If you want to dive into the culture of Costa Rica you have to try its food. Costa Rican food is tasty rather than spicy. Costa Rica travel is not complete without having tried the national dish Gallo Pinto, a dish of black beans and rice with onions and cilantro. This meal is traditionally served for breakfast, with fried eggs or scrambled eggs, tortillas and sour cream. As you make your way across the country, you will soon discover the variety of fruits and vegetables available.
A casado is a bowl of rice, red beans or black, and a choice of meat, chicken or fish and vegetables or salad. Try the many pies and pastries filled with chicken or beef with spices. Another option are roosters, containing wheat flour tortillas stuffed with corn, meat, cheese or beans. Traditional tamale, which is served for Christmas, is also available throughout the year. Do not forget to try the “ceviche”, an original dish of Peru. It includes raw fish cooked in lemon juice with ginger, onion and cilantro served with hot chili sauce.
Costa Rica Food, An Authentic Experience
The reason that food tastes so fresh and healthy in Costa Rica for foreigners is because it is so fresh and healthy! Food in Costa Rica is not too spicy and usually composed of ingredients that have never seen the inside of a can. Pinto and beans are a staple of Costa Rica and common denominator among different culinary tastes in different regions of the country. As a whole, the three most famous dishes of the country are Casado, Gallo Pinto and Arroz con Pollo.
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The word casado means married (or caught) in Costa Rica. Casado is what a family meal is expected to appear on any table or kitchen counter for lunch. There is no eternal commitment to the plate because it varies according to the tastes of each household. Some even prefer to add some snacks like tortilla chips to their lunch. It is made mostly of rice and beans, one or two slices of fried sweet plantains, vegetables, coleslaw and an omelet. Usually it is complemented by steak, chicken, fish or pork. There are also vegetarian variations with some fresh avocado, eggplant or white cheese.
The casado is a fundamental meal in the tico diet. Casados are relatively easy to make, cheap and filling. It became popular in the past because larger families without a lot of money could feed everyone with ingredients they usually already had in their houses. The traditional casado also energized the people who built Costa Rica. You’ll never leave the table hungry after eating a casado. They are full of proteins, vegetables and carbohydrates that will keep you going all day!
Arroz Con Pollo
Arroz con Pollo is a favorite dish throughout Central America. In Costa Rica, it is popular as a birthday party meal that can feed the masses. It is made of chicken rice – a mixture of yellow rice, peas, carrots, corn and chicken strips. The rice is colored with Achiote (Bixa Orellana) and is best served with mashed black beans, french fries or chips.
Gallo Pinto y Café
Gallo Pinto – meaning spotted rooster – is by far the favorite food of Costa Rica. It is so good that is served everywhere after 10:00 am with a cup of coffee. What makes it so good if it’s just mixed rice and beans? Each Costa Rican has its own way to prepare Gallo Pinto. It can include bananas, eggs, tortillas and fresh sour cream. Some use copious amounts of cilantro (coriander) while preparing Gallo Pinto, others use onions and garlic. But what makes it so unique is the special sauce: Lizano.
Salsa Lizano is Costa Rica’s favorite condiment, thanks to the Lizano company. This brown sauce goes well with anything: White rice, eggs, toast, meat, beans and anything you could add salt to. Salsa means sauce and Lizano’s the family name this sauce is named after. Salsa Lizano is so delicious and widely used in Costa Rica that it has become patrimonial to the country’s identity. Some cooks will not consider a dish as Costa Rican cuisine unless Salsa Lizano® is added to it.
Ever wondered what the traditional Christmas dish is for Costa Rica? The authentic Costa Rican tamales include rice, beans and potatoes served on banana leaf. They can also include meat like beef, chicken of pork.
Costa Rica Desserts
Costa Rican Desserts are another level of sweetness. You will love the different flavors. Check it out!
Sweets of Costa Rica
Costa Ricans have a desire for sweetness. They tend to enjoy sweet desserts based on milk (pudding in the UK) like tres leches and arroz con leche. Tres Leches is a very sweet soft pastel made of three types of dairy products: evaporated milk, condensed milk and whipped cream. Moreover, rice pudding is a mix of some of the sweetest ingredients.
Aqua con Leche
When it comes to beverages, Costa Ricans like to take advantage of all varieties of tropical fruits that grow in the country. There are two ways fruit drinks are consumed here, with water or with milk. You have to consider that not all fruit goes well with milk. The favorite fruity milkshakes in Costa Rica are Costa Rican Blackberry, soursop, strawberry and banana. In addition, there are a lot of fruit drinks which are usually prepared without milk: Cas (endemic guava), pineapple, mango, cashew fruit, soursop and many others. Lime juice can be added for an extra bit of punch.
Contributed by Wendy Rubiano
“Our grandmothers were teachers in the art of taking advantage of, in a very creative way, the gifts of nature such as plants and animals”
The initial contributions to Costa Rica gastronomy came from the indigenous people. These include the tortilla, the tamales, beans, corn, potatoes, yuccas, squash, and other products.
The conquest of the Spaniards introduced a new era of food production and they also began raising chickens, livestock which started the production of custards, milk, butter, meat, fat, sugar cane, coco, …
The influences of both conquerors and natives have developed the typical Costa Rican food of we know and love today.
After some time, the cattle farming was well established and new types of cheeses were created like the Palmito and the Turrialba cheese. The cocoa production took off and the chocolate industry started developing around the 18th century. Vanilla also became widely produced and the combination of all of these new, exciting flavors introduced one of the first desserts: the Chiverre empanada mixed with Spanish wheat.
Our grandmothers were teachers in the art of taking advantage of, in a very creative way, the gifts of nature such as plants and animals. Each region also has its own traditions.
In general terms, Guanacaste is characterized by corn-based preparations. In the Central Valley there is a greater tendency to prepare minced vegetables, stems, and fruits. Recipes based on fish and other seafood products are dominant on the Pacific Coast. In the Caribbean, the Afro-Caribbean heritage is strongly reflected in the gastronomic field with their spicy-coconut flavors added to Costa Rican classics.
Food Cultures In The Seven Provinces Of Costa Rica
This province is the financial, social and political center of Costa Rica. It is also the province with the greatest number of inhabitants, as well as the most urbanized.
This province combines urban areas and agricultural valleys crossed by various rivers. Hills, mountains and volcanoes are part of the Central Valley Mountain Range.
The food of this region of Costa Rica is generally very healthy and is based on meats, fresh vegetables, and herbs. Rice and beans are also basic ingredients you can find in the “Tico” kitchen. One of the most traditional dishes in San José, as well as the rest of the country, is the Casado. The base of this dish are black beans and rice accompanied by meat or fish, fried plantains and a salad of cabbage and tomato.
Another one of the most popular dishes is the Gallo Pinto, which usually served for breakfast. It is eaten throughout the country and consists of a preparation of beans and rice, seasoned stewed onions and sweet pepper. The Gallo Pinto is usually accompanied by fried eggs, cheese, plantain, and corn tortillas. Ticos enjoy adding Salsa Lizano to their Gallo Pinto or Casado for and added boost of flavor.
The indigenous tradition persists in the tradition food of Costa Rica’s Central valley. The sacred corn of the ancient gods and the ancestral cacao still provide us with a great variety of delicious dishes. Creole sponge cake, pork tamales, corn tamales, roasted tamale, empanadas, mazamorra are some of the traditional delights in the area.
The olla de Carne (beef stew with vegetables), the picadillos, the Gallos (meat, chicken, cooked vegetables on top of a corn tortilla), the agua dulce (beverage made with water and jaggery), the chinchiví, the chocolate and the Gallo Pinto are all part of the colorful food tradition in the Central Valley.
Some of these dishes are consumed daily in the homes of many Costa Ricans; others such as tamales are a special holiday dish consumed at Christmas and the New Year. There are some restaurants specializing in this type of food in places like San Jose, Alajuela, Coronado, Sabanilla de Montes de Oca, Barva de Heredia and other locations. Additionally, San José and other population centers in the area offer a selection of international food as well.
Alajuela is the province of agriculture par excellence within Costa Rica coming in first in the production of coffee and sugar cane. The landscapes of this Costa Rican province are characterized by fertile plains, large volcanoes, and mountainous slopes. The Cordillera Central, Cordillera de Tilarán and the Cordillera de Guanacaste all cross through this region.
This province of Costa Rica stands out for its agricultural culture and colonial tradition. Cartago was the first capital of Costa Rica until 1823, when San José took over.
Its natural heritage is characterized by agricultural valleys and large mountain peaks, containing within its borders the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera de Talamanca. In this province, one of the highest peaks in the country is located: the Irazú Volcano.
The number one produce is potatoes which is used as the main ingredient in the typical dishes. The picadillo de papa, mashed potatoes, gallos de papa and soups that contain potatoes combined with other vegetables and even bread potato are on the everyday menu.
Heredia, another province that stands out for its agricultural tradition is known as the heart of Costa Rica’s coffee production and nicknamed the “City of Flowers.” The landscapes of Heredia are mountainous and characterized by extensive plains and valleys with several rivers cutting through the scenery. Its rich coffee tradition is one of the main aspects drawing tourists to this region. You can visit the coffee plantations and learn all about the coffee making process. Other than coffee, corn, vegetables, fruits, beans, rice and sugar cane are also important in Heredia.
Among the typical dishes of this city are the soup of quelites made with vegetables, watercress, chayotes, turnip greens, mallows and rosemary. The rolled loin, which is made with marinated pork, stuffed with potatoes, boiled egg, chile and tomato. The Gallo Pinto, of course, here prepared with rice, beans, meat and corn tortilla and the Casado, rice with beans, meat and fried plantain.
Guanacaste is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica with sunny beaches, lively spas and variety of nature reserves. Its landscapes combine the volcanic peaks of the Cordillera de Guanacaste and the Cordillera de Tilarán, tropical forests, wide plains of fertile land, and beautiful Pacific beaches.
In Guanacaste, recipes based on corn are very popular, which is why tamales, tortillas and, obviously, corn rice are indispensable in the cooking process. Corn-based recipes are incredibly tasty! These include tortillas with cheese, rosquillas (fried corn flour rings), tanelas (fried corn flour rings with cinnamon) and corn-based beverages like Pinolillo (white corn, cacao beans, cinnamon, allspice, and clove).
Puntarenas has the largest size and is one of the most touristy provinces of Costa Rica. The scenery is incredibly varied with kilometers of beaches on the Pacific coast, tropical forests, swamps, islands, mangroves and peninsulas.
Among the typical foods that you can find in Puntarenas is the Vigorón (a mixture of fried yucca, combined with vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and onions marinated in lemon). This dish is usually served in an almond leaf cone with toasted pork rinds. In the beach area of Puntarenas, the Ceviche Puntarenense is the order of the day. It is prepared with fish (usually corvina), coriander, onion, sweet pepper, garlic, lemon, salt, and pepper. You can also find the traditional garlic shrimp prepared with fresh peeled shrimp and stir-fried in butter and garlic.
This is the only Caribbean province of Costa Rica and is famous for its paradisiacal beaches, picturesque coastal towns, nature reserves, and multiculturalism with indigenous, Afro-Caribbean, European and Asian influences.
The landscapes of this province are mostly flat, with exuberant tropical forests, banana plantations, and of course the Caribbean beaches. To the southwest, however, in the Talamanca mountain range dominates the landscape with the Uran, Durika, Aká, and Kamuk hills.
The cuisine of the Caribbean is recognized in Limón and throughout the country due to preparation of delicious dishes. The flavors of the area’s African heritage are combined with these of different regions to create an exquisite blend. Traditions have been handed down from one generation to another, and even younger generations already know and maintain the authentic and traditional flavor in their meals.
The “Pan Bon” is a faithful representative of the mix of European and Caribbean cultures. This black bread is prepared with flour, dried fruit, nuts, butter, egg white, vanilla, Jamaica seed, honey, and sugar. Another typical dish is “Rice & Beans”, whose name originated from the customs of workers from Jamaica, and is prepared with rice with beans seasoned with coconut milk, grated fresh coconut, sweet peppers, garlic, oil, pepper, and salt.
Another well-known food in the region is the “Rondón”, a fish soup (snapper) with green male plantain, coconut milk, peppers, sweet peppers, and spices. It is served hot with a touch of lemon.
A traditional and very popular drink on the coast of Limón is the aguardiente, locally called Cacique. It is also common to drink black coffee or milk accompanied by a dessert.
Tres leches is a dessert of unknown origin but widely savored across Latin America. In this region, the dessert is prepared with a mixture of three kinds of milk (condensed, evaporated and heavy cream) in which a sponge cake is bathed and topped off with meringue. In Limón you will find a wide variety of restaurants such as Mirador Bar and Restaurante El Faro, where you can try typical food of the region, as well as international food.
Costa Rican food sets itself apart by its unique and exclusive flavor that marks each of its dishes, with a variety of ingredients and flavors.