Guide to Costa Rica: Food
In general, Costa Rican food is simple but hearty and delicious. The staple ingredients are rice and beans, which make an appearance at most meals, enlivened by chicken, pork, beef or fish. Food is generally not spicy.
Where to Eat
Restaurants serving international cuisine are springing up in the main tourist areas, but tend to be quite pricey.
If you stick to local places and traditional choices of dish then it is possible to eat very well for relatively little money.
Soda are little snack-bar like restaurants in Costa Rica.
You'll find them everywhere, usually small with a few tables and stools at the counter. They'll serve typical meals (casado), usually plates combining rice, beans, salad, plantain and meat or fish, for a very good price.
Some of the best can be found in the coastal resorts where you can pick up a pot of freshly caught shrimp or lobster for an incredibly reasonable price.
Bocas (literally 'mouths') are the equivalent of Spanish tapas and are increasingly served in bars in San José and the larger towns.
What to Eat
A typical meal in Costa Rica is the casado, the name referring to the ""marriage"" of its ingredients. It consists of rice and beans, meat or fish, fried plantains, and a cabbage with tomato salad.
For breakfast, it is common to be served a hearty dish of black beans and rice called gallo pinto. To be honest it is hard to avoid it at breakfast time.
The dish consists of rice seasoned with fried onions and peppers, accompanied by fried eggs, sour cream, corn tortillas and frijoles (black beans).
It then comes with (you choose) eggs, ham, sausage or natilla (a sort of cream cheese).
Lunch and dinner are more substantial and come served with rice, beans, plantain and tortilla.
A safe and tasty bet is pollo (chicken), cerdo (pork) or carne/bistek (meat/beef steak) cooked asado (grilled) or a la plancha (on a hotplate). You should try ceviche, fish marinated in lemon with coriander, curvino (sea bass) or camarones (shrimp).
Throughout the day you will be presented with a mind-boggling array of colourful and exotic fruit.
Many of these are served plain or as a refresco, a blended drink with ice.
Make sure all fruit has been peeled or washed thoroughly in purified water first.
Choices include papaya, mango, piña (pineapple), sandía (watermelon), melón (cantaloupe), moras (blackberries), limones (lemons), guayaba (guava), aguacates (avocados), granadilla (similar to passion fruit with a wonderfully tasty pulp), cashew fruit (a relative of the mango), guanabana (often used in sorbets), rambutan (sometimes called 'hairy lychees') and breadfruit (similar to bananas).
Vegetables are mostly used in soups and stews. Corn is one of the most popular vegetables, and it is usually used to prepare tortillas and corn pancakes.
Corn on the cob is sometimes roasted, elote asado, or boiled, elote cocinado.
Empanadas are corn turnovers filled with beans, cheese, and maybe potatoes and meat.
Guiso de maíz is a corn and chayote (vegetable pear) stew.
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.
The plantain, or plátano, has the appearance of a large banana, but cannot be eaten raw. 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. Patacones are fried mashed plantains with a sprinkle of salt.
Fresh seafood is more readily available near the coasts or in San José. San José's fish of choice is sea bass (corvina) or mahi-mahi (dorado).
As a common appetizer, Ceviche is a dish of raw fish marinated in lemon juice with cilantro and onions.
The Caribbean coast has its own unique cuisine, distinctive of the rest of the nation. The dishes usually include coconut milk and spices like ginger and curry.
Grated coconut is used in many deserts and cakes. The patí is a spicy meat pie resembling a turnover. Rondon (""rundown"") is a fish soup with plantains, breadfruit, peppers and spices.
Drink water only from bottles. This is widely available.
Local beers and soft drinks are obtainable everywhere.
Drinks include: tamarindo - pulped fruit mixed with ice-cold water; all fresh fruit juices are good; Café Rica - a caffeine based liqueur; beers: Imperial & Pilsen which are lagers and one darker beer, Bavaria.
Rum is usually served with a mixer.
Going against popular belief, food, rather than water, is usually the culprit of intestinal problems. Eating well cooked, piping hot food, is possibly the best way to avoid problems.
Avoid uncooked and under cooked foods. Salads in particular should be avoided until you've developed some local intestinal flora to be able to handle it.
Fruits that must be peeled before being eaten, such as bananas, pineapples, and oranges, are usually a safe bet.