I’ve had a lot of friends and family ask me what Costa Rican food is like since it’s not very well known. A lot of people unconsciously group Costa Rican food in with Mexican food but it’s actually pretty different!
Unsurprisingly, Costa Rican food is quite delicious and it reflects their culture much so. As a country so close to the equator, their fruits and vegetables are resh and delicious, especially their fruits. When it comes to flavors, much of their food is quite simple using few spices and ingredients.
Read on to see more food delicious pictures and dishes of Costa Rica! Now you can finally find out exactly what Costa Rican food is.
What You Will Most Likely Eat in Costa Rica – Traditional Costa Rican food
Gallo Pinto is number one
The most Costa Rican food you can find anywhere in the country is gallo pinto. It means “spotted rooster” because the coloration supposedly makes it look like one. Basically, it is rice and beans (black or red) with some onion, chile dulce and cilantro.
In Costa Rica, they eat this dish hot for breakfast because back in the day, everyone used to work on the farms so they needed a lot of carbs and energy. They sometimes eat it for dinner and add extra ingredients like meat and vegetables to make it more filling for dinner. Yeison can eat this for every meal!
It may seem plain at first, being just rice and beans but it is actually full of flavor. The secret ingredient is the sauce, Salsa Lizano. This little gem is the hallmark ingredient of all Costa Rican cuisine, they put this in everything! Alone, the sauce is a strong but not overbearing, a little sour and sweet.
A desayuno tipico (typical breakfast) looks something like this: gallo pinto, toast, scrambled eggs, and platanos (fried plantains) partnered with coffee, natural juice and fruit. After this breakfast you’ll have plenty of energy!
Casado – the number two
The second most Costa Rican dish is the casado which means “married.” The story behind this dish is actually quite sweet.
Back in the day when the men would go to the fields to work, the wives would wrap rice, beans, meat, and plantains with a banana leaf to send with their husbands. The men set open their lunch out in the strong sun so by the time lunchtime rolled around, their meal was nice and hot with extra flavor from the banana leaf.
You can find all different kinds of casado: fish, pork, chicken or beef and each place has their own variation. Some may use platanos, some may use a cabbage salad, and so on but it is typically rice, beans, plantains, vegetables/salad and a meat.
Costa Rica has a huge fishing industry therefore fish is a big part of their diet as well. Another typical dish of Central and South America is ceviche, and each country has their own version.
Ceviche is raw fish mixed with lime, cilantro, tomatoes and onions and if raw fish doesn’t sound appealing to you, don’t worry! The fish cooks in the lime and lemon juice. It bursts full of flavor due to the proportion of salt, lime and tangy vegetables and goes well with crackers as an appetizer. They commonly use parrotfish or snapper.
If you want to eat it the super Tico way, add ketchup and mayonnaise. They like a little bit of extra flavor with theirs!
Another dish I love is their tacos. It’s not the typical taco you get in Mexican restaurants. It’s more like a huge taquito and they add shredded cabbage with lots of ketchup and mayonnaise on top of it. I got addicted when I tried one at a little soda near the La Paz waterfall, and trust me, it tastes better with all the repollo (cabbage) on it.
Great snack for when you want to have a craving for something not-so-healthy!
Arroz Con Pollo/Marisco/Camarones
It’s incredibly common to see “arroz con” (rice with) something on the menu. Usually the most common is arroz con pollo – rice with chicken but you’ll most likely also see arroz con mariscos/camarones (seafood/shrimp).
This normally comes with fries and salad.
Soup is also another common item to see at sodas.
You will usually see sopa de pollo (chicken soup), soda azteca (tomato and chicken), sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) or sopa negra (black bean soup). Olla de carne is another soup with a beef base.
Costa Ricans have also incorporated many other types of food into their diet. They love fried chicken, burgers, fries and hot dogs which you’ll find at all bar restaurants.
Unfortunately their Asian food is really lacking and there are very very few restaurants that make authentic Asian food. I have found when it comes to diverse cuisine, Costa Rica is behind in this aspect. Don’t have high expectations for pizza unless you go to a place run by an Italian!
And of course, what goes better with burgers than beer? I personally don’t drink but Yeison definitely does. Ticos do love their cerveza! The main local beers are called Imperial and Pilsen.
He loves Imperial because it has a lighter taste than Pilsen and if your mouth is thirsting for a different flavor other than beer, you have to order a natural juice. My favorite is pineapple or strawberry and they use 100% real fruit.
Now onto desserts (my favorite!) A popular dessert is tres leches, a three milk cake that they add fruit or coconut on top. But my top favorite dessert in Costa Rica is the chocolate cake made by a company called Spoon.
And last but not least, helado…(Ice cream). Pops has the creamiest ice cream I have eaten and their galletas (cookies) flavor is my favorite.
And of course, you can’t forget the coffee. World famous for their coffee, it has been their number one export for many many years. Their climate is perfect for growing many different types, near volcanoes, lakes and rivers which all give a unique flavor.
After trying Costa Rican coffee, I’m now officially a coffee addict. I honestly never used to like it much before but now, I have to drink a cup everyday at least!
If you weren’t convinced before that Costa Rica food is good, I bet you are now! There are many more traditional dishes but these are just a few of my favorites. I’ve eaten lots of different kinds of food and weird food (being Asian and all) but my taste buds were definitely exposed to something new when I tried Costa Rican cuisine.
Ticos do love to eat and they love trying different food so if you’re in Costa Rica, I highly suggest looking for a soda as they usually sell the most local type of food. Or, use Yeison’s philosophy: ask the cab drivers where the most delicious food is. Trust me, Costa Rican food is certainly worth trying and I guarantee that you will fall in love with it.
If you want to try something besides the typical pinto and casados, there are plenty more Costa Rican dishes you can try out.
Want to cook like a Costa Rican? Check our Recipe section!
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