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The Parque Central in Granada is flocked with trees whose leaves are dry and fan noisily with each wheeze of fine dust-laden wind. Street vendors are set up in rickety, albeit festively colored, wooden carts. They sell quesillos, sliced mangos sprinkled with damp, coarse salt, assorted fried snacks, and Coca-Cola poured from glass bottles into plastic bags (the bottles have to be returned to the depot to be refilled). All the while, the vendors vigorously chat with each other, keeping the rhythm of their conversation with a rag they whip back and forth to ward off the large black flies that don't know whether they prefer the rumps of the horses parked with their carriages on the edges of the park or the food.
In the center of the park are fountains that no longer gush out water and that sometimes are inhabited by caimans. I don't know how the small, sharp-toothed reptiles made their way inland, but I always imagined a small group of them strolling under cover of night, taking in the beautiful colonial Iglesia Guadalupe on the shore of the lake, enjoying the inky blackness of the sky studded with a million twinkling stars, until finally, exhausted, they arrived at the park, which conveniently had a small circular pool of cool water waiting.
On Saturdays, my grandfather Silvio Cuadra—Granada's most respected doctor and the kindest man alive, still making house calls in his late 80s—used to take me to the market very early in the morning when the market was just opening. It was still cool at that time when the merchants were setting up. We'd buy huge sheets of chicharrón, crackling, salty, and freshly fried, as well as fresh cheeses and warm tamales to take to the farm where we'd be spending the day.
We'd eat the chicharrones in the car, tucked inside thick corn tortillas, en route. Once at the farm, the chicharrones would be served in vigorón, a traditional street food in Nicaragua. If you're at the Parque a smoky tea-scented, fresh banana leaf will serve as your plate. A pile of starchy, soft yuca will be nestled on the leaf, then topped with a cabbage, onion, and tomato slaw drenched in sweet cider vinegar, and—the crowning moment—thick, crackling pieces of chicharrón that, if you're lucky, will still have a bit of meat attached to them. Forks are not necessary, as people lean over the vigorón, holding the food away from their shirts to avoid spilling, using their thumb, index, and middle finger as an eating utensil.
At times, vigorón is served at parties, usually on a deep orange clay plate as a base for the banana leaf, and forks are distributed, but it's much more of a treat to eat it the way you would in the park, surrounded by the chatter and the threat of the little caimans.
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