Going on an out of town trip isn’t just about the place; it’s also about the food. When you taste the food of a place, you also taste their culture and history. It’s one of the inescapable Costa Rica facts, if you’re thinking of going there: you can taste the wonderful mix of cultures in the food.
If you’re thinking of Costa Rica vacations, or are thinking of having fun at Costa Rica resorts, then here’s a list of dishes you should absolutely try out:
Gallo pinto is considered a breakfast meal, and you shouldn’t be surprised if it’s offered as such in Costa Rica resorts. The dishes mainstays are black beans and rice, and it’s usually served with eggs, scrambled or fried. The more “continental” version would probably have toast, slices of cheese, or some meat to go with it. Otherwise, plantains and natilla (sour cream) are used to round out the dish. It is usually served with coffee or fruit juice. There are variations where onions and tomatoes are stirred into the scrambled eggs.
Whereas Gallo Pinto is seen as breakfast food, Casados is the quintessential lunch or dinner dish. Casado means “married,” which is a perfect description for the dish. While the main carbohydrates are again rice and beans, the meat can be beef, chicken, or fish. Fried plantains are usually used to round out the combination, with salad on the side. The main difference, aside from the meat, between gallo pinto and casado is the fact that the different parts of the dish are separated in casado. Tortillas, cabbage, and cheese are other side options. Many Costa Rican restaurants will offer different options or combinations for their version of casado.
Arroz con pollo
This is, literally, a rice and chicken meal, with different vegetables from the local area, such as camote, chayote, and yuca. One other popular arroz variant is one where the meat is seafood or fish.
By now, it should be part of obvious Costa Rica facts that their food can be very filling. But wait up, there’s dessert, in the form of tres leches. Translated, it means “three milk,” and that’s exactly what it is: a sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk, specifically evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. This dessert is popular across South America, and may be a localization of the soaked cakes from British or Italian origin. It’s very sweet, but at the same time refreshing. It’s important to remind any lactose-intolerant friends or family members who are along for the trip to taste only a little bit.
This is another popular Costa Rican dish, and given what it is, don’t be surprised if it’s offered as bar chow or as a side dish in Costa Rica resorts. Ceviche is fish or seafood (normally shrimp or conch), still raw and chopped, served with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. The whole mix is then marinated in lime juice. You can find this preparation in resorts, restaurants, and even street-side food stalls. It can also be served with tortilla chips.
Tamal has a corn masa base, usually mixed with vegetables and meat. Pork is usually used, but occasionally beef and chicken are also substituted. The meat is thoroughly cooked. The whole mixture is wrapped in palm or plantain leaves, tied close with string for steaming.
Arroz con leche
Otherwise known as Costa Rican rice pudding, arroz con leche is rice soaked in warm milk, sugar, cinnamon, and other spices.
This is a little slice of cheap heaven in Costa Rica. Imagine two graham cracker cookies, soft but still crunchy, with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. It’s a bit Western, and may be a good introductory for meticulous children.
These fruits are commonly known as lychees. When in season, street-side stalls will be full of the fruit. If the lychee is still green, then it is simply called mamones.
Costa Rica vacations are incomplete if you haven’t been to an all-night party or celebration. However, the hangover the next day can be a real time-waster. Not to worry, once you hear someone yelling “Pipa,” you know you’ll be all right. These young green coconuts are cracked open, so you can drink the sweet coconut juice. Since it’s packed with electrolytes, about two or three rounds should be enough to help you get out of your hangover, pronto.
Don’t be surprised if you find that most Costa Rica resorts will have batidos. These are fruit smoothies with a water or milk base. Sugar is added when necessary. The fruit combinations depend on local availability, but that being said, the combinations can be endless, depending on the creativity of the server.
While Western-style snacks are common, do be prepared to have unusual combinations or flavors if you are planning Costa Rica vacations. Here are some of the more common snacks:
Chilera – This is a spicy dressing, with pickled onions, peppers, and vegetables.
Flan – This is a European-influenced snack, usually colored orange. It’s a rather soft custard with caramel.
Agua Dulce – This is water sweetened with sugarcane or sugarcane juice.
Guaro – This is sugarcane liquor, and can be served as a single shot of as a cocktail. Be careful with this one, you’ll probably need pipa in the morning to recover from this.
Bocas – These are various dips for tortilla or ceviche, such as black bean dip, or chimichurri (tomato and onions in lime juice).
Finally, you have chifrijo. This snack is perfect as a side with cold beer. It is a dish layered with rice, beans, chimichurri, meat and chicharrones (fried pork skin). The dish is then topped with tortilla chips. As you can see, Costa Rica vacations really are incomplete without going for a food run, be it in Costa Rica resorts or out in the street-side stalls. But it is a part of basic Costa Rica facts: If you love food, then Costa Rica should definitely be in your vacation plans, if not already on your to-do vacation map.