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Top 10 Foods & Drinks to try in Costa Rica

Written by Laurent Escobar | 16th February 2016 |

Category: Costa Rica, Knowledge

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Food is an important aspect of Costa Rican culture. While its basis dates back to pre-Columbian times, modern Costa Rican cuisine has been very much influenced by the Spanish and Afro-Caribbean culture during the colonial era.

Typically, Costa Rica’s cuisine is hearty and savoury with fruits and veggies playing a large part. You don’t get the spice of Mexican nor the unabashed meat consumption of Brazil or Argentina, but Costa Rican food still has a style of its own. Pork and beef are the most commonly eaten meats but chicken and fish dishes are also widely available, especially on the Caribbean coast.

Remember that, in Costa Rica, you tend to find that breakfast and lunch are the biggest meals of the day with dinners tending to be lighter affairs eaten after the sun has gone down and things cool off.

Here we provide you with our favourite Costa Rican dishes you’ll find in most Sodas - find out more typical Ticos expressions here - which are modest family-run restaurants you find throughout the country, often roadside stalls:

Gallo Pinto

We could hardly start our list without mentioning it, it’s everywhere. Gallo pinto is a staple of any Costa Rican breakfast (desayuno costarricense or tradicional). It consists of sautéed rice, normally with spices, frijoles (black beans) and often vegetables in very small pieces.  It then comes with your choice of eggs, ham, sausage or natilla (a sort of sour cream / cheese). Although this dish can also be ordered at any time of day, a true Tico is very suspicious of seeing it on their plate for lunch or dinner because it’s only made in the morning – by the time dinner rolls around, it’ll have been sitting around all day.

Casado

Casado is the typical Tico lunch. While it contains similar ingredients to Gallo Pinto, it is actually pretty different. It consists of beans and rice (this time served side by side) with finely diced red bell peppers, fried plantains, cabbage salad, tomato, carrot, and meat (can be chicken, fish, pork, or steak) with grilled onions.

Olla de Carne

This delicious beef stew is also one of the most popular dishes in the country. It features different cuts of beef (short ribs, chuck, flank) and incorporates a number of locally grown ingredients such as cassava, carrots, corn, plantains and taro roots. Yet very popular, this dish is not available everywhere so you might like to order it as soon as you see it on a restaurant’s menu.

Ceviche 

Although usually associated entirely with Peru, Costa Ricans are big fans of ceviche too. The abundant fish off their coastline makes for some exhilarating examples of this tasty boca (appetizer). Costa Rica’s ceviche consists of fresh raw local tilapia or corvina (white sea bass) marinated in citrus juice with finely diced herbs, veggies, coriander, garlic, hot pepper, onion, and celery. Sometimes you will also find ceviche made of fruits, such as mango - the fruit replacing the fish.

Tamales

The Costa Rican version of tamales are very different from the Mexican ones. Here the mouthwatering dish consists of boiled plantain leaves stuffed with corn meal mix, saffron rice, pork, and a variety of beans and vegetables. Tamales in Costa Rica are customarily made for special occasions such as Christmas or a wedding but you can also find them at local farmer’s markets.

Carnitas

Not exclusively found in Costa Rica but still very popular, this delicious local preparation made by grilling chunks of beef on a skewer over an open fire. Eat them by grabbing a piece between a tortilla.

Coconut

When it comes to signature dishes, Costa Rica’s Caribbean side has a style all its own. In truth, it’s basically the same kind of food as elsewhere in the country but with the addition coconut milk, curry, and ginger. It tastes great.

Fruit juice 

Costa Rica has to be one of the best countries in the world for freshly squeezed juice. An incredible array of tropical fruits, half of which most of us have never heard of (Anona, Caimito, Mangosteen, Pejibaye, Naseberry…) allow for an endless variety of juices - tasty and healthy! You'll find vendors hawking fresh produce from the street corners in San Jose to the roadside stalls in the middle of the country.

Coffee

As being a producer of some of the world’s finest coffee, whilst here, seek out offerings from smaller, organic producers rather than the ubiquitous and somewhat uninspiring Britt brand. If you want black coffee, ask for café negro; if you want it with milk, order café con leche. It’s well worth visiting a coffee plantation for a bean-to-cup demonstration, followed by a sampling of the best brews!

Chan

Made by mixing dry black Chan seeds in water with honey, this drink is said to relieve indigestion, gastritis and constipation. It is also worth mentioning that Chan leaves can be prepared as an infusion, and have been reported to be helpful in reducing high blood pressure. An all round miracle worker.

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