Experiencing any culture like a local is one of the best ways to capture a true sense of it, especially regarding costa rica food. Costa Rica is where delectable cuisine is a must-have for any vacation, whether you are visiting with family, friends, or your corporate friends. Costa Rica is not only known for its beaches, waterfalls, and volcanoes. But the warm and hospitable nature of Ticos (locals of Costa Rica) and the country’s bustling culture are also why this country holds a top position in the list of the best tourist spots worldwide.
Talking about Costa Rican culture, there is no way we miss mentioning the most delicious, varied, and nutritious cuisine. Because this Central American country is a part of the Pacific Ring Fire, it is easy to find tropical fruits and vegetables here, which are the staples of every traditional Costa Rican dish.
While enjoying a family vacation in Costa Rica, you can explore and taste a variety of cuisines, and their incredible flavors will surely leave a long-lasting impression on you. In addition to the traditional cuisine of Costa Rica, you will also get an opportunity to taste a wide variety of dishes from Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Peruvian, and Spanish cuisine.
If you also want to eat and enjoy like locals in Costa Rica, here is our guide to help you get started.
The Basic Elements of Costa Rican Cuisine
Fresh and organically grown fruits and vegetables hold a significant part in the Costa Rican diet. Like every other human being on the planet, locals here in Costa Rica consume three meals a day. Every meal is prepared from scratch, using fresh and organic ingredients. But the main elements of every dish served here are rice and beans. Besides them, Ticos also include potatoes in their meals for their starch-rich diet. As far as the type of meat eaten throughout the country is concerned, it varies according to the coast you are staying on. For example, you will get pork and beef with dishes made up of rice and beans on the Pacific coast. And, if you are on the Caribbean side, chicken and fish-based dishes are mostly served.
Plantain is one of the most-served fruits in Costa Rica. The plantain belongs to the banana family, and Ticos consume them in many different ways. The ripe plantains are sweet-flavored and can be enjoyed in soups, baked in honey, and deep-fried in oil. However, green plantains are also used in soups and in making patacones. You might also find the sliced, smashed, boiled, or fired green plantains served with guacamole or a bean dip in many restaurants or sodas in Costa Rica.
During your family vacation in Costa Rica, you will come across Salsa Lizano several times, as this is one of the country’s most commonly served traditional sauces. Salsa Lizano is a tangy-flavored sauce prepared using commonly available ingredients, like fresh and organic tropical vegetables and fruits like carrots, cauliflower, pepper, and cucumber. The unique flavors of Salsa Lizano make it one of the common and must-include elements of almost every dish served in Costa Rica.
Traditional Dishes of Costa Rica
There is not one traditional dish in Costa Rica; you will get a new one to enjoy during every meal. There are different traditional dishes for breakfast, lunch, and even dinner. Let us see what Ticos have to offer in terms of its delicious delicacies –
- Gallo Pinto: Talking about the traditional dishes of Costa Rica, how can we miss the staples, i.e., rice and beans? Gallo Pinto is made of stir-fried rice and beans and served for breakfast with eggs, scrambled or fried, and cheese or sour cream.
- Chorreadas: They are Costa Rican-styled tortillas served for breakfast in the country. You can enjoy them with sour cream, as freshly prepared sour cream will elevate its taste and flavor.
- Casado: Casado is the traditional dish served for lunch in Costa Rica. In literal terms, Casado means “married man” in Spanish. This dish got its name from the belief that wives pack lunch for their husbands, with dishes mainly having rice and beans in a banana leaf. Similarly, Casado is prepared using rice and beans and served side by side with fish, chicken, pork, beef, or chop.
- Bocan or Boquitas: Served as an appetizer here, Bocas is readily available around the country, in bars, restaurants, and even sodas, i.e., small eateries in Costa Rica. But the catch is this appetizer comes with a main dish, like patacones with gallos or Costa Rican tacos filled with beef, chicken, or vegetables.
- Ceviche: It is also one of the most served and traditional dishes of Costa Rica, mainly made up of seafood like octopus, shrimp, and shellfish, along with raw fish. The unique and flavorful taste of the dish comes from the method used to prepare the seafood used in the recipe. Every seafood included in Ceviche is first soaked in lemon juice and then seasoned with onion, garlic, chillis, coriander, and cilantro for that distinct flavor.
Beverages Served in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the largest exporters of coffee, but there are many more beverages that you can enjoy during your vacation in Costa Rica.
- Agua Dulce: One of the most common local drinks served countrywide, especially in the chilled areas and highlands. Raw cane sugar is typically dissolved in hot water and used in its preparation.
- Frescos: If you are craving something fresh, nutritious, and yet delicious, Frescos is what you should try. It is a fruity drink of fresh fruits, milk, or water. The main fruits used in the preparation are papaya, watermelon, mango, banana, blackberry, tamarind, strawberry, and guanabana.
- Beer: As far as the most-served alcoholic drinks in Costa Rica are concerned, beers are the ones you will find across the country. Imperial and Pilsen are the popular beers you can enjoy here. Imperial has slightly lower alcohol content than Pilsen, so choose accordingly and enjoy it with your friends and family at any bar or restaurant. Apart from these common ones, you can also try Bavaria and Microbrew, slightly more expensive local beers, if you wish to try something different and unique.
Sweets and Desserts
Most Costa Rican sweets use milk, corn, sugarcane, eggs, and/or fruit in the preparation. Most desserts in the province of Limón use fried plantains and coconut as a base. Corn is typically the main component of desserts in the Guanacaste; however, milk, coconut, and fruit are the essential ingredients of the desserts served in the Puntarenas.
- Tres leches: Tres leches are one of the most popular desserts in Costa Rica. It is a moist cake made primarily of milk and sugar. You can enjoy this delicious cake from any local restaurant or eatery during your vacation. The best time to enjoy this delicacy is either lunch or dinner.
- Fruit Salad: Another popular dessert in Costa Rica, loved by locals and visitors both, is fruit salad. This dish often includes fresh watermelon, mango, papaya, pineapple, and banana, among other tropical Costa Rican fruits.
- Queque Navideño: Also known as Christmas cake, Queque Navideño is a typical dessert served during the holiday season. With dried fruit as its main ingredient, this popular dessert resembles fruitcake in terms of look and taste. It is a sweet, heavy dessert typically baked after soaking in rum for a few days. Costa Ricans share this holiday cake with their friends and family as a token of their love and respect.
- Arroz con Leche: Arroz con Leche is a beloved dish throughout Latin America and is often introduced to young children through the famous Spanish folk song “Arroz con Leche, me Quiero Casar.” This gluten-free culinary creation has become a cultural icon in Latin America. In Costa Rica, Arroz con Leche combines white rice, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla to create a delicious dessert that can be served and enjoyed warm or cold.
- Cajeta: Cajeta de coco is a classic dessert made with condensed milk, grated coconut, butter, sugar, and wafer crumbs. After cooking all the ingredients, they are formed into small balls and coated in either coconut or crumbs. These balls are typically placed in special paper cups and chilled before serving. Cajeta de coco can be enjoyed for breakfast or as a daytime snack, and pairing them with a hot cup of tea or coffee is recommended.
Why Are Costa Ricans So Healthy?
Costa Rica, located between Panama and Nicaragua in Central America, is proud of its culinary heritage. Contrary to popular belief, Ticos are much more active than people from other cultures, despite the country’s high consumption of saturated fats in its cuisine.
Knowing about the traditional, authentic cuisine is one of the essential things to know before moving to Costa Rica. Ticos never overindulge in food. One way they maintain such good health is by limiting their portions. And lunch is the most important meal of the day for them. In fact, like many Latin American countries, businesses and schools close for an hour during lunch to allow staff and students to return home and enjoy a leisurely meal with their families. The lifestyle that Ticos follows is entirely different from other cultures.
Rice and beans are common ingredients in Costa Rican cuisine. Salt, onions, and garlic are other common ingredients Ticos use in their daily meals. Meats are consumed in moderation, whereas beans have high nutrient content. You will rarely find dairy and cheese in traditional cuisine.
Fresh seafood is always available here because it borders water on both sides, with the Pacific to the west and the Caribbean to the east. The most popular meats are beef, pork, and chicken. In Costa Rica, you can expect dishes that include the stomach, brains, and other organs. Fresh vegetables, like tomatoes and beans, and fruits, like plantains, are other staples.
The Ticos can maintain their physical fitness because the salad portions are typically more prominent than the portions of beans and rice in their meals. During your vacation in Costa Rica, finding healthy costa rican food options from the cuisine is easy. You can enjoy the delicious fusion of culinary flavors by sticking to a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you are still debating why Ticos are so healthy and active, you should check out Nicoya Peninsula – a Blue Zone in Costa Rica, and all your doubts will be clear.
How to Eat Like a Local in Costa Rica
Food is an integral part of the history of Costa Rica. Every family gathering, celebration, or event is often centered around having meals together, as people here prioritize having at least one meal of the day together. Eating together with no gadgets is one of the cultural traits of Costa Ricans passed from generation to generation, and everyone in every family values it.
Traditional cuisine from Costa Rica combines comfort food, grandma’s cooking, and an exquisite Latin flair. You don’t need to step out to enjoy this authenticity when staying at Villa Firenze, a prominent Costa Rica villa. The villa boasts a private chef who is an expert in Costa Rican and international cuisines. However, if you choose to explore outside, small, family-run restaurants, known as sodas, are the best places to relish staple dishes of this country on a budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What are the basic elements of the Costa Rican diet?
The Costa Rican diet primarily consists of rice and beans, typically included in almost every meal, including breakfast. Potatoes are another costa rican food, providing a starch-rich addition to the diet.
Q. Is Costa Rican food healthy?
Costa Rican food is generally healthy, containing fresh vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy carbohydrates. The traditional diet is varied and includes a range of nutritious, fresh, and locally sourced ingredients commonly picked straight from trees during farm visits. The Costa Rican diet can be a good option for those seeking a balanced and nutritious way of eating.
Q. What do Costa Ricans eat for breakfast?
A typical breakfast in Costa Rica is Gallo Pinto, a dish with leftover rice and beans mixed and served with various toppings. Gallo Pinto is sometimes paired with sausages or plantains as well for added flavors.
Q. What do Costa Ricans drink?
The national drinks of Costa Rica are coffee and Guaro, an alcoholic beverage.
Q. What fruits do Costa Ricans eat?
The abundance of fresh and flavorful fruits is a crucial feature of the Costa Rican diet. Costa Ricans eat various fruits, including tropical fruits like mangoes, pineapples, papayas, and bananas. They also enjoy watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, and popular fruits like guava and passionfruit.