Costa Rican food is definitely not the most exciting cuisine on the planet. In fact, many people may even go as far as calling it unmemorable, boring, and bland. This is not surprising as the traditional Costa Rican diet consists primarily of two staples: rice and beans.
“How can they eat rice and beans every day three times a day?” – I asked before my trip to Costa Rica.
“Just wait till you try them, then you’ll understand” – I was told.
One day into my Costa Rican trip and three rice and beans meals later, it all made sense! I was hooked. Over the next two weeks I had to force myself to branch away from rice and beans to try some of the other Costa Rican specialties. So here are the seven that made my list of Must Try Costa Rican Foods.
They say “There is nothing more Tico (term for local Costa Rican) then Gallo Pinto“, and its true. Most days in Costa Rica begin with a plate of Gallo Pinto, a dish that consists of rice and beans sautéed with garlic, onions and cilantro, often served with 1-2 fried or scrambled eggs and a sausage on the side. If you want to eat Gallo Pinto like a true local, you have to pour some Lizano salsa over your rice and beans and enjoy the meal with a cup of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee. (Unfortunately, drinking tea is not a part of the Costa Rican culture)
At dinner time, Costa Ricans savour another traditional dish called Casado. Casado is a perfect combination of rice, beans, fried plantains (type of not sweet banana), cabbage and tomato salad, and a piece of fish/meat. You’ll find a simple version of Casado in every local restaurant (known as a “Soda”) and maybe a slightly different interpretation at the restaurants catering to tourists.
When preparing Casado, locals always cook more rice and beans than they need for the meal and use leftovers to whip up a perfect Gallo Pinto the next morning. Yes to delicious leftovers!
Not just a Costa Rican specialty, but a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of both Central and South America. Ceviche is made from raw fish cooked in lime/lemon juice with onion, cilantro, salt, pepper and other optional ingredients like bell peppers, celery, and tomatoes. It is served as an appetiser and eaten with salt crackers or plantain chips. The beauty about ceviche is that it has so many variations in Costa Rica and each one tastes slightly different than the other. There is red snapper ceviche, tuna ceviche, mahi mahi ceviche, marlin ceviche, a mix of shrimp, octopus, clams ceviche and many more!
If you like seafood I guarantee you won’t get tired of having ceviche with every meal!
When it comes to Costa Rican snacks, Tamales are probably the most traditional and delicious. Tamale is a dish made of masa (a starchy corn-based dough) mixed with vegetables, meats and/or cheese, which is steamed or boiled in a banana leaf. When ready to be consumed, tamales are opened, seasoned with Lizano salsa and eaten with a fork or by hand. Tamales are particularly popular over the festive season, so look out for it when traveling to Costa Rica around Christmas time.
Chicharrónes are a popular snack not just in Costa Rica but across Latin America. Chicharrónes are essentially deep fried pork rinds, the skin part of the pork, served with lime juice, fried yucca, and/or cabbage salad. There is absolutely nothing healthy about them and they probably carry very little nutritional value, but these crispy, crackly, juicy pork bits are a wicked treat that’s impossible to resist. You can never have just one…
Chicharrónes are typically sold at local fiestas, or outside of local Sodas. You’ll sometimes find this item on a menu at western restaurants, but they are never as good there, so keep your eyes peeled for them on the streets of Costa Rica.
Carne Asada is Spanish for meat (specifically beef) on a stick. Typically consumed as a late night snack, but also served as a dinner main, Carne Asada is another Costa Rican favourite. It is often eaten with tortillas along with other local favourites like black beans, onions, guacamole, etc.
Tres Leches Cake
Tres Leches cake literally translates into “Three Milks”, and is a popular traditional Costa Rican dessert. Tres Leches is a sponge cake/butter cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream for over three hours. The cake is then stored in the fridge until it is ready to be consumed. Depending on the recipe Tres Leches cake might also come with an additional layer of whipped cream and a garnish on top. It’s spongy, it’s sweet, and it’s delicious!