Costa Rica boasts one of the most colorful, vibrant food scenes on earth. Fresh vegetables, gorgeous fruits, spicy meat dishes, and good, solid rice and beans. Costa Rican cuisine takes common Latin dishes and adds a little local flair.
Whether you’re daydreaming about the tropics or planning for your upcoming trip, diving into Costa Rican cuisine is a great way to learn more about their culture. Read on to discover 10 foods in Costa Rica that you absolutely can’t miss.
At its core, rondon is a soup. But the variety of recipes for this meal will surprise you. The name comes from the fact that this soup can contain whatever the cook can “run down,” so in all likelihood, you’ll never eat the same rondon twice.
There are a few basic staples to rondon. Generally, you’ll start with a fish head and whatever other sea creatures you may have caught that day, add some yams or other tubers, simmer all that in coconut milk for a few hours, and then add in some chilies for that perfect spice. The result is a creamy, spicy soup that will have you trying to run down some ingredients of your own.
2. Cacao Fresco
While we all love a smooth, sweet bar of chocolate, the origins of this sweet may come as a surprise. The cocoa bean is actually roasted twice and ground before being mixed with varying amounts of milk and sugar to form everyone’s favorite indulgence. But when they’re straight off the tree, cacao fruits look more like mangos than like Hershey’s kisses.
Cacao fresco is one of the more delightful treats Costa Rica has to offer. You can crack open the yellow, football-shaped fruits to eat the sweet, tangy flesh inside. You can also visit some cacao farms around Costa Rica to learn about the process by which chocolate is made.
3. Gallo Pinto
In Costa Rica, as in many other cultures, rice and beans are a staple. Together, the two form a complete protein, so when meat is scarce, rice and beans make for a cheap, nutritious alternative. Gallo pinto is one of the most popular iterations of this core food group.
Gallo pinto includes a mix of white rice and black beans, making for a “spotted hen” look (the origin of the name). It is usually eaten with breakfast alongside eggs. But don’t forget the Costa Rican national sauce, salsa Lizano, to add that perfect smoky cumin flavor!
If chips and dip is your thing, you’re going to love chifrijo. A dish that is basically salsa made a thousand times better, chifrijo is a mixture of various diced vegetables, pork, and deliciousness. It’s a fixture in the Costa Rican bar scene, as it’s the perfect accompaniment to either a night out on the town or a recovery the next morning.
To make chifrijo, you start with a layer of rice topped with black beans. You put twice-fried pork bits over the top of that. Then top off the whole dish with pico de gallo, a mix of tomato salsa, onion, cilantro, and lemon. Serve it up with some fresh tortilla chips and you have got yourself a great dish and a good time.
If you’re looking for a great way to cool off on a hot day, granizados are the perfect icy treat. These are often sold by vendors with wooden carts who work the beach scene. Granizados are similar in structure to a snow-cone, but with a Costa Rican touch of deliciousness.
The vendor will start by shaving a solid block of ice and mixing the product with powdered milk and condensed milk. You can add any flavor syrup you like to that, so don’t be afraid to be adventurous. Some popular flavors include cherry, blue raspberry, grape, and mango.
6. Ceviche Tico
Ceviche is a popular dish in many areas of Central and South America. Fish, usually sea bass, is cut into small chunks and mixed with citrus juices. The acid in the juice “cooks” the fish, making for a delicate, fresh experience.
Ceviche tico starts with a ceviche base that is mixed with red onion, cilantro, and red peppers. It is sometimes served off roadside carts along the Costa Rican beaches. You may often see it accompanied by plantains or soda crackers.
Casado is really more of a meal than a dish, but it is such a Costa Rican classic that it belongs on this list. It is found in almost every small restaurant, or soda, across the country, and any stay in Costa Rica would not be complete without eating at least one casado.
This meal usually includes white rice and black beans as the core element. These are accompanied by a meat (usually fish, chicken, or beef) and a side of some sort. These sides can include a cabbage slaw, plantains, picadillo, or a pasta salad.
8. Olla de Carne
Olla de carne, as you might guess by the name, is a rich beef stew. Perfect for cold nights or evenings after long, baking days in the summer sun, this hearty dish is a staple in Costa Rican cuisine.
Olla de carne incorporates a number of Costa Rican vegetables, including cassava, carrots, corn, plantains, and taro root. It frequently comes with a side of rice and beans, though it is plenty filling on its own.
9. Sopa Negra
Sopa negra, a black bean soup, is lighter than the beefy olla de carne. It is enjoyed in the cooler climates in Costa Rica and is often served to people who are ill.
This warming soup includes onions, peppers, and cilantro for added freshness. You’ll often see it accompanied by hard boiled eggs, a cup of rice, and tortillas.
10. Tres Leches Cake
This indulgent cake is the perfect cap to your Costa Rican meal. Tres leches cake is made with three kinds of milk – evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream. The icing is a vanilla whipped cream and often includes fruit toppings.
Try the Foods in Costa Rica
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