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There are so many delicious dishes that are a must-try when visiting Costa Rica. Traditional Costa Rican food is definitely a blend of comfort food and grandma’s home cooking with a flavor-bursting Latin flare. In Costa Rica, family-owned and operated small restaurants are called sodas. Sodas, which there are a countless number of throughout the country, is where you are likely to find some of the best varieties of traditional Costa Rican cuisine.
A casado – strangely translating as “married man” – is a typical plate of Costa Rican food. While there are all sorts of varieties of this plate, traditionally it includes rice and beans, a salad, fried sweet plantains, and a protein – either fish, chicken, pork, or beef. Some casados will come with a slice of fresh cheese, French fries or grilled vegetables. A casado basically has all the staples of a perfectly balanced meal and is the comida typica (typical food) of Costa Rica. This plate is served for lunch or dinner.
You cannot come to Costa Rica without having gallo pinto at least once; though it is highly unlikely that you will be able to resist eating it more. Gallo pinto is traditionally served with breakfast, but can also be served later in the day. Gallo pinto is a slowly blended and married together dish of rice, beans, onions, red peppers, and cilantro. Gallo pinto served with eggs, fried cheese, sweet plantains, and homemade corn tortillas is a breakfast plate you must indulge in.
Rice is a staple food in Costa Rica and served at most meals. One mouthwatering meal made with rice is arroz con pollo/camerones/vegetales/mariscos (chicken/shrimp/vegetables/seafood). The rice is mixed with annatto (which is similar to saffron) to make yellow rice, and vegetables like peas, carrots, bell peppers, and celery are diced and cooked in. Then, of course, whatever “con” you decided on is thrown in the mix. This dish is quite simple, but incredibly flavorful.
Chifrijo is a compact dish that is usually served in bars. It is a bowl of rice and beans topped with fried pork meat or fried pork skins and topped with avocado, pico de gallo, chimichurri, and lime. There are few things that go better with an ice cold Pilsen than a cup of chifrijo. Often this dish is accompanied by homemade tortilla chips or plantain chips. Every bit will make you smile.
Chicharrones are something you should absolutely try, but maybe only once during your visit. Chicharrones are a very popular snack that are usually served at fiestas, family gatherings, bars, and any other type of celebration in Costa Rica. They are nothing short of scrumptious, but tip the fat and cholesterol scale. Chicharrones are fried pork rinds. It is so well-loved in Costa Rica that there is even an annual Chicharrones Fair in Puriscal to celebrate and serve up mass quantities of the delectable dish.
Patacones are made from green plantains. The green plantain is peeled and sliced into quarter- to half-inch thick pieces and quickly boiled on each side. Then, each piece is flattened and fried on both sides until crisp. They are then topped with lime and salt. Sometimes they are served with refried beans on top and avocado, pica de gallo, or shredded cabbage salad. It’s impossible to eat just one.
Olla de carne is comfort cooking at its best. This is a slow-cooked stew that is packed with nutrient-rich and flavor-rich ingredients. Similar to a pot roast, the stew contains chucks of beef, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, sweet plantains, green plantains, chayote, and yuca. This stew is the definition of hearty.
Not all places in Costa Rica are hot. In elevated zones or in the Central Valley temperatures can be quite moderate and sometimes even chilly. It is in these places that a bowl of sopa negra will taste its best. Sopa negra is traditional black bean soup. This is also Costa Rica’s answer chicken noodle soup and served when people are sick. Sopa negra is typically served with two hard boiled eggs, a cup of rice, and a side of corn tortillas. A warming dish that is good for the soul.
Sopa mariscos is a tomato-based soup that is packed with fresh seafood. The best place to order this soup is in a coastal town on the Pacific. Usually there is squid, shrimp, clams, mussels, pieces of white fish, and sometimes vegetables in this savory dish. This soup is a delicious taste of the ocean.
While this is not technically a food unless you eat the inside – which is also highly recommended – a pipa fria is a must-have when on the coast. A pipa fria is a cold coconut which are usually sold on the streets or on the beach for between $1 and $2. There will be a man or a woman with a cooler filled with iced pipa frias, with the coconuts opened on the spot. This incredibly hydrating and refreshing beverage is the perfect midday revitalizer.