Costa Rica isn’t exactly world-renowned for being a foodie’s paradise. However, that’s not to say there aren’t tasty local flavors to discover. Save sitting down at one of the plethora of Western restaurants across the country for when you’re really craving a bite of something different and instead opt for the following authentic Costa Rican cuisine:
Gallo Pinto: Typically served as a breakfast dish, Gallo Pinto consists of rice and beans (mixed together), scrambled eggs, fried plantains, tortillas and sometimes a grilled or fried piece of meat. Locals drench the dish in Salsa Lizano, a slightly spicy condiment. This hearty breakfast will keep you satisfied until dinner roles around.
Casados: The word ‘casado’ translates into ‘married’, and that’s really what this dish is all about—the marriage of rice and beans. Expect rice, beans, fried plantains, cabbage salad, and your choice of meat or fish. The dish is also called ‘Comida Tipica’ as it is commonly eaten throughout the country.
Ceviche and Fish: Given the abundant coastline, it should come as no surprise that fresh fish and ceviche are common—and delicious! If you’ve never had ceviche, it’s a dish that consists of raw fish marinated and cured in citrus juices, served with diced vegetables (often tomatoes, onion, cilantro and garlic).
Caribbean Cuisine: A visit to the Caribbean coast opens up a whole new world of flavors and dishes. In my humble opinion, this is where Costa Rican cuisine truly shines. Rice and beans still serve as the foundation, but expect to find them cooked with coconut milk, curry and ginger. Don’t miss Rondon, a Jamaican seafood soup, and Jerk Chicken.
Chocolate: There are plenty of opportunities around Costa Rica to go on a chocolate tasting tour and learn about the cacao making process. Chocolate has played an important role in the history of Costa Rica, and these tours are not only informative, but also delicious!
Coffee: Costa Rican coffee is fantastic, and unlike some other Latin American countries that export all of their quality beans, many restaurants in Costa Rica will serve a local brew. Just like with the chocolate, there are plenty of coffee tours to take you through the bean-to-cup process.
Smoothies: With so much fresh fruit in Costa Rica, it’s only natural to blend it up and serve delicious smoothies and juices.
Beer: The primary beers of choice are Imperial and Pilsner. They’re light beers, good but not necessarily memorable. If you’re on a budget, you’ll likely be drinking these bad boys; imported beers are much more expensive.
Cacique: This local sugar cane liquor is a staple throughout Costa Rica. It’s strong, but goes down surprisingly well.
Local restaurants are called sodas. These are the best places to sample local cuisine at local prices.
Just because a restaurant advertises comida tipica, that doesn’t mean it is serving up authentic Costa Rican cuisine. Many expats have come to Costa Rica, bought large restaurants, and stared serving their take on local food. Even if it is authentic, you’ll be paying foreign prices, not local ones. If you’re not sure where to eat, ask the locals. Chances are they’ll be able to direct you to a neighborhood favorite. Too scared to ask for advice? Look for the nearest soda that is overflowing with locals.
Any staples of Costa Rican cuisine that should be added to this list?