Costa Rica is known for many things, including breathtaking beaches, adrenaline-surging activities like zip lining and white water rafting, and some of the best surfing (and nightlife!) in the Western Hemisphere.
But you don’t hear Costa Rica mentioned much when it comes to food tours and culinary experiences for travelers. Not only is that a shame, but it’s also an oversight, because the foodie who really wants to enjoy Tico cuisine can dive right into Costa Rica’s food scene and not be disappointed.
Typical Costa Rican Dishes
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Fresh, healthy (but not too spicy), and with just a dash of traditional, here are our seven favorite Costa Rican national dishes that you must try when you visit the land of pura vida:
Ticos are obsessed with their rice and beans, and brag how their mom/town/region makes the absolute best in the country. They love gallo pinto – which literally translates to “spotted rooster” – a reference to the color after you mix in the varied ingredients. You mean there’s more than just rice and beans in gallo pinto? You bet, as they add cilantro, chopped onions, diced red bell papers, and the secret ingredient, Salsa Lizano! If you’re visiting Costa Rica, you’ll even have Gallo Pinto for breakfast!
You may here about Casados and see signs for it all over Costa Rica, but it’s actually not just one dish. Instead a Casado is a typical daily meal that’s popular for people on their lunch break, hungry workers, or kids out from school. The word “Casado” means “marriage,” and the elements of this dish come together like a successful marriage.
In a Casado, you’ll always find rice and beans (of course), a small salad, tortillas, fried platanos, and a meat or protein like grilled chicken, fish, or sometimes, beef or pork. Some restaurants serve a great fresh fruit juice with their Casado every day.
The best part about this Costa Rican staple is that it’s inexpensive, as it’s definitely geared towards sustaining Ticos and not pandering to tourists.
Travel Tip: You’ll want to call all of these by their local name in order to make sure you get the right dish. It’s wise to study up on Costa Rican phrases to learn how to order these types of dishes.
Black bean soup…for breakfast? Yup, and it’s surprisingly awesome…and provides perfect nutrition to start your day. Although called a soup, sopa negra may be closer to the consistency of mashed black beans, but it’s also perfectly seasoned with bell peppers, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, spices, and a cooked egg thrown in for good measure. I’ve also seen it with some parmesan-like shaved cheese on top, and during the rainy season, this will be an all-day favorite.
No, I didn’t leave an “e” off of Mexico’s best holiday tamale, because Costa Rica has its own version. Here, tamals are loaded with garlic but not fiery like the Mexican variety, and instead of corn husks, Tico tamals are wrapped in banana leaves.
Yes, these heavenly snacks contain beans – like you’ll find on your plate for almost every Costa Rica meal. But chifrijos feature fried pork rinds. Throw in rice, tomatoes, and possibly pico de gallo and toss in a few tortilla chips on the side, and you’re in business!
Arroz con leche
We couldn’t leave desserts off this list, so the rice delicacy mixed with milk, plenty of sugar, but also salt, cinnamon sticks, and lemon zest is really the perfect way to finish a great meal.
I’d be remiss not to end our culinary celebration off with a bang, and that means enjoying fish, shell fish, and other creatures from off the coast of Costa Rica’s waters. With plenty of coastline on both the Pacific and Caribbean side of the country, CR is a sport fisherman’s dream – or a chef’s nirvana! You’ll find mahi mahi (dorado), corvina, snapper, tuna, and plenty more. You can grill it or fry it, but no matter how you bake it, Costa Rica’s fish is best served as sashimi or ceviche, with just a bit of lime juice and veggies like diced peppers and onions.
Sure, you can order seafood for a premium at the fancy tourist restaurants, but try heading out to the local part of the beach mid-morning when the fisherman are just getting back and buy it right off the boat, where they’ll also gladly clean it for you.
Of course, there is always this Costa Rican arroz campesino recipe you can try. While it may not be as popular as the other dishes, it’s a staple in Costa Rica.
Who else is hungry? Let’s go to Costa Rica…and eat!