The food of Costa Rica noticeably contains influences from the Caribbean, the neighbouring Americas, as well as similarities to typical Spanish cuisine.
‘A country on a plate’
Gallo pinto is often considered Costa Rica’s national dish and is typically eaten for breakfast. Made up of rice and beans, the name literally translates as ‘spotted rooster’ which is derived from the dish’s appearance after cooking red or black beans with the rice. Common accompaniments to gallo pinto are either scrambled or fried eggs and sour cream.
In recent years, empanadas (filled pastries) of gallo pinto have grown in popularity among those unable to luxuriate over their breakfast but still want a traditional taste of home. The Ticos (Costa Ricans) love their gallo pinto so much that you can even go to McDonald’s in Costa Rica and order a ‘McPinto’.
Lizano sauce is also seen as a national emblem. A thick, spicy beef sauce, made from a blend of fragrant spices; it is a store cupboard favourite for families all over Costa Rica.
Not only reserved for the morning, rice and beans is a staple of the Costa Rican diet and it is not unusual to see it eaten three times a day. However, apart from in gallo pinto, they are usually served separately. On the Caribbean coast they will usually be cooked using coconut milk.
A traditional lunch in Costa Rica is a casado, a plate piled high with a myriad of things: rice and beans, fresh vegetables, grilled meat, black beans and fried plantain.
Similar to the tapas found in Spain, it is rare to go for a drink in Costa Rica and it not be accompanied by a delicious morsel, here they are called boquitas. Common ones are patacones, twice fried plantain fritters served with a black bean dip, or chimichurri sauce with chips.
It is an important part of Costa Rican culture to serve yourself and others lots of food, however, as a result Costa Rica is seeing an increase in the number of people who are overweight.
Soda is a word that can be seen on every street of Costa Rica’s small towns and big cities alike. It is the name given to small restaurants and bars where ticos go for a quick bite and to socialize; it is the Costa Rican equivalent to a diner. If you really want to embrace the Costa Rican way of life then visiting a soda is an excellent place to start.
You can fill up on a casado or gallo pinto and get a real taste of authentic Costa Rican food for next to nothing.