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Halloween in Costa Rica

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Día de la Mascarada is Our Version of  Halloween in Costa Rica

 

halloweenThough Halloween is becoming increasingly popular in Costa Rica, October 31st is traditionally celebrated as Día de la Mascarada, or Day of the Masquerade. While more and more expats are making their home in the country and Halloween is continuing to become a more mainstream holiday, Día de la Mascarada celebrations take the festivity forefront.

With roots in the Spanish Carnival, Día de la Mascarada is known for its parades featuring large, masked characters, music, clowns, and dancing. While the Spaniards brought the costumed celebration to Costa Rica, it wasn’t an official holiday until 1996, when the Ministry of Culture established Día de la Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense as an annual parade.

The masks are created in the visage of famous characters, political figures, and national heroes, and are made using a papier-mâché like process. “The bigger the better” is the goal when it comes to the giant masks, or “masquerades.” One of the most striking types of masks seen, these large masks are mounted on bamboo or wire, often engulfing the wearer’s entire body. You’ll likely see represented the Devil, Death, the Witch, and even La Llorona, a terrifying local legend.

In addition to the parades, Costa Rican culture is celebrated during the national festivities, with educational activities, the procession and display of masks, and tributes to leading mask makers. You’ll also find food, fireworks, and many chances to listen to local music, both traditional folk and current.

Masked participants will parade down the street in most major cities, dancing and sometimes chasing on-lookers along the way. Accompanying the process are Maroons, small bands of amateur musicians who are usually self-taught. They generally compose their own music, none of which is committed to the page, but rather passed down and taught by ear.

Traditionally a pagan holiday, the Halloween we know in the United States never really took root in the predominately Catholic Costa Rica, though it has steadily been gaining popularity over the years. While not seen as a mainstream holiday quite yet, Halloween is being celebrated more and more often with costume parties taking place in people’s homes and in various bars and discotheques, and is seen as more of an opportunity to get together rather than an excuse to go door-to-door begging for candy.

If you’ll be near San Jose, you may want to participate in the annual Zombie Walk, where you can dress as either a survivor or a zombie, and gather with the horde on a different kind of parade, shuffling through the streets and trying to frighten passers-by. The Zombie Parade is an example of how Ticos are adopting more mainstream Halloween activities, and is gaining in popularity each year.

Whether you choose to participate in Día de la Mascarada, Halloween, or both, you’ll have no shortage of ways to celebrate come this October 31st.

 

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Semana Santa Costa Rica

Celebrating Semana Santa in Costa Rica

Depositphotos_35808125_xsLike many Central and South American countries, Costa Rica’s population is heavily Catholic. To Catholics, Easter is a very important holiday. The entire week leading up to Easter is called Semana Santa, or Holy Week, and it is observed with religious processions and dramatic recreations of the last days of the life of Christ, all of which are worth seeing.

Semana Santa is a joyous time of celebration in Costa Rica, but in this family-oriented culture, it’s also a time to head home or to the beach for a little RnR. Many Costa Ricans in larger cities go to their hometown to be with loved ones and honor their town’s patron saint, while others simply take advantage of the time off from work to get out of town. In fact, during Semana Santa, the streets of San Jose are uncharacteristically empty and quiet.

While many of the traditional masses and processions held in cities and towns throughout the week are meant to encourage deep reflection and devotion, Semana Santa is not all somber and serious. Most towns celebrate the seasons raucously with fireworks, parades, dancing and even bullfights.

Some of the hallmarks of Semana Santa – and some of the most amazing things to see – are the beautiful dramatizations of Jesus’s crucifixion. In cities and towns across the country, live actors to faithfully depict his journey to the cross, right down to Roman soldiers in full costume. Meanwhile faithful spectators line the streets to mourn and pray.

Many of Costa Rica’s faithful don’t eat meat during Semana Santa. If you love fresh seafood, however, this is a fantastic week to visit Costa Rica, as fish and shellfish are available in abundance.  It’s also important to note that there is no liquor sold in Costa Rica (legally anyway) between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, during Jesus’s mourning. In fact, all of the bars close at midnight on Ash Wednesday.

Central and South Americans take their holidays seriously – while many people take Thursday and Friday off, don’t be surprised if you find many businesses closed for the entire week.

Semana Santa is a wonderful time to visit Costa Rica, as you get to truly immerse yourself in the culture and enjoy a reverent celebration. However, if you plan to head down next Easter, be sure to plan your trip carefully and book ahead – hotels fill up very quickly.

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Costa Rica Food

Costa Rica Breakfast of Champions: Gallo Pinto

Gallo-PintoGallo Pinto is not at all what most North Americans would think of as a breakfast food. However, many Costa Ricans enjoy it for breakfast almost every day, and once you’ve tried it, you will understand why it is so popular. This tasty mixture of rice, beans, cilantro and spices is hearty, filling and addictive. It’s also sure to give you the energy you need to take on the day.

Gallo Pinto means “painted rooster” in Spanish, and refers to the colorful nature of the dish, especially when it is made with red beans.

 

 

Gallo Pinto is commonly served with scrambled eggs, but can be eaten with everything from fried cheese, to sausage, to a full breakfast of tortillas, eggs, plantains, coffee and juice.

 

How Gallo Pinto is made

Gallo Pinto has been a staple in Costa Rican homes for many years. While the method of making it is generally the same everywhere, there are as many subtle variations as there are cooks. The dish can be made with dried or fresh beans; fresh are best, but harder to come by. Dried beans need to be soaked overnight before cooking.

To make a very simple version of Gallo Pinto, you will need 2 cups of black or red beans (along with some reserved bean cooking water), 3 cups of cooked rice, a small onion, half of a small bell pepper, a clove or two of minced garlic, some fresh cilantro, some cumin, salt and pepper, and a couple of tablespoons of Lizano sauce. (If you can’t find Lizano sauce, Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce will work just fine).

Finely chop the onions, bell pepper and cilantro, and sauté them in oil until the onions are a bit translucent and the whole mixture is soft. Add in the garlic, and stir for another minute or two. Add the beans into the mixture, along with the cumin, some of the reserved liquid, and the Lizano or Worcestershire sauce. When the beans are simmering, add in the rice and stir the mixture together until everything is hot. Add in salt and pepper to taste.  If the rice seems too dry, add in more of the reserved bean liquid.

You can top your Gallo Pinto with fresh salsa, chopped cilantro, sour cream, sliced green onions, avocado, or anything else you like. Fried plantains taste especially good with this dish, as they add a touch of soft texture and sweetness. Of course, if you make Gallo Pinto at home, you can eat it for lunch, dinner, or a hearty snack –it’s a great go to staple or side dish for anytime of the day.

 

 

 

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Halloween in Costa Rica

Dia de la Mascarada: Costa Rica’s Version of Halloween

mascaradaHalloween in Costa Rica isn’t called Halloween. In the United States, October 31st is Halloween. In Costa Rica, October 31st is called “Dia de la Mascarada”, Day of the Masquerade. Costa Ricans celebrate this day in a couple of ways. Expatriates from the United States celebrate Halloween in a North American way with jack-o-lanterns, trick or treating and costume parties.

 

Ticos (native Costa Ricans) observe the expatriates Halloween traditions as foreign, and instead of the pumpkins and candy, they have used the time of year to revive the traditional Costa Rican Dia de la Mascarada.

Dia de la Mascarada originated as an adaption of Carnival. The Spaniards brought their costumed holiday, Carnival, and its masquerade dances to South and Central America. Costumes had always been part of the Pura Vida (Costa Rican) traditions, and this was a logical evolution. Costumes have been worn at all sorts of celebrations including birthdays, holidays and marriage ceremonies. Carnival became Dia de la Mascarada. In 1996, these cultural traditions had begun to fade away until a cultural committee decide to bring Pura Vida to the expats invading tradition; Halloween. It was in 1996 that the first traditional Pura Vida annual masquerade parade was held. The next year, the government established the annual parade as the Dia dal Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense. What a mouthful! In English that means, “Traditional Costa Rican Masquerade”.

The Masquerade Parade has become an opportunity for local artists to express themselves through the costumes. Each costume is known simply as a “masquerade”. Each masquerade has a head and a body. Each head is made from layers of glue and newspaper sheets that are dried in the sunshine. They are very similar to paper mache’ piñatas. These piñatas are made into humongous helmet-like heads. The heads are crafted representing a variety of characters. Skilled local artisans spend weeks preparing the masquerade costumes. The costumes represent:

  • Mythical characters
  • Social stereotypes
  • Imaginary characters
  • Saterized political figures
  • Actual political figures
  • National and internationally famous people
  • Famous journalists
  • Models
  • Soccer players
  • Actors

There are three characters that are not to be missed. They have been so popular that they have become part of the culture:

  • “La giganta” (The Giant Woman)
  • “La calavera” (The Skull)
  • “El diablillo” (The Little Devil)

The masquerade heads can take days to dry in the sun so that they are dry enough to be painted. When the painted heads are completed and further dried, a wire skeleton “body” is created to hold up the head. The masqueraders commonly walk the parade on stilts adding to the magnificent spectacle each character presents.

When the parade is over, spectators, comparasas and masqueraders alike mingle on the streets, browsing the street vendor’s food offerings and enjoying foods like:

  • Salvadorian pupusas (flatbreads stuffed with cheese and meat)
  • Jamaican jerk chicken on a stick
  • Argentinean empanadas (corn fritters stuffed with meat)
  • $.20 pipas (Pipas are fresh young coconuts that are taken straight from an ice bath. The street vendor then chops off the top of the coconut with a machete, pierces the flesh with a straw and you enjoy a delicious refreshing coconut drink!)
  • If dessert is what you are looking for, find the street vendors offering granizados and copos. These are a combination of condensed or powdered milk, flavored syrup and a mountain of shaved ice. Such a delicious treat on a hot Costa Rican day!

As an expat myself, I have enjoyed these colorful festivities every year that I have lived here. The parades are full of many people wearing their masquerades and dancing. The music is provided by groups of musicians walking with them, playing cymbals, trumpets and drums. These “comparsas” (groups of musicians) provide the excitement for the whole crowd. Imagine the rousing marching band songs with a Pura Vida flair playing one after the other.

Dia de la Masquerade is just as exciting as an American Halloween.

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Traditional Costa Rican Food

Costa Rica Has Many Wonderful Traditional Foods and Eateries

Guest post by Jordan C.

galloEggsI have a passion for food. My passions have taken me far and wide and I love to write about my travels and the delicious discoveries I find while visiting reams near and far-flung. Recently, my explorations into the foods of South America took me to Costa Rica.

The traditional food theme here in Costa Rica is savory dishes, sweet desserts, and fresh fruits. These foods are served by street vendors or small, family run eateries called “sodas”. There are also many international restaurants offering cuisines from around the globe.

I visited San Jose and the nearby Central Valley to get a taste of the Costa Rican flair in these global cuisines. These internationally themed dining establishments are housed in refurbished colonial homes and tucked into little alleyways. Most of them are not expensive. You can buy three courses with wine and only pay around $40. I found many delicious options here in the gastronomic center of Costa Rica. The Spanish tapas made my mouth water. The Japanese sushi was always arranged so creatively on the plate and the handmade Italian pastas could have been made in Italy. They really were that good. My favorite dish from that region, though, was the Peruvian cerviches. I will absolutely do my best to make that dish at home. I purchased all of the local ingredients that I could to make it taste as authentic at home as it did in Costa Rica.

Spices play a big part in Costa Rican cuisine. When I thought of Costa Rica before visiting, I imagined spicy chili peppers to be a main ingredient. But traditional Costa Rican food isn’t spicy. The chefs there prefer mild blends of herbs, garlic, sweet pepper, onion and cilantro to season their national dishes. Below I will highlight two of my favorites:

  • Gallo Pinto – The base of this simple yet flavorful dish is just a mix of rice and beans. When you add cilantro, onion, sweet pepper and Lizano sauce you have a delicious addition to a flour tortilla stuffed with eggs. Lizano sauce is a thin, light brown, smooth condiment developed in Costa Rica. It can be used in cooking or poured over a dish at the table. It’s slightly sweet taste is balanced by black pepper and cumin. The sweetness in the sauce comes from sugar and sautéed vegetables like carrots, onions and cucumbers that have been cooked down and strained. The last condiment to be added to this traditional Costa Rican breakfast is a locally made sour cream called natilla. So, to summarize, I had a warm flour tortilla wrapped around freshly scrambled eggs and gallo pinto. I opened the wrap, dalloped on the natilla and liberally sprinkled the Lizano sauce, rewrapped it all (like a professional I might add) and chowed down.
  • Rondon-Coconut Stew – My favorite dinner dish accompanied by plantain chips is this wonderful fresh stew. Rondon is arguably the most common fish in the Carribean Sea and is the main component of this stew. The stew I had was made with the catch of the day. Freshly caught fish, locally grown yellow yam, yucca, onion and carrots cooked in a broth of coconut milk were the base of the stew. The spices and flavors added were the traditional garlic and onion, with minced ginger and a small hot pepper chopped into it. The hot pepper was so wonderfully balanced by the sweet creamy broth of the coconut milk that I would never called it a “spicy” stew.

Every time I visit a new region, I say it’s my favorite. Costa Rica is no exception. I can’t help it! The foods I experience are just too delicious not to say it.