If you regularly dine out in New York, Paris, or Barcelona, well… you’re lucky. But for simple local cuisine, Costa Rican food is unbelievably delicious and friendly priced.
Let’s start with breakfast! A centerpiece of Costa Rican dining is gallo pinto: a rice and beans dish cooked with various spices and finely diced vegetables. Gallo pinto is almost always served at breakfast and is usually paired with eggs or meat, plantains, and fresh coffee. The coffee in Costa Rica is renowned for its strong flavor and its role throughout the country’s history. Coffee remains a major export alongside bananas. Plantains are similar to bananas, and are served with meals usually in fried form, but draw less interest abroad.
The most common lunch in Costa Rica is a casado. Similar to most Costa Rican food, the dish is made up of servings of rice, black beans, salad, plantains, and often a small serving of meat. Casado translates directly to ‘married man,’ earning its name because wives traditionally serve their husbands this combination of food for lunch. If the meat has a specific preparation, in a stew or with specific seasoning, it will have a specific name, such as carne en salsa, but will be paired with the same sides.
A really great dish that can be found on most menus is ‘chifrijos’ – a layered treat with rice on the bottom, then beans, fried pork, and pico de gallo on top. Traditionally, it is paired with tortilla chips on the side. The mixing of flavors is exquisite, and many chefs or restaurants have a few tricks up their sleeves and boast that theirs is the best around.
Contrary to what many expect, Costa Ricans are not known for spicy food. Most Costa Rican food is prepared very mild and is served with a sweet sauce called Lizano. Hot sauce can be easily found though, so there’s no need to worry if you like your rice and beans with a kick! Vegetables come with nearly every dish, usually roasted or steamed and served as a side. Popular vegetables include onions, sweet peppers, potatoes, squash, zucchini, and more!
If fruit is nature’s dessert, consider Costa Rica the best confectionary in the world!
Tons of fresh fruit grows locally, in abundance and flavor! Some of the popular fruits are pineapples, watermelons, and mangos, as well as more exotic fruits like rambutan. Rambutan is the ‘hairy fruit,’ known locally as mamones, which is Spanish for sucker. Ticos and ticas, Costa Rican locals, eat fruit at various times of the day for snacks. At hotels and other commercialized areas geared towards tourism, fruit is mainly served with breakfast.
Buying imported food in Costa Rica can be very pricy, so when possible, it is best to shop for local brands. Whether it be snacks, meats, or cheese, comparable items can be bought, though they may take some getting used to. Because of the accommodating climate, many people have their own vegetable gardens, which harvest amazing products and quickly ripen, ready to be tossed into any popular Costa Rican food!