Costa Rican Food
Costa Rican traditional food is characterized for being simple. Sometimes it’s heavy on oil and spices, but it still tastes great. One will never feel disappointed after trying a typical dish.
There are really only two main types of food that are found in Costa Rica: 1)Traditional Cuisine which is the most common, known as comida tipica and 2) International cuisine. San José and the other main cities of the country offer an abundance of different international cuisine restaurants that provide a variety of cuisine for every foreigner that decides to visit the country. It’s important to mention that Ticos don’t eat in excess, and they make lunch the main meal of the day.
Costa Rican cuisine is a funny thing. People either love and crave it, or they are not impressed. This is because most Costa Rican food is very simple and sometimes a little greasy and fatty since they use a lot of spices. Typical food, also known as comida tipica are native dishes.
Costa Rican breakfast, lunch, and dinner have two main ingredients in common: rice and black beans. Most Costa Ricans eat at home or make food to take to school or work from home. If people eat out on the run, they usually eat at typical little sodas (restaurants that cater to tourists) that serve very balanced and very reasonably priced meals.
The most common breakfast of choice for Ticos is Gallo Pinto, the national dish of fried rice, black beans, onions, red pepper, and cilantro. This is usually served with eggs either sunny side up or scrambled, bread with butter or natilla which is similar to sour cream, a cup of coffee and/or a cup of fresh juice. Other common breakfasts are toast with jam, pancakes, omeletes, or simply cereal.
Lunches and dinners in Costa Rica are very similar and quite well balanced meals. The most common is called a casado. A casado includes some type of meat such as beef, chicken, pork, fish, or other seafood, a side salad, rice, black beans, and fried plantains served with some natural fruit drink. These casados range in price from $2 to $5 on average and are the most economical way to get balanced nutrition. Usually lunch is followed by a coffee break in the afternoon with bread.
Other common foods that could be served at lunch or dinner time are arroz con pollo or chicken and rice which is a white rice dried with special seasonings to become yellow and usually fried. If people are on the run, they will make a quick salad of canned tunafish, tomato, and onion mixed with mayo. On cold days Costa Ricans love to cook up a huge pot of soup based on beef broth, chunks of beef and every vegetable under the sun.
Surprisingly, the average Costa Rican does not eat a lot of shellfish like crab, lobster or shrimp because they are pretty expensive and most shellfish are exported.
On the Caribbean coast people's diet varies slightly. One of the most well known dishes of Limon is Rice n' Beans, which is similar to Gallo Pinto but usually made with red beans, spicy Panamanian peppers, and coconut milk. If made correctly, it is one of the most delicious and interesting dishes one can try while in Costa Rica.
Eating in Costa Rica doesn't present the health problems that plague the unwary traveler elsewhere in Central America, but you need to be aware that some of the pesticides used in Costa Rica are forbidden elsewhere. If one tends to eat where many locals eat, then that usually means that meals are tasty and trustworthy.
Many bars in Costa Rica have the now disappearing habit of serving bocas with each drink. Bocas are different types of food in small amounts, usually ceviche, chifrijo, chicken wings or bean soup. Some bars provide them free but others may apply a small charge. Turtle eggs, which may have been taken in a special legal season, are a very popular dish in many bars for their special taste, but are best avoided because of the possibility of having been poached illegally.
Imported drinks may be expensive so you might be better of trying the local Costa Rican drinks. Beer is a very popular drink and the most popular are Bavaria and Imperial. Even the poorest campesino can afford the native red-eye, guaro, a harsh, clear spirit distilled from fermented sugarcane.
In rural areas one might find Vino de Coyol, which is a wine distilled from liquid that is collected in holes on the trunk of a very spiny palm. Drink with caution. Many locals say if someone goes out in the sun with a Coyol hangover, they might find themselves drunk again.
Avoid the local wines, all of which are made from fruits other than grapes, such as blackberries and 'nance'. If you decide to drink the, you will have a most memorable hangover. Imported wines are expensive with the exception of the ones from Chile or Argentina which are of decent quality.
San José possesses a broad spectrum of fare. On one hand, it is the center of fine dining and international cuisine in Costa Rica; on the other, its streets and markets are filled with sodas that serve light meals and snacks. Away from the big city, Ticos are less adventurous eaters, so the food becomes more grounded in peasant culture and less varied.
Coffee is also an extremely popular and nationally-revered drink. For more information on the beverage industry, check out our section on coffee.