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Best Gastronomic Experiences to Have in Costa Rica

Picture of Jenn Parker
Updated: 1 April 2018
There are so many unique experiences to have while visiting Costa Rica. There are opportunities to marvel at nature deep in a rainforest, witness an arriba on a moonless night, dance the night away at a local fiesta, and indulge in a number of gastronomic experiences that will create a taste memory you will never forget.

Cold pipa on a hot day

A pipa is what Costa Ricans call a coconut. This ultra hydrating, naturally abundant, and delicious beverage from the earth is one of the most satisfying drinks you can have on a hot day in Costa Rica. It is likely that you will spot a pipa vendor patrolling the beach with a cooler full of icy ones waiting to be cracked open. Pipa sellers are masters with a machete and can lop the top of the pipa clear off so that you can enjoy the fresh liquid inside. Say no to the plastic straw that will be offered along with your pipa though, as there is a big movement to get rid of plastic straws and other single-use plastics in Costa Rica.

A made to order empanada

While most pandarías (bakeries) and cafes will most likely have pre-made empanadas for sale – which are delectable – there is nothing quite like having an empanada made to order. Traditional Costa Rican empanadas are more mini quesadilla-like in shape and thickness. In some sodas you can choose your filling and your empanada will be constructed and fried on the spot. Typical fillings include cheese (queso), ham (jamón), refried beans (frijoles molidos), chicken (pollo), or beef (carne).

empanada
As fresh as you can get | © sstrieu / Flickr

Gallo pinto for breakfast

Gallo pinto is a staple in the traditional Costa Rican diet. This perfect marriage of rice and beans is typically served at breakfast and is one of the best dishes to fuel your day. It is even better served up with eggs, sweet plantains, queso fresco, and a homemade tortilla. This divinely delightful breakfast can be found at any local soda, most restaurants that have a full breakfast menu, and nearly all hotel or resort restaurants. This is the perfect plate to add a little salsa Lizano too.

Coffee from the source

Costa Rica is internationally recognized for its coffee. With multiple coffee growing regions, nearly 70,000 coffee farmers, and dozens of highly rated organic and sustainable coffee brands, drinking a cup of Costa Rican coffee while in Costa Rica is an experience for the books. What’s even better is having a cup of freshly brewed coffee at the coffee farm which you just toured.

A pejibaye with mayo

Pejibayes are a highly nutritious, filling, and favorite snack in Costa Rica. A pejibaye (pay-hee-by-yay) is the fruit from a peach palm tree. This is one of the most widely available fruits in Costa Rica, along with bananas, papayas, plantains, and pineapples. In order to enjoy this mouthwatering treat, they must be boiled for several hours in order to soften and then peeled and de-seeded. The taste and consistency is similar to a sweet potato and is best served with mayonnaise.

pejibaye
Treat yourself to the best snack in Costa Rica | © casey archley / Flickr

Christmas tamale

A cherished family tradition in Costa Rica is the production, distribution, and consumption of the Christmas tamale. These scrumptious bundles of flavor are a labor a love. The typical tamale contains some type of meat mixed with spices, potatoes, and vegetables surrounded by cornmeal dough and then wrapped in banana leaves, tied with string, and placed in a pot of boiling water to cook. Every family has their own traditional recipe. During the holidays, you can enjoy these savory envelopes of Christmas goodness at a local soda and also sometimes at the farmer’s market and from street vendors.

Fresh ceviche and an icy brew at the beach

The secret ingredient in Costa Rican ceviche is ginger ale. This mixed with fresh squeezed limes, cilantro, peppers, onions, cucumbers, and freshly and locally caught fish makes for the perfect late afternoon boca (snack) to enjoy the beachfront with an icy cold Costa Rican beer. Oftentimes, ceviche is also served with homemade tortilla or plantain chips. After a long day of adventuring, there are few things finer than kicking back and enjoying the late afternoon on the beach with this perfect combo.

Fresh seafood in Costa Rica
From sea to boat to belly | © Frode Bjorshol / Flickr