Popular Foods in Costa Rica

Popular Fruits

Guava (guayaba) fruits are popular.  They are more acidic than an apple and when mature, are used to make jellies.  They are eaten fresh when green.
Guava (guayaba) fruits are popular. They are more acidic than an apple and when mature, are used to make jellies. They are eaten fresh when green. | Source
The yuplon is an acidic fruit that is seasonal in availability.  It is not pretty on the outside, however.
The yuplon is an acidic fruit that is seasonal in availability. It is not pretty on the outside, however. | Source
Starfruit mature around March to April, but there are different zones where you will find it available many times of the year.  It makes a refreshing drink.
Starfruit mature around March to April, but there are different zones where you will find it available many times of the year. It makes a refreshing drink. | Source
The Mandarin lime is a central ingredient in many dishes.  There are also green limes in the country.  There aren't any lemons in the country.
The Mandarin lime is a central ingredient in many dishes. There are also green limes in the country. There aren't any lemons in the country. | Source

There are many popular foods in Costa Rica that are found in homes, restaurants and at celebrations like holidays and fiestas. I have arranged these foods into different categories below to help you find different types that you may be interested in reading about or trying. Some of the foods, if you live in a temperate climate, won't be available to you, but if you plan a visit to the tropical climates of Central America, you can certainly try them out during your vacation. If that isn't a possibility, you can try out many of the recipes that have links below to make your own Costa Rica-style dish at home.

Popular Fruits

To the right, I show different fruits that I have picked up in the Farmer's Market that I go to every week. I am always interested in the seasonal availability of certain of these fruits, like the yuplon shown in the first picture. It is about an inch long and half an inch wide and never really has a beautiful skin. It is a very tart-sweet fruit,

Other popular fruits not shown to the right (not including bananas) would include various cucurbit fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon. The peak availability of these fruits is during the summer season from February to the beginning of the rainy season. Tree fruits that are popular include the nispero, mangos (small mangoes) and mangas (large mangoes like you normally see in temperate supermarkets), pineapple, guayabo, starfruit (carambola) cashew fruit (makes a tart drink), jocote, citrus fruits, guanábana (soursop), lychee, pejibaye (boiled palm fruit), papaya and manzana de agua (pictured below).

Refrescos naturales (or natural fruit drinks) that are popular are made from guanábana, blackberries (mora), limes, flaxseed and limes, chan seeds and limes, pineapple, oranges, passion fruit (maracuyá) cashew fruit, watermelon, cantaloupe and a mixture of fruits, usually including papaya. There are healthy choices in place of carbonated drinks, although they are often sweetened too much for my taste. Perhaps because they grow sugar cane here, they have developed a strong sweet tooth here.

Fruits are often served in restaurants with breakfasts. Common fruits served are papaya, pineapple and banana.

Plantains. Below you an see a video on one way plantains are cooked. In this case, green plantains are cut into inch or so long chunks fried and the smashed. Then, they are fried again. These are usually served with refried black or red beans and fresh cheese. They are popular in all the restaurants and bars.

The World Cookbook for Students: Volume 2, Costa Rica to Iran
The World Cookbook for Students: Volume 2, Costa Rica to Iran

Dip into different cuisines of countries around the world, including Costa Rica, by seeing what they eat, how the make it and how it is served.

 
Cooking At La Cusinga with The Chef of the Jungle
Cooking At La Cusinga with The Chef of the Jungle

Lots of photos and excellent instructions on how to make foods from fresh, tropical ingredients by the amazing Chef Mahler. Substitutions are also provided for those stuck in temperate climes.

 

Maduro con Queso (Mature plantain with cheese)

For a quick pick-me-up and snack, have a cup of coffee with cooked mature plantain and fresh white cheese.  All three flavors complement each other quite well.
For a quick pick-me-up and snack, have a cup of coffee with cooked mature plantain and fresh white cheese. All three flavors complement each other quite well. | Source
The manzana de aqua fruit on the tree.  It is about 3-4 inches long and is not really very sweet.  As the name suggests it is mostly a good source of water with some fiber tossed in for good measure.
The manzana de aqua fruit on the tree. It is about 3-4 inches long and is not really very sweet. As the name suggests it is mostly a good source of water with some fiber tossed in for good measure. | Source
Jocote tree fruit.  These can be eaten fresh when green and turning red, or they can be put in a pot with brown sugar to make what is called jocotada.  I like jocotada with peanut butter, using it like jam.
Jocote tree fruit. These can be eaten fresh when green and turning red, or they can be put in a pot with brown sugar to make what is called jocotada. I like jocotada with peanut butter, using it like jam. | Source

Making Patacones from Green Plantains

Costa Rica's Love Affair with Rice

You may find rice in almost every meal, although corn was probably the most common staple carbohydrate before the cultivation of rice was initiated. For breakfast, they frequently have gallo pinto, which is a mixture of rice and beans, a recipe which can be found if you click the link. The most common meals that Ticos (what they call themselves) have is called a casado, which includes rice, beans (black usually), a salad, one or two more dishes and a meat or fish - all on one platter. Below you will find a menu that lists the different types of casados available at one restaurant in Liberia.

A portion of the menu from the Copa del Oro Restaurant showing the types of casados offered.  Casados don't always offer cheese.
A portion of the menu from the Copa del Oro Restaurant showing the types of casados offered. Casados don't always offer cheese. | Source

The use of rice doesn't end with gallo pinto and casados, they also make rice mixtures that include seafood (shrimp, octopus, tuna, squid or all of these) and chicken. Arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) is the most common, and Ticos often refer to it as arroz con siempre, or "rice like we always have it." Below is a shot of a menu showing various menu offerings in this regard. These rice dishes are often served with french fries, a tomato and lettuce or cabbage.

Rice dishes offered at the Copa del Oro Restaurant, which are typical of those found in restaurants all across Costa Rica.
Rice dishes offered at the Copa del Oro Restaurant, which are typical of those found in restaurants all across Costa Rica. | Source
A plate of vigorón, pork skin fried in pig lard with boiled yucca root, shredded cabbage and chimichurri.
A plate of vigorón, pork skin fried in pig lard with boiled yucca root, shredded cabbage and chimichurri. | Source

Fast Foods in Costa Rica

Ticos aren't immune to the allure of fast foods. Fast food restaurants like MacDonalds and Burger King are very popular. They like pizzas and you will find Pizza Huts and Papa John's pizzas in larger cities. They also like their fried chicken, and there are many mom and pop pollo frito stores in every town or city. You also find that most of the butchers sell fresh fried chicharrones as shown below. They are used to make a typical Guanacasteco dish called vigorón, which includes shredded cabbage, boiled yucca, chimichurri and a slice of lime. This is often served at fiestas and on holidays.

Popular Soups

A beef and vegetable soup can be found in most sodas (restaurants) in the country. It is called olla de carne and it has beef ribs or shoulder, along with many vegetables like chayote squash, yucca, winter squash (ayote) and yam. There is usually a piece of corn in it, however I like to cook it with the baby corn that is usually available fresh here. Click on the link to see a recipe for this hearty stew.

Another stew that is common in the Guanacaste province is called arroz de maiz. It is usually made for special occasions since it has so many ingredients and is a little bit more difficult to make. This ground-corn stew has chicken in it as the protein and many other ingredients.

Because sea foods are so abundant in the country, seafood soups are common. These soups have many different types of shellfish, shrimp, fish, octopus and sometimes squid.

Ceviche - Fresh, Pickled Fish, Costa Rican Style

Costa Rican Desserts

Here is a list of popular deserts in the country. The first two are the most common.

  • Arroz con leche - rice with condensed sweetened milk, sugar, raisins, and more.
  • Flan - an egg custard that has carmelized brown sugar on the bottom and can have coconut within it and/or rum
  • Cajetas - round, hard candies made of brown sugar
  • Miel de ayote - candied winter squash
  • Miel de chiverre - candied chiverre squash, which is like spaghetti squash but much bigger and of a different color outside
  • Miel de jocote - candied preserves of the jocote fruit

Costa Rica

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With both a Caribbean and a Pacific Coast, this country has culinary influences from both spheres.

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Comments 4 comments

Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

I absolutely LOVE gallo pinto!!!! I may try making patacones -- are they like crisp plaintain-tacos? Great information!


Randy M. profile image

Randy M. 3 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica Author

Hi Maren, after cooking the disk-like patacones are sometimes served with refried beans and grated cheese on top. You can't fold them, but I have seen them molded into cup like shapes to insert various fillings called picadillos. I like to eat them by themselves as a complement to ceviche. Thanks for the complement, hope all is well with you!


IslandBites profile image

IslandBites 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

Patacones are basically what we call tostones here in Puerto Rico. Is interesting that they use the tortilla press to make them. We use a "tostonera" and usually we don't make them so thin. Btw, the manzana de agua we call it pomarrosa. Nice hub.


Randy M. profile image

Randy M. 3 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica Author

Hi IslandBites: Thanks for the parallel word info. I would like to know what other cultures would call them as well. I checked out your hubs and I am following you now because of your great recipes!

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