The Costa Rican Food has a large variety of traditional dishes, many of them based on all the different heritages and descendants that have migrated to our country since the ruling of the Spanish in the 16th century. As the times have changed, technology gets more advanced and foreign relations have come to Costa Rica, so has the cuisine, still keeping in mind that we, till this day, keep following our roots when it comes to cooking traditions.
Part of our daily dishes and something that cannot be oversighted when it comes to cooking a traditional Costa Rican meal are rice and beans. Let’s get this started with our most important meal of the day… breakfast. As mentioned above, rice and beans is something that cannot go missing, even at breakfast time! Having that said, let’s talk about “Gallo Pinto” or “Pinto” as the term used in pop-culture; in a nutshell “Gallo Pinto” is rice and beans cooked in a pot or a pan with many different types of natural spices, like cilantro, celery, scallions, non-spicy red peppers and onions; and of course one thing that is a must is Lizano Sauce, our local traditional “cooking secret”. Now, everyone has different ways of eating this delicious meal, people add some delicious add-ons to the dish, such as eggs, a side of Sour Cream, Fried Plantains, Steak or Steak Fajitas with fried onions, White Cheese or as the Costa Rican term “Turrialba Cheese” and so on. Something that is very neat is that in some remote or indigenous parts of our country, “Pinto” is served on a Plantain leave, to me that beat eating on a plate. About the Lizano Sauce, or as some people call it “Salsa Inglesa” (English Sauce), is made of vegetables, onions, carrots, cucumbers, pepper, mustard and many other spices; this particular sauce goes on almost every Costa Rican meal!
Our most common dish is called the “casado”, made up with rice and beans (of course); fried plantains, chopped vegetables, a healthy salad and your choice of meat, which could be beef, chicken, fish or pork. This is a type of dish that is a must when traveling to Costa Rica and I recommend trying it not only for the experience, but so you can brag to your friends back home that you tasted real-local Costa Rican Food.
Among other traditional dishes are our delicious gallos (known in other countries like Mexico as “Tacos”), which are made of a corn tortilla with a filling of your choice, which could be seasoned potatos (my favorite), beef, chicken, fish or sausage. Other dishes considered more traditional, like the ones only our grandma’s make nowadays, are our cheese tortillas, our “chorreadas” (a very sweet soft-corn torilla with sour cream), baked plantains with cheese, our “pozol” (corn soup), Costa Rican tamales, “olla de carne” (vegetable soup with soft beef), chicharrones (fried pork meat), “mazamorra” (sweet corn served as a desert), or our sweet rice with milk, also served as a desert.
In terms of dishes brought to Costa Rica directly by other cultures, I can mention as the most remarkable the ones from immigrants of Jamaica in 1,872, who came to the country as workers for the railroad that it was being built at the time to the Caribbean coast. With that in mind we have added many Caribbean diches to our traditional cuisine, like the delicious “Rice and Beans” (yes in English, because that was the language spoken by the Jamaicans), this is somewhat like the Gallo Pinto but with a twist, made with coconut oil and Panamanian Chile, this can be sided with Chicken, Steak or fish, all cooked in Caribbean sauces that include some unusual ingredients to the regular Costa Rican Food, such as ginger.
Now we have focus a lot on food, but what about drinks? Well, something that is very common in the Caribbean side of Costa Rica is what is known as “Agua de Sapo” or “Hiel”, this is made by boiling water, lemon juice, ginger and sugar cane, drank in a cold state. Some other common drinks are cas juice (Sour Guava), blackberry juice, pineapple juice, chan seed juice, papaya juice, tamarind juice or mango juice; and on a more traditional side we have the mozote, made from the bark of a bush; agua dulce or “sweet water”, made directly from sugar cane extracts; and of course, the drink that the whole country feels proud of, our world famous Costa Rican coffee.
Now as times have changed and Costa Rica has modernized itself so fast that I cannot keep track of, we have a lot of other foreign-food restaurants popping everywhere like popcorn, which I’m sure will affect, for good or bad (…), our Costa Rican Food.