The Cuisine of Costa Rica



Courtesy Special Places Management and Rentals Costa Rica

If you like to eat (and who doesn’t?), Costa Rica offers a cornucopia of gastronomic delights to choose from. Restaurants abound that offer all kinds of international cuisine, and some of these are justifiably famous.

But Costa Rica has its own unique “cuchara” (a word meaning “spoon” that refers to cuisine). Don’t come to Costa Rica without eating at least once at a “soda,” which is not a fizzy drink but a humble mom-and-pop diner with authentic food and low prices.

If you absolutely must have a hamburger, be aware that it’s usually spelled “hamburguer” on the menu, and it’s often served with a slice of ham on top of the beef — putting the “ham” back in hamburger.

But if you want to explore a cuisine that’s a bit more exotic, here are 10 need-to-know foods you must try when you’re in this country.

1. Casado. The classic Costa Rican lunch, with your choice of beef, chicken, pork or fish, served with rice, beans, salad, sweet plantains and usually a type of vegetable hash called “picadillo.” Often enjoyed with a “fresco natural,” a fruit drink mixed with water or milk. The word “casado” means “married” — the idea being that any working man who packs a lunch like this surely has a wife who made it for him.

2. Gallo pinto. The traditional Costa Rican breakfast of mixed rice and beans, usually served with eggs, bacon or sausage, toast or tortillas, fruit, coffee and juice. “Gallo pinto” means “speckled rooster,” a reference to the color of the rice and beans, and both Costa Rica and Nicaragua claim to have invented it.

3. Chifrijo. A bowl of “chicharrones” (pork rinds), rice and beans. A delicious dish invented in Costa Rica, chifrijo has inspired legal battles over whether the name is a trademark.

4. Olla de carne. Beef stew with vegetables, potatoes, yucca, sweet potatoes, corn and plantains.

5. Arroz con pollo. Shredded chicken and rice, or try “arroz con camarones,” with shrimp instead of chicken.

6. Ceviche. Raw fish and other seafood marinated in lime, ceviche is a succulent appetizer usually served with crackers.

7. Patacones. Green plantains, mashed and fried, a delicious snack virtually unknown in the United States or even Mexico.

8. Tamales. Corn-based dough with pork or chicken, plus rice and vegetables, wrapped and cooked in a plantain leaf, traditionally served for Christmas.

9. Rondón. A popular Caribbean stew with coconut milk, fish, crab, vegetables, yucca and plantains. It’s said to contain whatever ingredients the cook could “run down,” hence the name.

10. Tres leches. Sponge cake soaked in “three milks” — whole milk, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Sometimes dessert is better when wet.


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