Popular Foods in Costa Rica
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.
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.
Maduro con Queso (Mature plantain with cheese)
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.
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.
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.
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
With both a Caribbean and a Pacific Coast, this country has culinary influences from both spheres.