Costa Rica, one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations, is known for its pristine tropical beaches, cloud forests, and active volcanoes, yet the local cuisine is unrightfully cast into the shadows. Arriving in Costa Rica I found myself surrounded by fragrant Caribbean spices packing flavor into every bite. The local, truly satisfying tican dishes, and endless cups of the freshest brewed coffee keeping me buzzing throughout my adventures. Hopping off the plane in San Jose I knew I had a world of jungle adventures awaiting me, but I had no idea the adventures my palate was in for as well! Here are 5 dishes you must try during your Costa Rica vacation:
Plate of the People
One plate I could not escape, I succumbed to its hearty satisfaction almost every day, was the Casado; a lunch plate, and fuel for the locals, made up of the country´s staples: arroz (rice) and frijoles (beans) with shredded carne (beef) or pollo (chicken) served with a couple of hot handmade tortillas. Wherever you find yourself in Costa Rica, lowland country side, jungle forests, beaches, or volcanic mountains, you can count on the safe and homey satisfaction of the casado. The Caribbean coast, specifically “Miss Junie´s” in the town of Tortuguero, throws a tantalizing Caribbean spicy flair to the dish that really kicks it up a notch.
Growing up in San Diego I’m a devotee to the hot sauce and Costa Rica treated me right. Every table, and even the table-less sodas (the street food vendors that draw a local crowd and are well worth a try), accompanied each plate with the sweet hotness of salsa lizano. Aside from the casado, items like ceviche (marinated fish in lemon), platanos (fried savory banana), empanadas (fried bread stuffed with meat), or tamales (boiled corn dough filled with meat or vegetables served in a banana leaf) are savory local snack options that are complemented wonderfully by the salsa lizano.
Often unfairly looked down upon, wild caught corvina is a cousin to the sea bass and a very affordable and abundant staple in coastal villages across Costa Rica. With its firm white meat it can be prepared directly on the grill, but also makes a good base for the local version of Ceviche, which is a popular ‘boca‘ = appetizer in Costa Rica.
Olla de Carne
Though it has oceans on both coasts, Costa Ricans love their meat and large parts of the country have been converted to pastures to raise first rate cattle. One typical local dish to savour that meat is called olla de carne, a stew-like soup with large chunks of beef, local vegetables and corn, that’s a staple in restaurants all over the country.
For a taste off the beaten trail, head to Monteverde, most well known for soaring zip-line adventures through its stunning cloud forest, and spend some time at La Lecheria, the Quaker cheese factory. A group of Alabama Quakers escaping the US draft in 1949, settled in Monteverde to raise dairy cattle. It´s quite a phenomenon to see grazing cattle amongst dense jungle, but this farm serves up everything from creamy Gouda to sharp cheddars. Cheese isn’t thought of as a classic jungle cuisine, but the Monteverde Quakers definitely know what they are doing.