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A Taste of Costa Rican Cuisine

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: March 23, 2023

Costa Rican cuisine is a fascinating and diverse blend of flavours, colours, and aromas. From the delicious combination of rice, beans, and plantains to the fresh seafood and tropical fruits, the food in Costa Rica is as diverse as the country itself. 

One of the most remarkable aspects of Costa Rican cuisine is its emphasis on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The country’s fertile soil and tropical climate allow for a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and seafood to be grown and harvested year-round. This focus on using fresh and seasonal ingredients not only makes the food taste better, but it also supports local farmers and promotes sustainability.

Learning about and experiencing the cuisine of Costa Rica is a fantastic way to connect with the local culture and gain a deeper appreciation for the country’s history and traditions.

The Staples of Costa Rican Cuisine

Rice, beans, and plantains are the most common ingredients in Costa Rican cuisine. Known as the “trifecta” of Costa Rican food, these three ingredients are used in a wide variety of dishes, from breakfast to dinner. Rice is typically cooked in a flavorful broth with garlic, onions, and bell peppers, while beans are often seasoned with cilantro and served as a side dish. Plantains, which are similar to bananas but larger and less sweet, are used in both savoury and sweet dishes. They can be fried, boiled, or baked and are a staple in dishes such as patacones and maduros.

Traditional Costa Rican Dishes

Gallo pinto is perhaps the most famous dish in Costa Rica, and for good reason. This hearty breakfast dish consists of rice and beans cooked together with onions, bell peppers, and cilantro, and is typically served with eggs, tortillas, and a side of sour cream. Another popular dish is casado, which translates to “married man” in Spanish. It is a filling lunch or dinner dish that consists of rice, beans, meat (usually chicken, beef, or fish), salad, and plantains. Ceviche is a refreshing and flavorful seafood dish that is typically made with fresh fish or shrimp marinated in lime juice and served with vegetables and corn chips.

Haricot Beans, rice and beans

Regional Variations

Costa Rican cuisine can vary significantly from region to region. In the northern region, for example, there is a strong Caribbean influence, and dishes such as rice and beans cooked in coconut milk and chicken stew with ginger are popular. In the central region, you can find dishes such as olla de carne, a beef and vegetable stew that is typically served with rice and beans. In the coastal regions, seafood is a prominent feature of the cuisine, and dishes such as ceviche and seafood soup are commonly found.

Street Food and Snacks

Street food and snacks are an essential part of Costa Rican cuisine. One of the most popular street foods is tamales, which are made with corn dough filled with meat, vegetables, or cheese and wrapped in banana leaves. Empanadas, fried pastries filled with meat or cheese, are also a favourite snack. Chifrijo is a popular bar food that consists of rice, beans, pork, and pico de gallo, while patacones are fried plantain slices served with a variety of toppings.

Desserts and Drinks

No meal in Costa Rica is complete without dessert or a refreshing drink. Tres leches cake is a popular dessert that consists of a sponge cake soaked in three types of milk and topped with whipped cream. Arroz con leche, a sweet rice pudding, is another popular dessert. Horchata, a refreshing drink made from rice, cinnamon, and sugar, is a favourite on hot days. Other popular drinks include fresh fruit juices, such as mango, papaya, and pineapple.

Costa Rican cuisine is a delightful and unique blend of flavours and ingredients that reflects the country’s diverse culture and geography. From the “trifecta” of rice, beans, and plantains to the fresh seafood and tropical fruits, Costa Rican food offers something for everyone. 

How to Get to Know Costa Rican Food

Volunteering with GVI in Costa Rica is a unique and rewarding way to experience the local culture, including the cuisine. As a volunteer, you will have the opportunity to work alongside local community members on conservation and community development projects, giving you an inside look at their way of life. You may also have the chance to participate in cultural activities, such as learning to cook traditional dishes or attending a local festival. By immersing yourself in the local culture, you will gain a deeper understanding of Costa Rican society and its people, including their food and culinary traditions. Whether you’re a foodie looking to explore the cuisine of Costa Rica or simply interested in experiencing the local way of life, volunteering with GVI is an excellent way to gain a unique perspective on this vibrant and fascinating country.

Whether you’re looking for a hearty breakfast, a satisfying lunch, or a sweet dessert, there is no shortage of delicious dishes to try in Costa Rica. Additionally, the regional variations in the cuisine provide an opportunity to explore the different flavours and culinary traditions of the country.

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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