In 2002, I traveled with Mateo to Little Corn Island for the first time. I can’t believe that was almost 12 years ago.
I remember the scary flight aboard a tiny plane, then the bumpy panga ride over high seas. I remember the terrifying rainstorm that struck in the middle of our first night on the island; sheets of water ripped through the trees and pelted the corrugated tin roof with intense and deafening staccato.
I definitely had a panic attack that first night, frightened that I’d be stuck forever on a small island in the middle of nowhere. Mateo, like a good older brother should, calmed me down enough to get through the night. After that, I got used to the rain at night.
During the day, we ate lobster at Elsa’s with our toes right in the sand. We kayaked, SCUBA dove, and ate barracuda sashimi. After that first trip to Little Corn, I left the island tan, well-fed and ready for my trip home.
I returned to Nicaragua to visit a few times over the years, to check in on Mateo again. Over time the Nica bug bit and I decided to move here. In 2010, I went back to Little Corn Island—or LCI—for a long weekend. It was during that second trip that I decided to make that little Caribbean island my home. I spent the next six months living on LCI as a Chef Consultant, immersed in the paradise of coconut bread, sunshine and clear waters (not to mention the daily frustrations of local gossip and remote island living).
After about four months on the island, I discovered the simple joy of eating a “Creole Breakfast.” It was so good it forever changed the way I think about eating in the AM.
I stopped by Mango’s Pizza one morning to chat with Maribel and her husband “Tall Boy” (birth name John), who built the famous “bottle house”—a pulperia made of recycled glass bottles. While we were chatting, Tall Boy crafted some handmade tortilla cakes and offered me a plate for breakfast.
The Creole Breakfast has no eggs. I love this fact. Instead, the protein content comes from red beans. The vegetables in the beans, onion and green chiltoma, are cut up any which way—no need to perfect your fine dice for this meal. The vegetables, fried with the beans and coconut oil, gives off an essence similar to a Southern mirepoix. The beans are scooped onto the plate with a few pieces of local cheese.
The coup de grace is the fried tortilla-doughnut. Made by hand with coconut oil and love, it’s deep-fried like a beignet, soft on the inside with a crunch on the outside. It’s perfect for sopping up the red beans, mixed with the saltiness of the cheese.
There are a few reasons why this breakfast is so good. First, the flavor. Second, the view. Third, the company and the vibe of relaxation that permeates the island.
That first Creole Breakfast was, of course, the best. I had it again a few times since then during my time on LCI, and dreamed about it often since leaving the island.
So when I returned for another trip back to Little Corn Island earlier this month, I was already licking my chops when the panga pulled up to the dock. Still, after so much time off-island, I was a little anxious about whether or not LCI would still feel like home to me.
Some things looked different right away. There’s a huge black pipeline cut up in someone’s front yard. And there is more development, some new, some continuing and some unsurprisingly abandoned.
Other things were exactly the same. The barco still shows up on Saturday afternoons and Miss Brigette still boils coconut oil every day. The mangoes are just starting to ripen, as they always do this season.
I hiked up to the north end, where I snacked off of a mimbro sapling that I had brought from the mainland and planted two years ago. I planted it in a friend’s yard and it has grown beautifully, bearing plentiful fruit. I swam and dove and soaked in the natural beauty of the island.
For every friend or acquaintance I reconnected with, another had left the island.
I asked around for Tall Boy, but discovered he has apparently left the island and is now living elsewhere on the coast. But before I sulked about our missed encounter, Maribel, his wife, recalled the special breakfast he had prepared for me years ago and agreed to make me a plate.
I returned to her home the next morning and we chatted as she made enough breakfast for me and the whole family. It was mostly chitchat stuff—a bit about her future plans to leave the island someday…maybe. Her children are going off-island to study in Managua, and she’d like to visit them. But Little Corn, and it’s “tranquilo” way of life, will always be home, she said.
As I dug into another tasty Creole Breakfast, with my lungs full of the salt-air breeze, I remembered all my adventures on Little Corn Island. It might not feel like home anymore, but at that moment, with a Creole Breakfast on my plate, it sure tasted like it.
- about one pound of flour
- two spoonfuls of baking powder
- a spoonful of sugar
- a big pinch of salt
- some coconut oil
- enough water to make a dough
Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a tupperware or available bowl.
Stir in coconut oil and water, knead into a dough for about 3 minutes. Roll out like a pizza dough and cut into large pieces. Fry each tortilla in about 2 inches of hot oil (vegetables or coconut) for about 3 minutes, until crispy and golden. Then flip and fry on the second side for about 3 minutes more.
In a second pot, warm coconut oil. Add cut onion and green bell pepper, chiltoma, and fry until aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add red beans with their juices and fry for an additional 5 minutes.
Serve with fresh cheese, coconut water (it’s good for the kidneys) and presto coffee.
Calley Prezzano was classically trained in San Francisco, California. She has cooked in Michelin Star Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and was the founding Executive Chef of Jicaro Ecolodge in Granada, Nicaragua. She is the founding Executive Chef of La Finca y El Mar Restaurant in Rancho Santana in Tola, Nicaragua. (lafincayelmar.com)