The essential food guide to Costa Rica
Visiting Costa Rica was my first foray into central/ south America. I never really had any great longing to go to that side of the world, and particularly not by myself. When I traveled around the world solo, everyone I bumped into had been there of course and just wouldn’t shut up about how wonderful it was. So my curiosity got the best of me and I thought I would dip my toes into that region with a quick trip to Costa Rica.
I went there with eyes wide open, and with no real expectations. I hadn’t really thought about what I would eat while I was there – because let’s admit it, the country is not really world-renowned for its amazing food. Exploring the country, I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued by the simple, yet exotic, cuisine of Costa Rica.
With a tropical climate, this tiny country abounds with amazing fruits and vegetables of brilliant colours, flavours and smells. What it lacks in meat in makes up with beans. Lots and lots of beans. And rice. Sometimes together, sometimes served separately. But make no mistake; both will be there in some way shape or form at every. single. meal.
I’m not saying the food was bad – far from it! Its wholesome and interesting and tasty. I just personally don’t like beans so that caused a problem for me! But if you are planning a visit to Costa Rica and want to be a bit more prepared for what to expect than I was, here are a few of the common dishes and drinks that I came across while I was there.
Rice and beans cooked together, I think in a meaty stock. This was not personal favourite of mine just because I had to work hard to pick out and extract all the beans from the rice! But once I got a mouthful of rice it was delicious, especially with the meaty flavour.
This is Costa Rica’s typical dish and is served absolutely everywhere. I quite liked this because the rice and beans and everything else (plantains, salad, tortilla and some form of meat) were in their own little separate places on the plate. Now, I’m not one of those weirdo people who’s most horrid nightmare is when different foods dare touch each other on a plate; but when it comes to beans they should at least be quarantined on a plate of their own, if you ask me. Have I mentioned that I don’t like beans? 🙂
These look like your typical run-of-the-mill banana, but they are actually a different version – less sweet and more starchy. It’s also a staple in this part of the world and can be served sweet or savoury. It took a while to get used to because I was constantly expecting the banana-looking thing to taste like banana. In the end I actually preferred the savoury version as an interesting addition to a dish.
Especially along the coast, you’ll see plenty of roadside vendors expertly wielding a machete to a pile of coconuts. No, they are not nut-jobs (hey look, a pun!) but they actually have impressive skills in carving a coconut ready to drink before you can blink twice. Served with a straw the sweet juice is the most refreshing thing on hot, sultry days. Alternatively you can buy a handful of raw coconut to munch on as you trot around seeing the sights. The texture and flavour is actually quite more-ish and gets addictive (don’t go cocco-locco)!
This is a dish Costa Rica people love. Its fresh (must be fresh!) raw fish marinated in nothing but the sweet flavourful citrus juices of the region, with just a few finely diced vegetables or herbs with it – such as cilantro, garlic, hot peppers and onion. When done right it’s actually fantastic.
OK, I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of these, but it’s quite popular. I even learned to make my own in a cooking class that was included in my tour package. It’s essentially a mix of corn meal, rice, pork (although I think you can use other meat such as chicken?), beans and veggies, rolled or stuffed in plantain leaves and boiled. The rice comes out a very sticky consistency which is why I think I didn’t take to this dish.
This is a cold drink of milk, rice flour, cinnamon and sugar. It takes some getting used to but quite refreshing. I suppose it’s a watered-down version of rice pudding?Which tastes better than it sounds, trust me!
Oh god. The fruit juices. The sweet, sweet, heavenly juices. Everywhere. At any road stop, cafe or by the beach, there are juice vendors everywhere, and for good reason. They have a lot of delicious, sweet fruits in this country. It’s worth making the very most of each and every type of fruit you can try – and combinations of them! My favourites were guanabana (also known as soursap – not sour at all but tangy and fresh), papaya and pineapple. I’m salivating just remembering them!
I’m not usually a big beer drinker but the Costa Rica Imperial Beer was so cheap and so suited for the humid climate that I ended up having it constantly. It’s a watery and light, american-style pilsner. At around USD $1.50 a can, you can’t help but have a good time in Costa Rica.
Have you been to Costa Rica and tried the food? What was your favourite? Leave a comment below. Pura vida!