Simplicity is key when dealing with food in Costa Rica. Rice and beans are the primary ingredients in nearly every meal, from breakfast to dinner. If they’ve been fried in oil and mixed with onions, then you know it’s breakfast time – this traditional plate is called gallo pinto and is one of the common and popular foods in Costa Rica. Nothing much changes for lunch and dinner – gallo pinto is now served along side fried plantains, a cut of meat and a small salad. Though you would have to be pretty liberal with what defines a salad, as this version is 90% cabbage, with a couple tomatoes thrown in if you’re lucky. Purveyors of food in Costa Rica seem to think that if something is tasty, then frying it up in heavy oil will make it even tastier – and they are often correct in this assumption. For the most part the food of Costa Rica is utilitarian and of the snack variety, relying primarily on traditional grains, light seasoning and fresh fruit thrown in for color.
Much of the country’s spacious rain-forest land doubles as grazing pastures for cattle. Thus, another ubiquitous menu item is beef. Served in a wide assortment of styles, beef is prepared in much the same way as in the United States, and can be considered somewhat of a safety choice when sampling food from Costa Rica. Another of the most popular foods of Costa Rica is called Olla de Carne, combining ambitious chunks of meat, tubers and corn in a thick beef broth, often found in one of the many “sodas” of the country – the Costa Rican equivalent to an American diner. Adventurous eaters can sample a traditional, though perhaps not the most appetizing, dish in Costa Rica by ordering Mondongo – beef stomach soup.
You’d think with the thousands of miles of coastline available and the country’s heavy exportation of shrimp and lobster that these items would be amongst the most inexpensive when considering food from Costa Rica. But you’d be wrong. Pick either of these delicacies on the menu with caution, since they are often pricey and prepared listlessly.
Food from Costa Rica is not for the health conscious, obviously, but there are still a few things for those who shun large portions of meat or fried foods. Untold amounts of wealth have been derived from the country’s banana and coffee exports, and for good reason. The bananas here are nothing like you’ve had before, and none of the other abundant tropical fruits found here are likely to disappoint. Mangoes are one of the most popular foods in Costa Rica, along with pineapples, papayas and a variety of melons.
The coffee, however, is served extremely haphazardly throughout the country. Since the highest quality coffee is usually set aside for export, this beverage is all over the map in terms of taste and preparation. If the cafe you’re in serves their coffee weak and sugary, go down a few blocks and you will likely find the exact opposite. The finest drink to go along with Costa Rica foods is called Horchata, a rice drink mixed with cinnamon and sugar, with emphasis on the cinnamon. Wildly popular throughout all of Central America, one taste and you’ll know exactly why.
During your Costa Rica vacation, make sure you take time to taste the “comida típica” or typical Costa Rican food. When compared to other Latin American countries Costa Rica food is much more mild.
The country’s traditional dish is called “gallo pinto” (pronounced, GAH-yo PEEN-toe). Translated into English, it means “spotted rooster”. It is often served as a breakfast meal.
“Gallo pinto” is made up of white rice & black beans mixed together with a hint of onion, red pepper, cilantro and salsa. It is often served with scrambled or fried eggs.
A typical luncheon meal is similar and is called “casado” which means “married”. Tradition has it that this is the typical food that wives use to pack for their husband’s lunch.
“Casado” consists of white rice and black beans served separately, along with slices of “plátanos maduros” (fried plantains), a salad of cabbage and tomatoes with either beef, chicken or fish.
When you eat out, don’t forget to order dessert to highlight your dining experience! There are many different kinds of Costa Rica desserts or “postres” to chose from. Many are rich and flavorful and will delight your palate!
A visit to Costa Rica would not be complete without tasting the many fresh tropical fruits and fruit drinks (“refrescos) like “mora” (blackberry), “papaya”, “mango”, “guayaba”, “tamarindo” and piña (pineapple). Your taste buds will “dance” at the taste of these exotic fruit juices!
While traveling in Costa Rica you can find good food at reasonable prices at most local “sodas”. These are inexpensive little restaurants that serve “pinto gallo” and “casado” along with “refrescos” and other typical Costa Rican food.
A “soda” is where most local “Ticos” stop for lunch or dinner. A key to finding a good “soda” is to find one that is filled with local Costa Ricans.
While visiting the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica you will want to experience the unique cuisine of this region. It is based on Jamaican cooking and is a real treat.
Not typical of other areas of Costa Rica the food you find along the Caribbean coast can be spicy and often includes the flavors of coconut, different kinds of chilies, black pepper and ginger. You will also find an abundance of fish and various tropical roots, as well as breadfruit.
There are also many good traditional restaurants throughout Costa Rica, even in some of the smaller cities and towns. You can find fine Italian, Chinese, Mexican and Peruvian restaurants in most areas.
Before you leave the country, try Costa Rica food or some of its many fruit juice drinks. You will be glad you did!