Some people eat to live, some live to eat. For me, I live for food and coffee, my vices of choice. I personally find that there is nothing better than sharing a satisfying meal with company I enjoy and then chatting over cups of brown juice. For now, let’s focus on eating out and deal with dinner parties at a later date.
Good, while Costa Rica has been adding many familiar chain establishments from North America and has a large variety of fast-food places to eat. Are you visiting or living in Costa Rica to eat American fast food or middle of the road fare? Eating at touristy restaurants may fill your stomach with tastes that have a Costa Rican twist or are fairly familiar to you, but, for a real Costa Rican treat, you must try the places and things that Ticos eat almost every day.
One thing I must mention is if you came to Costa Rica expecting Mexican or Tex-Mex food…whoops, you got off on the wrong stop and are in the wrong place. My first trip to Costa Rica started this way. I grew up in Los Angeles so I am well versed in Mexican food. While you will see dishes listed on the menu with familiar names, they will not be anything like you expect. Spicy and heavily seasoned dishes are not the norm here. Fresh, simply but well-seasoned comfort food is what Costa Rica is all about. Their motto isn’t Pura Vida for nothing. Do you remember what real food tastes like? I thought I did, Costa Rica reintroduced me to nature’s gifts. The food that is grown and raised here is essential for a real Tico experience.
What does my ideal day of eating out look like? While there are many types of restaurants with real Costa Rican flare. From the mom-and-pop “sodas” and “typico” restaurants to fine dining establishments all with their own specialties. For me? I like a good soda or café for breakfast and lunch, followed by a typico restaurant for dinner. One of the first things you may notice is that many restaurants in Costa Rica are open air and can offer fantastic views while you eat. Back to basics, back to eating like a Tico.
The most Tico of all dishes is the “Gallo Pinto” breakfast, (you can actually order it at McDonald’s for goodness sake, but please don’t) it is an absolute must for the first-time visitor and I am willing to bet money a regular menu choice for those living in or frequently visiting CR. Traditionally, in the home, started with leftover beans and rice from last night’s dinner, recooking those with additional spice and adding one or two fried eggs on top, melted Tico cheese and often slices of tomato on the side. I personally ask for toast to eat with it as well. If you are a hot sauce person like me, a few dashes of your favorite spicy red stuff bring this breakfast to its glorious pinnacle. For the more acclimated visitor, a dash of Salsa Lizano is a nice touch as well. Lizano is the “official” sauce of Costa Rica and is a vegetable sauce made from onions, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and spices, what could be more Costa Rican than that? A cup or three of coffee and if you’re one of those nutty “healthy” people maybe a glass of juice.
For lunch, the most popular type of places to eat are sodas, these are usually inexpensive and serve fresh, healthy food with your choice of chicken, beef or fish, rice and black beans. This plate usually includes sweet plantains sautéed in butter and brown sugar for dessert and a “fresco” to drink. These drinks will be the local, in season fresh fruit blended with ice and a bit of sugar to bring out the sweetness. I always sneak in another cup of my favorite joe.
For dinner my favorite is another staple of Costa Rican cuisine, Arroz con Pollo, this rice dish filled with chicken, peas, onion, bell peppers, and all the freshness and seasonings you would expect in a home cooked meal. Quality of these dishes will vary from place to place but you will find that these simple meals to be what comfort food made from scratch is all about. I usually start this meal with double fried plantains, called tostones, served with a black bean and garlic dip. Once again, for me, a dash of my favorite spicy red stuff or Lizano adds another layer to either of these dishes. A heart of palm salad or ceviche are nice starters as well.
Now, if you recall, I mentioned coffee along with food as my vices in life. If you learn anything about Costa Rica, learn this, Costa Rica produces just as many different coffees as it has micro-climates. Once again, if you came expecting to find Juan Valdes brewing up some Columbian coffee for you…..(the silence your hearing is me bowing my head and shaking it slowly from side to side.) The volcanic rich soil of Costa Rica brings its’ coffee unique and wonderful blends. My favorite is the beans grown on the side of Mount Poas, one of Costa Rica’s volcanos. Yes, you can find specific beans from specific volcanoes for brewing at home!
The end of my perfect meal plan? Café con Leche (a latte to you gringos) which has become an art form in many small restaurants, a conversation with warm friendly people and a view of what is in my opinion one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
P.S. Did I mention to not forget the coffee?
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