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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.