At La Bella Managua, Jesus Morales serves Nicaraguan food.

Throw a dart at a map of the world and chances are it will hit a country with culinary representation in Toronto.

Should it land on Nicaragua, there is indeed one dining option: La Bella Managua.

Its owner, Jesus Morales, never set out to be a chef, but his life has always revolved around food.

“In León, our family had a grocery store,” he says. “We also did some cooking on the side.” In his early 20s, he worked in a condiment factory, but decided to leave Nicaragua in 1988.

“The political situation was really bad in the ’80s,” he says in a dire tone.

Arriving in Montreal, he happened onto a cooking job by chance.

“I was working in a clothing factory with an Italian café in the same building,” he says. “One day I went to eat my lasagna and asked if they needed any help. The owner spoke a little Spanish and I got a job.” Two years later, Morales joined his sister in Toronto and started working at Hot House Café, a bustling restaurant on Front Street.

He ended up staying for 13 years, rising to the positions of kitchen manager and sous chef.

In 2005, he opened La Bella Managua (872 Bloor St. W., 416-913-4227) in the Christie Pits neighbourhood, showcasing native specialties such as nacatamal, a giant tamale steamed in a banana leaf, and ceviche, the now-trendy seafood cocktail.

“In Nicaragua, you find ceviche in kiosks at the beach. It’s like Dairy Queen!”

Shrimp Ceviche

1 lb (450 g) shrimp (31/40 count)

1/2 cup (125 mL) each: finely chopped red bell pepper, green bell pepper

1/4 cup (60 mL) each: finely chopped red onion, lemon juice, lime juice

3 tbsp (45 mL) chopped cilantro

1 tbsp (15 mL) ketchup

Salt + pepper to taste

1 ripe avocado, thinly sliced

Plantain or tortilla chips for serving

Hot sauce for serving

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Peel and de-vein shrimp. Cut into 1/2-inch (1-cm) pieces. Boil shrimp until just cooked, about 1 minute. Transfer to baking sheet to cool.

In large bowl, combine shrimp, peppers, onion, lemon and lime juice, cilantro and ketchup. Season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Cover; refrigerate 30 minutes. Stir, drain and place in serving bowl.

Serve with avocado, chips and hot sauce.

Makes 4 to 6 appetizer servings.

Star-tested by Eric Vellend
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