What to Eat
The main meal in any Honduran restaurant is without doubt the plato típico, a standard combination of ingredients that can vary dramatically in quality but is always relatively inexpensive.
The centerpiece of the plato típico is always a chunk of beef, accompanied by fried plantain, beans, marinated cabbage, rice, a chunk of salty cheese, and a dollop of sour cream. Possible variations might include saffron rice instead of plain rice, well-prepared beans instead of canned refrieds, or yucca instead of plantain. Tortillas, usually corn, are served on the side.
A relative of the plato típico is the comida corriente or plato del día, also a set meal and usually a bit less expensive than the plato típico. The main course can be fish, chicken, pork, or steak, depending on whatever the cook got a good deal on that day. Fixings are similar to the plato típico.
In a country with a major cattle industry, it’s no surprise that beef is a staple of the Honduran diet. Called bistec or carne asada, the country’s grilled beef is not always the finest quality—as with many products, the best is reserved for export. The country’s second-most-popular meat is cerdo, or pork. You’ll often run across a pretty mean chuleta de cerdo (pork chop) in Honduran restaurants.
Pollo frito (fried chicken) is also one of the most common dishes in Honduras. It’s a rare bus stop or small town that doesn’t boast at least one restaurant specializing in fried chicken. One of the more creative and tasty Honduran meat dishes is pinchos, a sort of shish kebab typically made with skewered and grilled vegetables and chunks of marinated beef.
A good appetizer is anafre, an ingeniously heated clay pot holding refried beans with cheese and cream, to be eaten with tostadas (toasted tortilla chips).
A favorite Honduran soup is tapado, a vegetable stew often served with beef or sometimes fish. Another, which the squeamish will want to avoid, is mondongo, or tripe (intestine) stew served in beef broth with cilantro and potatoes or other vegetables.
When on the north coast, the Bay Islands, or near Lago de Yojoa, be sure to take advantage of the very tasty pescado frito, or fried fish. Some of the Garífuna villages on the north coast also whip up a superb grilled red snapper with rice and vegetables. On the Bay Islands, locals are fond of skewering a variety of fish and making a stew called bando with yucca, other vegetables, and lots of spice. Another traditional Garífuna fish soup is machuca, with bananas and plantains.
Langosta (lobster), camarones (shrimp), and caracol (conch) are all commonly eaten on the north coast, though supply may be limited by the tight restrictions recently adopted to protect the dwindling shellfish population. One superb north-coast specialty is sopa de caracol, or conch stew, made with coconut milk, potatoes, and sometimes curry. Several restaurants in Tela make mouthwatering sopa de caracol.
Main meals are almost always served with a basket of warm tortillas, thin dough pancakes usually made from corn but sometimes from wheat flour. The unaccustomed palate often needs time to adjust to corn tortillas, but once converted, the taste buds will crave the solid, earthy taste. Beans and rice are also frequent accompaniments to a meal.
On the north coast, North American and Garífuna influences have made tortillas less common, and you may find meals accompanied by delicious pan de coco (coconut bread), a Garífuna specialty.
The standard Honduran breakfast consists of huevos (eggs), tortillas, a chunk of salty cheese, a slice of fried ham, and a cup of strong, sweet Honduran coffee. Eggs are normally cooked revueltos (scrambled) or estrellados (fried).
Western innovations like corn flakes and pancakes, frequently served with honey instead of syrup, are on the rise in Honduras but are not common in smaller towns.
A reliable, low-priced breakfast is a cup of strong black coffee with a sweet bread or tamal.
Travelers searching for the Honduran equivalent of the Mexican taco will be pleased to discover baleadas, the snack food of choice. Baleadas are flour tortillas filled with beans, crumbly cheese, and a dash of cream, then warmed briefly on a grill. Sometimes they throw in scrambled eggs and/or guacamole for a bit extra. Cheap and filling, baleadas make a good, light midday meal.
Also common are pupusas, a snack of Salvadoran origin consisting of thick tortillas filled with sausage and/or cheese, and tamales (also nacatamales), cornmeal stuffed with pork, olives, or other ingredients, then wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled. North American–style hamburguesas are extremely popular, especially on the north coast. And Mexican munchies like tacos, tortas, and quesadillas are common.
Rosquillas, crunchy bread rings, are popular for dunking in the omnipresent cup of strong black coffee. The town of Sabanagrande, between Tegucigalpa and Choluteca, is particularly known for rosquillas. And just about every town in Honduras has a repostería, a sweet-bread bakery that also serves coffee and sodas, perfect for an afternoon break.
Often sold in street stands are tajadas, fried plantain chips served in a small bag with a slice of lime or a dash of salsa. Tajadas are also sometimes served in restaurants with a salad of cole slaw and salsa. Sliced fresh fruit, such as pineapple and mango, is commonly sold at street stands, along with bags of nance, a small fruit described by one journalist in Honduras as “cherry’s evil twin.”
With a population of dedicated meat eaters, finding vegetarian food in Honduras is not an easy task, but it’s not impossible unless you are vegan (in which case, plan on cooking a lot). Quesadillas and baleadas provide excellent snacks, as does fresh fruit sold cut up and ready to eat by street vendors (try to get just-cut pieces). For main meals, you can often request plates of rice, beans, and cooked vegetables. Most cooks are happy to cook without oil if you ask them—it just never occurs to them that people might like it that way!
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition