How To Taste Costa Rica
Food can be thought of as a way to fully experience a country's culture, and the best way to connect with the local people. While my trip to Costa Rica was not about the Tico cuisine, I knew visiting a country in Latin America would be all too familiar. Many travelers say that Costa Rican food is not all that great; bland, it is unimaginative at best. While, it was not the most flavor packed or creative dishes I had ever tasted, it was gluten-free friendly. Food in Costa Rica has a rich history and deep meaning for the people there, which for me, deserves a lot of respect when being critical of its food. To generalize a Costa Rican meal, one would certainly have to talk about black beans and rice (Gallo Pinto). Most traditional dishes in Costa Rica consist of rice and beans, with other ingredients like chicken or fish and various sorts of vegetables.
A cautionary note: If you ask for a soda in Costa Rica, you won't get a Coke. Instead, you'll be directed to the nearest family-run restaurant, similar to a small North American diner. If you're itching to try authentic Costa Rican cuisine, eat at a soda. You'll be welcomed with a smile and treated like family, and your patronage will benefit the local community. Rock-bottom prices ($4-$6) and large portions are just icing on the cake.
The most common dish for breakfast is Gallo Pinto, which consists of rice mixed with black beans, served with natilla (sour cream), eggs (scrambled) and fried plantain. Costa Ricans usually drink a cup of coffee or fresh fruit juice with it
Ensalada de frutas (fruit salad) consists of several pieces of tropical fruits, like papaya, banana, maracuya (passion fruit) and many more.
For lunch, Casados, a traditional dish of beans and rice are served with some sort of meat or fish and a salad, fried plantains, cheese and corn tortillas. The difference between Gallo Pinto and Casado is that in Casados, rice and the bean are served side by side and not mixed.
There is no typical meal for dinner, but another typical main dish in Costa Rica is Arroz con Pollo (rice with chicken) which can be served with various vegetables from the area like camote (sweet potato), chayote, and yucca.
Seafood is very common thanks to the country’s proximity to both the Pacific and Caribbean. Along the coast seafood is plentiful. Fish is often fried but may also be grilled or blackened.
Small dishes before or in between meals are called Bocas, like black bean dip, Chimichurri, tomatoes and onions in lime juice, served with tortilla chips or Ceviche (fish or shrimp with onion in lime juice). Patacones, fried green plantains cut in thin pieces. Patacones are fried twice. Patacones are served in restaurants all over as a side dish for fish dishes or as an appetizer with guacamole, chimichurri or black beans.
Tamale, similar to the Mexican version, is a seasoned corn meal which is covered in plantains leaves. In the inside, it has rice, beans, vegetables and meat.
There are also other traditional sweet corn dishes like Pozol (corn soup) or Chorreadas (corn pancakes). Typical soups in Costa Rica are also very popular, such as Olla de Carne which is a soup with beef, potatoes, carrots, chayote, plantains and yucca; and Sopa Negra, black bean soup.
There are a lot of traditional Costa Rican desserts that can be found all over Latin America like Arroz con Leche (rice with milk). The rice is cooked in milk with sugar, cinnamon and other ingredients. One of the most common desserts is called Tres Leches, a cake bathed in evaporated, condensed and regular milk with a whipped cream top. (Tres Leches is not gluten-free.)
The traditional drinks for lunch are called Refrescos Naturales (or frescos or naturales for short), and consist of liquefied fruits diluted in either water or milk and sweetened to taste. They come in many varieties such as cantaloupe, blackberry, strawberry, watermelon, mango, tamarind, passion fruit, guanabana, cas, and lime. And, then of course there is the Batidos, a fruit smoothie-like drink consisting of fresh fruit, ice and water (al agua). That's it. Of course one can also add in milk (con leche) or condensed milk. But there is no need.