Must-Try Dishes in Costa Rica: The Ultimate Food Experience

A typical food from Costa Rica
Gallo pinto is a typical breakfast in Costa Rica, consisting of rice and beans with egg or meat.

A delightful way to get to know a culture is through one’s stomach. Food tells us many aspects of a locality: its environment, weather, colors, flavors, mood, history, and customs of the people.

In Costa Rica, the traditional cuisine gives us a taste of their lush vegetation, Hispanic influences, and love for festivities.

Thanks to its rich tropical farmland, Costa Ricans enjoy fresh organic ingredients that are easily grown and harvested almost anywhere all year round. Pre-colonization, corn was the widespread crop found as a basic component in many native dishes such as tortillas and pancake-like chorreadas.

With the coming of the Spaniards, wheat, rice, and livestock were introduced, mixing up the classic flavors. Many current Costa Rican food recipes originate from Spanish dishes which incorporate regional ingredients giving a unique Costa Rican taste.

A contemporary Costa Rica menu would often be on the mild side, containing either rice or beans or both. Although Costa Rica cuisine shares many things in common with other Hispanic-influenced countries, its use of fresh locally sourced fruits and vegetables sets it apart from the others.

These facts about Costa Rica food are evident in their most iconic dishes, soups, desserts, and drinks.

Costa Rica Iconic Dishes

Gallo Pinto

First on the list would definitely be Gallo Pinto. A mix of rice and beans, it takes its name from the resulting color combination that resembles a spotted rooster. Bell peppers, cilantro, and onions are also added to give it a little spice. As a typical Costa Rican breakfast food, it is paired with eggs but when served as lunch or dinner, these are replaced by meat or fish. Originating both in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, it is casually called “pinto” by the locals.

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Casado

The quintessential Costa Rican lunch would be a plate of “casado,” which means married probably because the dish itself is a marriage of several kinds of food. What is casado made of?

It usually consists of beans or rice, vegetables, and protein (fish, beef, pork, or chicken). Salads, tortillas, plantains, avocados, and pasta may also be on your casado plate. Extremely popular, it is one of the easiest foods to find in Costa Rica.

Chifrijo

Chifrijo is the iconic snack of Costa Rica. The name reveals its two basic ingredients: fried pork (chicharrón) and beans (frijoles). It can come with several layers, with rice or beans as a base and tomatoes or avocados as toppings. But it is mostly eaten as a bowl of nachos and is served in almost all cantinas.

Costa Rican Soups

A soup from a Costa Rica menu
Sopa de Pejibaye is a traditional soup you would definitely see on a Costa Rica menu.

Sopa de Pejibaye

Pejibaye is a starchy orange palm fruit, locally planted in Costa Rica since pre-Hispanic times. It is the basic component of one of the most iconic Costa Rican soups, Sopa de Pejibaye. Its puree is cooked with chicken, cream, and seasonings topped with cilantro leaves before serving.

Sopa Negra

Made from black beans, it is simmered with onion, bell peppers, cilantro, tomatoes, and oregano, making a truly satisfying meal, especially on cold evenings. This traditional Costa Rican soup is also served with a topping of hard-boiled egg.

Olla de Carne

Olla de Carne is a hearty beef stew cooked with local vegetables that include chayote, tacacos, carrots, cassava, corn, taro root, onions, cilantro, and green plantains. It is originally a Spanish cuisine given a Costa Rican twist. It is enjoyed with rice, beans, or tortillas.

Famous Costa Rican Desserts

Copo

Copos may be the most famous Costa Rican Desserts, a staple for hot days, especially in beach towns. It is basically shaved ice added with everything sugary and flavorful. You will often find powdered milk, syrups, fresh fruit, and marshmallows in it. But the most popular is the Churchill, a hybrid copo served in a tall glass with ice cream, straw cookies, and lots of milk.

Tres leches

The national favorite when it comes to cakes, Tres Leches is surely present at any Costa Rican birthday or party. True to its name, it is a sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk– condensed milk, evaporated milk, and whole milk– and is topped with chantilly cream. It is relatively easy to make and can be found in most pastry and coffee shops.

Sweetened squash paste (miel de chiverre)

Miel de Chiverre is one of the traditional famous Costa Rican desserts and is found in different kinds of food. It is a sweetened squash paste made from fig leaf gourd called chiverre. Popular as filling in empanadas, it is also made into candies or eaten by itself using a spoon.

Costa Rica Drinks

Coffee in a cup
One of the Costa Rica drinks famous worldwide is their Arabica coffee.

Coffee

The Costa Rica diet would be incomplete without its signature drinks. As one of the top coffee-producing countries, Costa Rican coffee is surely on the list. With its rich agricultural terrain, backed with legal requirements of high-quality production, the Arabica coffee grown on the Rich Coast is arguably one of the best in the world.

Guaro

Guaro is the national alcoholic drink in Costa Rica. Distilled from sugar cane juice, it has a taste that resembles vodka more than rum but is sweeter. It is quite strong especially when consumed straight at room temperature but is also popularly blended in cocktails. You can also add tomato juice, lime juice, pineapple juice, coconut water, or soda with it according to your taste.

Pipa Fria

Nothing is more refreshing than cold coconut water or what is locally translated as “pipa fria.” Available on roadsides and restaurants, you get to sip refreshing coco water straight from the husk in Costa Rica. Sellers usually cut down the outer layer of a coconut leaving a hay-like covering then slice out a hole at the center, from which you can drink in the coco goodness with a straw.

Visiting Costa Rica is truly a rich experience with its beautiful natural spots, diverse wildlife, and hospitable people. On top of that, the fresh and flavourful Costa Rica cuisine will surely make your trip a luscious adventure. With every bite, you will get to know more about the country’s vibrant story and culture.

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