A traditionally mild, not over-spiced cuisine, the Costa Rican food has absorbed influences from the Caribbean, South America and Europe into its culinary cauldron. Many dishes are simple with the staples of rice and beans tending to form the basis of most rural cooking. Costa Rican's are also heavily dependant on locally grown fresh produce, particularly members of the squash family including courgette (or zucchini), zapallo and chayote (known as the "Christophine" throughout the Caribbean). Other tropical fruits and vegetables are also widely available and usually of good quality. The plantain, like in most of the neighbouring Caribbean, is a particular favourite and can be served in a variety of ways; from just simply fried in butter, to being served in a honey and sugar sauce. The most famous dish of Costa Rica has to be "Gallo Pinto" (literally translated as "spotted rooster"), a dish brought into the country by Nicaraguan immigrants.
The dish consists of rice, coriander, onion and black or red beans and is often served for breakfast or lunch. "Casado" is a similar dish consisting of rice and beans, served with pork, steak or chicken and usually accompanied by a small portion of salad and fried plantains. This dish is customarily served as a dinner and is widely available throughout Costa Rica and can provide tourists with a hearty, low-cost meal. The influence of nearby Mexico can also be seen in Costa Rican cooking - the use of corn tortillas and "gallos" (resembling a soft Mexican taco), are extremely popular. Locals stuff their "gallos" with a vast array of different fillings, usually a combination of diced meat, vegetables and spices. They make an extremely versatile snack or meal that, again, won't cost the earth and are widely available throughout the country.
In terms of fish, Costa Rica has a plentiful supply of abundant fishing waters. With 212km of coast along the Caribbean Sea and a whopping 1,016km along its Pacific coast you would expect to find the country saturated with well-priced, extremely fresh fish. Unfortunately most of the fish is exported elsewhere so whilst fish is still readily available in Costa Rica and usually very fresh, the prices can be a little high, especially when compared to the island's staples.
If you're wondering what to wash it all down with then the drink Costa Rica is most famous for is indubitably coffee; the nations largest export alongside bananas. Costa Rican's drink a lot of coffee; it tends to be strong and served with milk. Most of the best stuff tends to be exported so expect the quality to vary throughout Costa Rica from the sublime to the pretty awful. Don't be surprised to find it served alongside your dinner as well. Other favourite local drinks are "Horcheta" (a cinnamon flavoured cornmeal drink), "Agua Dulce" (a sweetened water based drink usually served at breakfast) and the typical lunchtime drinks "refrescos", which consist of liquidized fruits mixed with either milk or water. For those seeking some intoxication in their beverage then the best bet is probably beer with Imperial and Bavaria being two of the favourites.
Wine is not such a good option, locally produced stuff is a definite no-no and imported stuff tends to be pricey with the exception of wines coming from Chile or Argentina. The local moonshine is known as "Guero" and is so cheap that they virtually give the stuff away, it's made from sugar cane and is a favourite of the locals, even the poorest of whom can afford it. In more rural areas you can expect to find a drink called "Vino de Coyol" - a wine that's made from the extracts of a spiny palm, this stuff is apparently lethal so tourists should certainly beware when mixing it with the hot, equatorial climate. .
By: Mike McDougall