Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places to visit—known for its incredible biodiversity and geography that includes rainforests, volcanoes, and beaches, it’s one of the top tourist destinations around. While soaking in the beautiful surroundings is definitely the main reason to visit Costa Rica, its cuisine is a large part of its culture and should not be missed. Though full of traditional Latin American favorites, these dishes also have their own unique twist that will add flavor to any Costa Rican experience.
This is a good place to start your culinary adventure as it’s one of the most traditional dishes in Costa Rican cuisine and can be found just about anywhere. A single dish made up of various elements, a Casado is a true marriage of delicious flavors (which is fitting as ‘Casado translates to ‘married’). Casado is served with your choice of meat, rice (Arroz), beans, and an additional two or three sides that vary by location but usually include a salad, tortillas, or fried plantains.
Usually served with breakfast, this tasty dish is a combo of rice, beans, onions, garlic, red bell peppers, cilantro, and a signature sauce known as Salsa Lizano that is one of Costa Rica’s most popular condiments (and is usually found in every home and restaurant). Primarily a breakfast dish, gallo pinto is usually served with eggs, cheese, and of course, plantains.
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Bar food, Costa Rican style! Chifrijo is a light meal or snack that consists of rice and beans usually topped with chicharrones (or fried pork rinds, which are also great for snacking on their own!) Add some avocado, fresh pico de gallo, lime, and a side of chips and you have a layered, complex dish that pairs with any ice-cold beverage.
As you may have noticed, plantains are a staple of many Costa Rican dishes—and patacones are no exception. Made from green plantains that are cut, boiled, flattened, then fried until golden brown, these deep-fried beauties make an amazing snack or appetizer. Patacones are usually topped with fresh lime and salt, offering a nice contrast to the crispy outer coating.
Olla De Carne
What sets Costa Rican cuisine apart from other Latin American basics is its reliance on fresh ingredients. Olla de Carne is a great showcase for Costa Rican staples like cassava, corn, plantains, taro root, chayote, and yams; add in tender, bone-in beef that’s slow-cooked to perfection, and you have yourself a flavor-packed stew that is both hearty and comforting.
Black beans are the base for this thick, delicious soup that also includes garlic and onions. A traditional dish, some describe it as Costa Rica’s answer to chicken noodle soup as it is warm, comforting, and often served as a balm to people who are feeling under the weather. Usually served with a side of rice and tortillas and topped with boiled eggs, this dish is also a tasty option for vegetarians.
This soup is a wonderful example of how Costa Rican cuisine varies from place to place. Best ordered in towns adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, it is a seafood-filled, tomato-based savory dish. If you’re a fan of seafood, then be sure to try this dish that contains a variety of fresh items including shrimp, clams, mussels, and whitefish. Some versions also contain vegetables to add a bit of extra heartiness.
You may be familiar with Mexican tamales—delicious pockets of flavor wrapped in corn husks and filled with a variety of ingredients that often include seasoned meat and vegetables. Costa Rican tamales, however, are generally not as spicy as their Mexican counterpart and tend to rely more on garlic for flavor. Another big difference is the wrapping—Costa Rican tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, which is fitting as Costa Rica is one of the world’s largest exporter of bananas. Often served with beans, tamales can be enjoyed during any meal, and are also known as a traditional Christmas staple.
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Arroz Con Leche
Costa Ricans like dessert too, so have no fear if you have a sweet tooth as there are plenty of delicious signature desserts to try. While flan and tres leches are very popular, arroz con leche is probably the most singularly Costa Rican dish. Translating to ‘rice pudding,’ this dessert has been a part of Costa Rican cuisine for generations. A simple recipe of rice, sugar, cinnamon, and both condensed and evaporated milk comes together to create a dish that is the perfect finish to any meal. As with any dish found here, there are also variations that give this dessert a signature flair, including the addition of raisins, nuts, and spices like nutmeg and ginger.
Now that you’ve had a crash course in Costa Rican cuisine, you’ll be ready to explore all that this country has to offer. Like Costa Rica, these dishes are unique and are products of a country whose cuisine is as diverse as its geography.
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