Costa Rica is famous for its tropical rainforests and beaches, proving tourists with idyllic scenery, amazing wildlife and a whole host of activities. But, as we all know, to really get to know a place, you have to check out the local cuisine. After all, what better way to experience something new than by sampling some dishes you’ve never tried before. While all Costa Rican dishes are tasty and worth a try, you probably won’t have the time to taste everything, so here are a few things you shouldn’t miss.
There’s nothing more Costa Rican than Gallo Pinto, a dish made with rice and beans cooked with onions, garlic and cilantro. It’s often served with sausage and fried eggs and the locals eat it with Lizano salsa, a popular sauce that’s smoky, tangy and with a slight cumin undertone.
Local legend says that the dish hails from San Sebastian, a very small town, where Don Bernabe, a local, constantly bragged about his spotted hen, or Gallo pinto. He was saving the hen to serve at the Christmas celebration the town held every year. Of course, gossip spread like wildfire, as it’s wont to do in small towns. The whole thing snowballed into massive gathering that arrived on Don Bernabe’s doorstep, all wanting to get a taste of the famous hen.
Apparently, Don Bernabe was good at thinking on his feet so he created a dish that honored the look of his spotted hen. This dish was a combination of fried white rice and black beans and there was lots of it to make sure everyone got something to eat. Thus, the famous Gallo pinto dish was born.
Though not native solely to Costa Rica, ceviche is still a dish you have to try. It’s made from raw fish that is dressed with lemon and/or lime juice. The acid in the juice cooks the fish, essentially marinating it. The fish is mixed with onion, salt, pepper, cilantro and other things like tomatoes, celery, and bell peppers. Usually, it’s served as an appetizer and can be enjoyed with plantain chips or crackers. The really nice thing about ceviche is that there are so many variations for you to try. Almost everyone has their own recipe, making each version taste just a little bit different.
Casado, which means married, is another rice and beans dish. This time, though, the rice and beans are cooked and served separately. This dish is also served with a vegetable side like a salad made from cabbage and tomatoes, along withfried plantains and a protein like cheese and/or chicken, pork or fish. It is served in almost every Costa Rican restaurant, with each establishment putting their own little spin on the dish.
Rondon is a spicy coconut soup made from whatever the cook can get hold of that day. A dish that dates back to a time when people in the Caribbean survived on the bare minimum, it has now become popular in its own right.
Thus, you can find various ingredients in the soup, depending on the day and the locale. Things like fish heads, whatever the catch of the day was, and tubers like yuccaroot and sweet potatoes are all put into coconut milk and simmered on a wood fire for hours, giving the soup a slight hint of smokiness.
If you want to experience a dessert you’ll never forget, then TresLeches cake is the way to go. It means Three Milks cake, because the cake’s sponge is soaked in evaporated milk, heavy cream, and condensed milk for more than 3 hours. It’s served as is or with a layer of whipped cream and a fruit garnish.