Costa Rica includes one of the world’s five blue zones, meaning that people here live exceptionally long lives. Moreover, Costa Ricans consistently rank highly for happiness and fulfilment. Happy, long lives – this must mean they are doing something right with their eating habits! Check out some of these must-try tasty Costa Rican treats, you just might find the secrets to a long and meaningful life! At the very least, you’ll have some excellent tips to share with travellers.
Often referred to as the national dish of Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto is based on two of the staples of Tico cuisine – rice and beans. It can come in many forms, though its foundation consists of fried rice and beans, mixed with a variety of herbs and vegetables. Served as a side dish, sometimes with every meal of the day, you can order different types based on taste preference. In Costa Rica, the dish is often served with Salsa Lizano, a spicy condiment that delineates this dish from its Nicaraguan counterpart.
The word tamale comes from the Aztec Nahuatl language, meaning ‘wrapped food’. Tamales are eaten across Latin America, and these tasty little packages are especially celebrated in Costa Rica. A typical tamal tico is made with masa, a corn-based dough. It is then stuffed with rice, garbanzo beans, potatoes and your choice of other vegetables and meat, before being wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Eating tamales is a tradition going back thousands of years for Ticos, and this significance is reflected in the practice of making and eating tamales together at Christmas.
Picadillo de Papas
Picadillo de Papas, or potato picadillo, is a highlight of the cuisine found in the northern highlands. As is typical with highland cuisine, it’s sufficiently hearty, providing that ‘Grandma’s kitchen’ feel that is a theme throughout Costa Rican cooking. Fried potatoes are combined with bell peppers, onions, and ground meat to create a fritter-like hash. These are served with fresh tortillas and rice and beans for a simple yet filling snack.
Olla de Carne
Another dish that evokes that ‘grandma’s kitchen’ feel, Olla de Carne is a rich and warming slow-cooked stew packed with all sorts of nutrient-laden veggies and tender meat. As with most stews and pot roasts, there can be a variety of ingredients, but vegetables of choice include plantain, potatoes, carrots, chayote, yuca, and cassava. When cooked together in this vegetable broth, the cuts of beef added become juicy and tender. You can feel the enriching goodness with every bite!
Resbaladera is a drink so thick and creamy that it is not out of place on a list of Costa Rican snacks and treats, such is the filling nature of the beverage. To give you an idea of the experience of drinking Resbaladera, the name literally translates to ‘slide’. It is made with rice, barley, and milk and is then flavoured to taste with spices like cinnamon or clove. Served ice cold, it is the perfect refresher on a hot day in Guanacaste, where it is the traditional beverage of choice.
You don’t get a reputation for being fun food-lovers without having the obligatory dish to be enjoyed with an ice-cold beer. Chifrijo is that dish for Costa Ricans. Served as an appetiser in small bowls in bars, it consists of rice and beans topped with fried pork meat, freshened up with avocado, lime and pico de gallo. It will often come accompanied by fried tortilla or plantain chips for finger-food dipping. The dish was invented by a San Jose bar owner, so you can trust that it was designed to be enjoyed with a beer or two without feeling too guilty.
If feeling a little more decadent, travellers should opt for chicharrones. Seen in bars and at several fiestas throughout the year, chicharrones are a snack for a celebratory mood. These fried pork rinds are scrumptious, but it would perhaps be best for your health to restrict yourself to just a couple! Chicaronnes can be found across all Latin American cuisines. Still, Costa Ricans love it so much there is an annual Chicarrones fair at Puriscal.
Casado is served at sodas, small Costa Rican eateries, and is the Costa Rican equivalent of India’s Thali, in which you get all the components of a balanced meal on one plate. All Casado will feature black beans and rice as staples, as well as a tortilla and a side salad. The dish is finished off with the source of protein of your choice, whether it be fish, chicken, pork or beef. It’s a simple approach to eating that ensures all the basic needs of a meal are met. Perhaps those longer-living Ticos tend to opt for the Casado more often than the Chicarrones.
This brief introduction to Costa Rican cuisine should be enough to get any traveller salivating at the prospect of getting stuck into some meals. As tends to be the case, the dishes above vary and are tweaked in the different regions, satisfying local tastes. As ever, it is best to get the lowdown on the top places to eat from our local experts and guides who can share their secrets. We at Discova can help you explore and enjoy unique gourmet experiences in Costa Rica.
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