Costa Rica is a beautiful country that I have heard many travelers brush off because they view it as “too touristy.” Certainly, tourism is a huge part of Costa Rica’s economy and you are likely to see foreigners in most places. Despite that, I really enjoyed my two different trips to Costa Rica and would recommend it as a destination, especially if you are able to get “off the beaten path.”
Even in a tourist destination like Monteverde, it is common to go into a restaurant and encounter no one who speaks any English working there. If you read this article, you will at least be able to recognize a couple of things on the menu, and I found that if you order them you probably won’t go wrong.
Image courtesy of arvindgrover
The typical Costa Rican breakfast is called gallo pinto. This is a dish consisting of pre-cooked rice and black beans fried together with red pepper, onions, cilantro, and Salsa Lizano, a popular condiment. It is often served with some fried or scrambled eggs and/or fried plantains (platanos).
Gallo pinto is probably popular as a breakfast dish because it allows the cook to use last night’s leftover rice and beans (the core of Costa Rican food) and is quick and easy to make. It is also delicious. Gallo pinto means “painted rooster.” One reason I found for the name that seems likely is that it was cooked in a way to disguise the lack of meat since as in many cultures, meat is considered the base of any meal. But meat can be scarce or expensive so sometimes the cook would prepare this dish and due to the speckled color it could be hard to tell whether there was meat or not.
Image courtesy of PacificLots
If you are going out for lunch, the cheapest and most ubiquitous meal is the casado (go to a soda to get the best prices, they are usually $3 or $4). This is a dish of rice, black beans, some sort of meat, usually a salad, maybe tortillas, and often fried plantains or some other vegetable. Often it will come with a drink as well, so it is filling and a great value.
Casado means married – the name probably came from men going to a soda and asking to be served as if they were married, because this is how Costa Ricans eat at home (and I found this to be true).
Now the drink that you want to get (or at least that I couldn’t get enough of) is called a refresca or a bebida natural. This is a very simple drink consisting of fruit blended with ice, water, and sugar. It is incredibly refreshing and delicious. Common flavors include banana, piña (pineapple), papaya, mango, guanabana (soursop – delicious), and more. Fresh fruit is abundant in Costa Rica, which I absolutely loved.
Locals drink coffee with every meal. Costa Rica is known worldwide for their coffee, but the locals drink a less high quality brew, and they take it black.
There isn’t really a typical meal for dinner, but it will usually involve rice and beans and a meat. While I stayed with a Costa Rican family, they served me spaghetti with a fried egg on top and rice and beans, and then rice and beans and beets for dinners.
Typical Costa Rican food is heavy on the rice and beans, but I think you will find that, though simple, it is delicious. Also, gallo pinto is easy to make at home (though Salsa Lizano is impossible to find in DC area stores). Jeff and I made it and it was really good.