The Spanish ‘discovered’ the region in the 16th century and subsequently took control for more than 300 years. During this time they introduced new crops such as wheat, sugar, rice, citrus fruits and bananas and also took many of the native American foods back with them to Europe and to other parts of the world.
In more recent times thousands of Afro-Caribbeans arrived to help build the railways and the Panama Canal and to work on the vast sugar and banana plantations. These workers brought ingredients such as yams, okras and coconuts with them and all these new introductions have now been absorbed into the native cuisine.
As is the tradition in all Latin American countries, the main meal of the day is generally eaten at midday. It can consist of soup or a selection of little savoury appetisers, followed by the main course, usually accompanied by a grain dish, salad, salsa, vegetable dish and tortillas or bread. All foods are served in communal dishes for diners to help themselves to and it is considered rude to take food and leave it uneaten on the plate, as wasting food is frowned upon.
Typically for dessert fresh fruit is served, although more elaborate dishes are made for special occasions. Fruit drinks are often served with the meal and coffee or hot chocolate are favourites to round off a meal. A much lighter meal is served in the evening and might simply consist of leftovers from the midday meal, as no food is ever wasted.
Breakfast is very often savoury-based rather than sweet and commonly served dishes include rice and beans, soup, tortillas stuffed with leftovers or thick porridge made from cornmeal and flavoured with chillies. Both sweet and savoury snacks are popular throughout the day and are typically served with coffee or hot chocolate.
Central American cuisine, with its mixture of native, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean influences, offers a very homely style of cooking with lots of easy-to-prepare dishes based on fresh wholesome ingredients. You may not want to go as far as eating chilli-flavoured porridge for breakfast, but you may well want to experiment and incorporate some new and flavourful recipes into your repertoire of vegan dishes.