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You won’t find native Costa Rican food ...

Travel, Vacation and Adventure Guide to Costa Rica

Never eat more than you can lift. ~ Miss Piggy

You won’t find native Costa Rican food listed high on the world’s culinary scale. Perhaps it’s too plebeian for some. Unlike Mexico’s, it is neither spicy nor complex. But it is high on our list of comfort cuisine.

The most typical dish in all Costa Rica is gallo pinto, “red rooster,” a rice and bean dish served with breakfast and sometimes lunch. Different recipes include herbs or garlic, but the basic ingredients are always black beans and rice, bell peppers and onions.

Don’t pass up an opportunity to try Salsa Lizano, the Costa Rican imitation of English Worcestershire sauce. This piquant blend of vegetables, chiles and sugar is used on almost everything, like ketchup. If you get addicted, it’s now available in the US on your grocer’s Spanish foods shelf. Fried plantains (a very large, firm variety of banana, also referred to as cooking bananas) are a common, sweet side dish to many breakfast and lunch meals. On the Limón side, rice and beans are flavored with coconut and Caribbean spices. Hot peppers are also more popular there. Side salads are generally made with cabbage slaw, red and green, flavored with oil and vinegar or mayonnaise. In a warm climate they prove very refreshing.

The daily specials and cheapest dishes in most smaller restaurants are called casados, which means “married.” Your choice of fish, meat or chicken is served side-by-side (that’s where the “married” part comes in) with a scoop of rice and slaw salad. This is the lunch of choice, especially in sodas, small mom and pop eateries. The most typical dish for lunch and dinner in the home (and popular in restaurants too) is arroz con pollo, chicken strips mixed in rice with vegetables. Fresh fish is also common and wonderful.

Some other meals and snacks you may come across include olla de carne, a heavy meat and vegetable soup; picadillos, a hash of potatoes, plantains and veggies; and empanadas, corn flour dough filled with meats, chicken or fruit and fried. Empanadas are the preferred bite at street carts or doorway snack bars.

Costa Rica does top Mexico in desserts, especially for those with North American tastes. The national dessert is tres leches, three milks, our favorite. Unfortunately, this cake can vary in quality. Of course, there’s flan, custard with caramel or coconut. It’s ubiquitous in Central American cuisine. Be sure to check out the offerings of bakeries, panaderías, where you select your treats with a pair of tongs, place them on a baking tray, then take them to the counter and pay.

To drink in Spanish is beber, but a waiter will ask para tomar? – what will you have?

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