Last updated on August 24th, 2023
As a quick introduction of Costa Rican food, let’s begin with two main facts: 1. Costa Rican food isn’t overly spicy like Mexican food as many people think. 2. Yes! It is true that we eat a lot of rice and beans and have fresh fruits. Our food may not be as exotic as other countries’ traditional dishes, but there’s something decidedly comforting about Costa Rican food.
Read on to find out about our favorite traditional Costa Rican foods, and why they’re definitely not boring or bland:
Gallos (“Tortillas” and something else)
According to urban history, Gallos got its name from an ex president, Rafael Yglesias. His nickname was “Gallo,” which means rooster. He had lived in Europe, and right before presidential elections, he had the tradition to invite people for a meal. His cooks were trying to replicate the “Canapes” that are served in Europe. Canapes usually use bread or crackers, but the cooks used tortillas and beans to get as close to a canape as they could provide to the guests. Later, cooks started to change the ingredients, and now you can put cheese, meat, eggs in Gallos and and mix it in whatever way you prefer.
We learned more about the history of “Gallos” at Corso Lecheria, this plate is their specialty.
You have probably heard about Peruvian Ceviche. Ceviche is raw fish cooked in lemon juice, but it is more than that. Costa Ricans have our own version of ceviche—in fact,most Latin American countries have their own version. Ceviche is best made with extremely fresh fish. The ingredients we use are: Onion, sweet pepper, cilantro, fish and we add ginger ale to marinate the ingredients and and lemon juice to cook them. These details make ceviche a very different dish from raw sushi. Many people feel safer eating ceviche, as its citrus preparation is believed to kill any diseases carried by fish. Finally, we put ketchup and mayonnaise or spicy sauce on the fish to get the final taste.
There’s nothing that says “Costa Rican Food” like rice and beans. Costa Rican food often revolves around rice and beans, such as Gallo Pinto, a dish that translates to “Spotted Rooster.” Gallo Pinto is a dish that includes black beans at a three to two ratio to rice. It also has onions, garlic, and salt. People often add Salsa Lizano to get extra flavor. Sour cream can also be added. In the past, most jobs required hard physical labor, so a big breakfast with Pinto and coffee was crucial to get through the day.
Lunch is Costa Ricans’ main meal during the day, so we need a big lunch. “Casados” are rice and beans again but separated and accompanied by meat, salad and plantains. Chicken, pork and beef are the more popular meats. Other staples of Costa Rican food choices include fresh fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and plantains and a variety of beans and rice.
The name “Casados” is because the relationship between the beans and the rice is like a marriage (Spanish: Casado). Also, an old Costa Rican story says that when the farmers at the fields meet for lunch time you can tell who is married and who is not. The married ones brought rice and beans and meat and salad while the single farmers only have a small gallo.
One of our favorite local places for eating “Casados” and “Gallo Pintos” is Cafeteria Flory in San Ramon.
Arroz con pollo
The famous Rice with Chicken. This dish is usually cooked using natural flavors like onion, pepper, garlic and cilantro (Costa Ricans love to cook with cilantro, btw). Then you add the chicken and rice with tomato sauce or annatto and voilà!!! Costa Ricans often eat arroz con pollo for dinner. It’s a quick and easy recipe that represents our culture in birthdays, parties or weddings. This dish can’t miss. It even became the joke and called it “arroz con siempre” (rice with always).
There are many more options for traditional Costa Rican food. It was hard to come up with the top five, but these are the ones I most encourage visitors to try to get a taste for Costa Rican food. Costa Ricans definitely love food. In our culture, love is expressed through the food. So I highly encourage visitors to try food in a local restaurant like a soda, where usually the cooks are ladies who cook with that homemade-mom love. If you want to find a good place for local food, just ask a taxi driver or someone in town which place is their favorite soda. Then check if the place looks busy during lunch time and enjoy the delicious food.
We hope that you enjoy it, and like we say here: Buen provecho!