As a Costa Rican living abroad, one of the things that I miss the most is food. Every time people ask me how are Costa Rican foods, and what do we usually eat, I tell them that actually, our diet is very similar to other countries in the region, but still, we have some staples dishes.
In this post I want to give you the most delicious dishes for me as a Tica (Costa Rican female) point of view: Definitely, a must try in your next visit to this paradise.
Gallo Pinto and Caribbean “Rice and Beans”
Probably you have already listened about this dish. It is a combination of rice with black or red beans (depend on the taste/region/or family). This dish is normally cooked with the leftovers of the day before and actually tastes better if it is prepared this way. The recipes vary depending on the cooker, but must of the time they prepared with onions, bell peppers, garlic, Lizano sauce and coriander or parsley at the end.
Normally eaten as a breakfast with eggs, cheese, sour cream, sweet plantain or whatever you want. Some people eat it with meat or even fish. My favorite combination is fried eggs, sour cream, corn tortillas and of course strong Costa Rican coffee.
You can find this dish everywhere in Costa Rica, and actually, you can taste the difference between the recipes depending on the provinces. I grew up with the central valley kind, not too heavy and with black beans, but the one from Guanacaste is a little bit heavier in taste, for me is like a little bit toasted (my perception), and it comes with a different kind of tortilla typical from the region.
On the other side of the country, the Caribbean coast, the cuisine is varied even more. They have their own version of Gallo Pinto, called “Rice and Beans”. Actually, a version is not the correct term, but based on the main ingredients, this is an easier way to explain it. This dish is cooked with coconut milk, thyme, o Panamanian pepper, garlic, onions, and bell pepper.
Contrary to Gallo Pinto, “Rice and Beans” is normally consumed as lunch or dinner, and it is eaten with meats, such as Caribbean chicken, shrimps, fish or beef. Maybe with a side of salad and sweet plantains. A common beverage to paired with could be cold “Agua de Sapo” or “Hiel”, that is basically a raw sugar beverage with ginger and lime juice.
Soups: Olla de carne, Ceviche, Sopa negra and RonDon
Costa Ricans loves soups. It doesn’t matter if we are on the mountain or on the beach, we had one for any occasion. These are the most popular ones.
Olla de carne is a beef broth with starchy vegetables like potatoes, carrots, cassava, corncob and other root ones that we called the “otes” like chayote, camote (our sweet potato), ayote, or other, depending on the house recipe. Apart from the starchy carbs, we also like to eat it with white rice. Is a very rich and flavorful soup, usually made with the beef bones.
We have our own kind of Ceviche, different from the South American one. This is like a cold soup where the lime juice “cooked” the fish. We like to add onions, bell pepper, coriander, and a type of fish. We usually leave it overnight on the fridge, without stirring. In the case of this dish, the fresher the better. If it tastes sweet, it is not the real thing, probably they add soda like a sprite to make it last longer.
It was usually consumed on the beach, but nowadays you can find it everywhere in Costa Rica. The usual way to eat it is with Patacones (fried green plantain), crackers or raw plantain. Some people like to add ketchup and mayonnaise as well. My favorite beverage to paired is beer, especially the Costa Rican one “Imperial”.
Another beloved soup is Sopa Negra, meaning black soup. It’s so famous than even Jamie Oliver did a version of it. The original one is made with the remained liquid when the black beans are cooked. Some people like to concentrate the flavor and add some other ingredients, like coriander, onions and bell pepper, etc. We eat it with eggs, could be hard-boiled or even poached on the soup. In the restaurants, usually is served with rice on the side.
Like the “Rice and Beans”, the Caribbean culture has a staple soup as well. This one is called RunDum, and it’s a seafood and coconut soup.
Finally, I have to mention other soups such as “Pozole” (corn soup), Sopa de Albondigas (Meatball soup) , Sopa de Garbanzos (Chickpeas soup).
Gallos and Tortilla de Queso
A Gallo is similar to a Mexican taco, it’s basically a fresh corn tortilla with some type of meat or vegetables on top. One common is Gallo de picadillo. Picadillo is a type of dish with vegetables chopped very tiny. Could be Picadillo de papa (potato), Picadillo de Arracache (a common root vegetable) or Picadillo de platáno verde (green plantain). Also, there are Gallo de Lengua (cow tongue), Gallo de carne en salsa (beef stew), Gallo de pollo (Chicken) or Gallo de chicharrón (fried pork). Even we have simple Gallos, like Gallo de queso (Cheese) or eggs.
Another way we use corn flour, and a very popular one, is to make a Tortilla de Queso (Cheese Tortilla). This one is a traditional afternoon snack or entrée from the central valley, but especially from Cartago province and the surroundings. It’s made with corn flour, fresh cheese and the rest of the ingredients depend on the recipe, some people like to add sour cream, butter or even eggs. We eat it sour cream on a side and with a beverage, this one could be coffee or Aguadulce (Sugar cane drink) alone or with milk. You can see one in the photo of Olla de Carne, the one behind.
Arroz con Pollo
This one is a very traditional dish, and it is usually served at parties due to the low cost and convenient preparation. The rice is cooked with seasonings, the chicken and we like to put “achiote”, this one is basically a natural orange food colorant. We like to eat it with Frijoles Molidos (mashed beans), potato chips and salad.
Important snacks and bocas: Chifrijo, Patacones, and Yuca (Cassava) fries
We have many kinds of tiny dishes that we usually eat them as a snack, or when we go to a bar as an aperitif. They could be seen as our tapas.
Chifrijo is a mixture of beans, fried pork, avocado, and tortilla chips. Sometimes people like to put salad and rice. Patacones are fried smash green plantains, in some Latin American countries are called tostones. We like to eat them with some toppings, such as guacamoles, smashed beans, fresh cheese and pico de gallo (tomato, onion, coriander salad). They are also served instead of potato fries in some dishes. Cassava fries are only very popular, and they are served with ketchup and mayonnaise.
Sweet treats and desserts
We like sweets, from healthy ones like fruits to really guilty pleasure such as cakes, cookies, and tarts.
Costa Rica has nice tropical weather, giving a big variety of fruits all over the country. Normally you can find all kind of fruits all year around. Nevertheless, depends on the season how sweet and big they can be. Around the dry season, you can find sweet mangoes, watermelons, papaya and cantaloupe, the other season you can find pineapples, strawberries, bananas and green mangoes. It doesn’t matter the season, we like to have fruit salads, and we like to upgrade them with ice cream, gelatin, and sometimes sour cream.
As desserts, some of them are: Arroz con Leche (Rice pudding), Tres Leches (Cake with a 3 kind of milk sauce), Plátanos en almíbar (Sweet plantain in syrup), Queque de Cumpleaños (Birthday cake filled with dulce de leche (caramel)) and Cajetas (milk candy).
Well, here you have it, some of my food suggestion you should try in Costa Rica by a Tica (that right now is really hungry and nostalgic).
Please let me know if you have tried some of these or if you need some restaurants recommendations.