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  • Writer's pictureLisa Cappello

Hearty and Healthy Costa Rican Cuisine

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

Some of our happiest vacation memories include food – restaurants we visited for celebratory meals, cocktails sipped and nibbles nibbled while watching the sunset, finding an out-of-the-way local's favorite spot, etc. Your perfect Costa Rica vacation should feature lots of great food experiences, including authentic local cuisine. The food here is as varied and unique as the country's culture and history. With influences from indigenous, Caribbean and Spanish cultures, Costa Rican food is a delicious blend of flavors and textures. We hope you will try some authentic dishes during your next visit!

Food Steeped in History

The history of Costa Rican cuisine is deeply connected to its past. During the colonial period, the country was under Spanish rule, and the resulting influence is still seen today. Dishes like Gallo Pinto (the national dish of Costa Rica!), a rice and beans dish, and tamales, a traditional steamed corn dough, are both derived from the Spanish. The indigenous people of Costa Rica also had a major influence on the country's cuisine. They introduced the use of corn, potatoes, and chayote, which are still commonly used today.

Not surprisingly, Costa Rican cuisine is known for its use of local fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of the most popular ingredients include plantains, yucca, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and avocado, and spices such as cilantro.

Where to Find Authentic Food

When visiting, be sure to find a “soda,” a small mom-and-pop open-air restaurant that serves only traditional Costa Rican cuisine. A traditional lunch is called a Casado, which literally means “married man” in Spanish. It originates from a time when wives would pack their husbands a lunch in a banana leaf when went to work in the fields. A Casado consists of rice, beans, a protein choice (beef, fish, pork, or chicken), cooked vegetables, a salad, and some extras such as fried plantain, white cheese, or corn tortillas. The picture on the right at the top is a classic casado from Soda Estero Azul in Flamingo.

Chifrijo is a unique Costa Rican dish made by layering white rice, beans cooked in spices, chicharrón pork pieces, pico de gallo, and tortilla chips, which can also be served on the side. The name of the dish comes from a combination of chicharrón and frijo (from frijol, meaning beans). The first picture at the top is a delicious Chifrijo from Zaguán in Huacas.

Another popular dish is ceviche, which is made of raw fish and seafood such as octopus, shrimp, tilapia, dorado, dolphin and sea bass. The seafood is soaked in lemon juice, which breaks down the proteins, which essentially “cooks” it. Seasonings such as coriander, onion, garlic, cilantro and chilies are then added.

Don't forget Dessert!

If you have a sweet tooth, treat yourself to one of many delicious Costa Rican desserts. There is, of course, “tres leches” or “three milks” cake, famous throughout Central America. Lesser known but equally delicious desserts include coconut flan, “arroz con leche” (rice pudding), and “granizados, which is the Costa Rican equivalent of a snow cone. Sold on many beaches, a granizado is shaved ice topped with flavored syrup and condensed milk. The middle picture at the top is a granizados vendor at Playa Tamarindo.

We promote authentic local cuisine as much as possible on our full-day excursions. For more details, visit our tours page here. And to learn more about all of our services, visit our home page here. Enjoy!


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