, you can still find several interesting and unique additions, including a spicy dressing called chilera, made with pickled onions, peppers and other vegetables, and tres leches cake (a cake that is soaked in three different sorts of milk).


Finally, Panama also boasts an interesting and unique cuisine, with a wide array of different influences. There are, of course, plenty of familiar foods but also exotic options like carimanola – a fried yucca roll stuffed with meat and boiled eggs.

There is, of course, plenty more to discover about Central American food – the best way to learn more is to visit these countries for yourself. If you have already traveled to Central America and have some interesting experience to share, leave your story in comments or e-mail us. 

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