When talking about food in Costa Rica, we are talking at first about a diversity of fruits, vegetables, and combinations that can be almost infinite. But if we have to say, out of the blue, one solid Costa Rican dish, yeah… it would be Gallo Pinto. (Fried rice and beans with all sorts of spices to give great taste)
However, there is so much more than Gallo Pinto to choose from!
And even though, some of our typical recipes are filled up with saturated oils, food in Costa Rica is generally quite healthy when coupled with an active lifestyle. Cheese and other dairy products are popular especially a type of fresh cheese called Turrialba and sour cream (That we call Natilla)
The meals are very well rounded and generally high in fiber and usually served with a good serving of fruits, vegetables or both.
Another fact to look at are the portions, as ticos, are used to eat their meals in the right order: A huge breakfast, a mid-size lunch and a soup or salad for dinner, sometimes just toasts and coffee or even simply fruit are set instead of a full-size dinner.
This convention will provide more energy during the day when people need it, and less energy at night when it will likely be wasted and converted to fat reserves.
San José possesses a broad spectrum of fare. On one hand, it is the center of fine dining and international cuisine in Costa Rica; on the other, its streets and markets are filled with sodas or small restaurants that serve light meals and snacks.
Away from the big city, Ticos are less adventurous eaters, so the food becomes more grounded in peasant culture and less varied.
As discussed above, beans and rice it’s the basic in almost all Costa Rican cuisine. A typical meal is the Casado, the name referring to the eternal “marriage” of its elements (Some people say that it’s what “casados” -married people- eat every single day after they get married) . Consisting of rice and beans, meat or fish, fried plantains, and a carrot, tomato, and cabbage salad, this basic and well-rounded meal strikes a good nutritional balance.
A typical meal is the Casado, the name referring to the eternal “marriage” of its elements (Some people say that it’s what “casados” -married people- eat every single day after they get married) . Consisting of rice and beans, meat or fish, fried plantains, and a carrot, tomato, and cabbage salad, this basic and well-rounded meal strikes a good nutritional balance.
The sweet plantain, or plátano, is probably the quintessential Tico snack. It has the image of a large banana, but cannot be eaten raw as it is really starchy. It is sweet and delicious when fried or baked, and will often accompany most meals. When sliced thinly and deep fried, the plantain becomes a crunchy snack like the potato chip.
Rice may be offered with chicken (pollo), shrimp or squid. But “Arroz con Pollo” is a most traditional meal for celebrations of families, served with mashed beans and potato chips.
For breakfast, it is common to be served a hearty dish of fried black beans and rice (gallo pinto) seasoned with onions and peppers, accompanied by fried eggs, sour cream, and corn tortillas.
Soups and Stews
Olla de carne is a delicious stew made with beef, potatoes, carrots, chayote (vegetable pear), plantains and yucca. Sopa negra is a simple soup made with black beans. The hearty Sopa de mondongo is made with tripe and vegetables. Guiso de maíz is a corn stew.
Vegetables and Fruit
Vegetables are used mostly in soups and stews, or, as a side dish of a casado meal, fresh cabbage, tomatoes, and carrots make up the typical salad. Corn is one of the most favored vegetables, and it is usually prepared in the form of tortillas, arepas (corn pancakes) chorreadas (Like corn tortillas but with cheese in it), empanadas (Empanadas are corn turnovers filled with beans, cheese, or maybe potatoes and meat) and a kind of pudding called tamal asado. Corn on the cob is usually boiled, and the sweet corn cobs only arrived a few years ago. And Patacones are fried mashed plantains with a liberal sprinkling of salt eaten usually with salsa and mashed beans.
Fruits found in Costa Rica include papaya, mango, pineapple, sandía , melón , moras, lemons, guayaba, passion fruit, and avocados. Many of these are served plain or as a fresco, basically the juice with sugar and ice.
Cashew is a curious fruit whose seed is the cashew nut. The fruit is delicious, and very popular in ice cream. Cashews must be roasted before they are consumed; a raw cashew is poisonous.
Zapotes are a brown fruit resembling an oversized avocado in appearance and texture. Unlike the avocado their pulp is very sweet and bright red-orange in color.
Guanábanas (soursop) are textured, green football-sized fruits with white fibrous flesh. Some eat the fruit plain, but most prefer it as a juice or with milk.
Coconut water (From green coconuts) is extremely popular among Ticos. By chopping the top with a machete and tapping the hollow core you have a refreshing drink.
The pejibaye (Called in English Palm peach), a relative of the coconut, is a small and weird coconut that comes from the same palm as the hearts of palm. Its flesh is thick and fibrous, and resembles the taste of chestnut or pumpkin. They are usually boiled in salt water, peeled, halved, pitted, then eaten with mayonnaise and salt.
The manzana de agua is a dark red, pear-shaped fruit that is full of juice and quite refreshing.
The palmito (palm heart) is the inner core of a baby palm tree and makes a great delicacy as a cocktail.
Carambola (starfruit) is a yellow-green tender fruit that when cut across makes slices that look like five-pointed stars. The taste is lightly sweet and juicy.
Meats and Fish
Roast pork is the chief meat staple. Pork and chicken are often roasted over coffee wood for a savory, smokey flavor. Steaks can be found at many restaurants, and chewy is desirable.
Ultra-fresh seafood is more readily available near the coasts, though shrimp and lobster are offered throughout most of the country.
San José’s fish of choice is seabass, or corvina; however, dorado (Mahi Mahi), swordfish, and myriad others are available at the coastal resorts.
As a common appetizer, Ceviche is a dish of raw fish marinated in lemon juice with cilantro and onions.
Common Dishes and Condiments
Tortilla – name for either a small, thin corn tortilla, or an omellete
Tortilla de queso – a thick tortilla with cheese in the dough
Arreglados – greasy puff pastries made with meat
Tortas – sandwiches on buns
Arroz con polo – rice with chicken and vegetables
Gallos – meat, beans, or cheese between two tortillas
Masamorra – corn pudding
Natilla – sour cream of a relatively thin consistency
Palomitas de maíz – popcorn
Picadillo – sautéed vegetables sometimes with meat, served as a side dish
Tacos – meat and cabbage salad tucked into a tortilla
Tamales – cornmeal, often stuffed with pork or chicken, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled
Desserts and Sweets
Cajeta de coco – a fudge made of coconut, tapa dulce, and orange peel Cono capuchino – an ice cream cone dipped in chocolate
Melcochas – candies made from raw sugar
Milanes and tapitas – small, delicious, pure-chocolate candies
Tapa dulce – brown sugar, native to Costa Rica, sold in a solid form
Dulce de leche – a thick syrup made of sugar and milk
Tres leches – a three-layered custard flan, and the national desert
Breads and Baked Goods
Pan bon – a dark, sweet bread of Limon.
Pan de maíz – a thick, sweet bread made with corn.
Quequeseco – pound cake
Tamal asado – sweet cornmeal cake
Torta chilena – a multi-layered pastry filled with dulce de leche
Wine is not very popular and is usually imported and expensive.
The working man’s drink is guaro, a clear white spirit that doesn’t always appeal to visitors.
Coffee is also an extremely popular and nationally-revered drink.
The Caribbean coast has its own unique cuisine, distinctive of the rest of the nation. The dishes usually include coconut milk and more characteristic spices, like ginger and curry. Roadside stalls sell a vast array of fruits: apples, papayas, mangoes, bananas, pineapples, apricots, and melons. Coconuts are widely used in the Caribbean. Grated coconut is used in many
Roadside stalls sell a vast array of fruits: apples, papayas, mangoes, bananas, pineapples, apricots, and melons.
Coconuts are widely used in the Caribbean. Grated coconut is used in many desserts and cakes. Coconut milk is a staple used to bind other ingredients in recipes.
Milk is used in cheeses, such as the soft white queso blanco, which frequently finds its way into deserts. The akee is a spongy yellow fruit native to Africa and brought to the Caribbean by the English. It is boiled to produce something that resembles scrambled eggs, then sautéed with salted cod. The patí is a spicy meat pie resembling a turnover. Rondon (“rundown”) consists of fish or meat with yams, plantains, breadfruit, peppers and spices.
The akee is a spongy yellow fruit native to Africa and brought to the Caribbean by the English. It is boiled to produce something that resembles scrambled eggs, then sautéed with salted cod. The patí is a spicy meat pie resembling a turnover. Rondon (“rundown”) consists of fish or meat with yams, plantains, breadfruit, peppers and spices.
The patí is a spicy meat pie resembling a turnover. Rondon (“rundown”) consists of fish or meat with yams, plantains, breadfruit, peppers and spices.
Based on an article from Viva Costa Rica