Q MAGAZINE – It’s not often we get to witness the birth of a new homegrown Costa Rican dish. For an ethno-foodie like myself, it’s like the discovery of a new species or the arrival of a comet.
The dish is called a caldosa.
A caldosa is very simple to prepare. First, you take a bag of seasoned corn chips—salty crunchy—and you cut a little evenly off the top of the bag. This leaves you a container into which you spoon ceviche. The customer then adds or asks for salsas—ketchup and mayonnaise—to taste. Hot sauce is also an option. Add a plastic spoon and you have a snack ready to eat. It is, if you will, fish and chips in a bag—to go.
There are several brands and flavors of corn chips used in making caldosas. Picaritas is the most popular, but Ranchitas and Jalapeños are also used. Picaritas even provides vendors with a top quality promotional sign—heads-up marketing on their part. Some stands squeeze the bag and crush the chips into finer pieces—others leave them intact.
Caldosa, as an adjective, means having broth or being watery. In fact, the ceviche used has more broth, more liquid—más caldito—than usual. The idea is to thoroughly soak the chips with brine. I haven’t heard a roll-off-the-tongue English translation for this dish, but I would propose soupie. It may be a better idea to just use the Tico name.
The dish originated in Palmares and was given a big boost at their huge January festival. Caldosas have been popular in Palmares and San Ramón for a while now and their popularity is spreading like wildfire to other parts of the country. Several new caldosa outlets have opened near me in just the past few weeks.
Caldosa is used in Cuba as a generic term for both sancocho (meat or chicken slowly simmered with potatoes, cassava, corn, etc.) and ajiaco (a thick soup made with several varieties of potato and served with chicken, capers, and cream).
One factor in the rapid proliferation of caldosas is the business angle. 90% of the preparation is making the ceviche, done well in advance of the business day. Once you have the ceviche, it’s a simple matter to open the bag of chips and spoon in the fish and brine. Salsas follow in noisy spurts. Also, caldosas seem to be especially popular among young folks. It’s not uncommon to see groups of high school students sitting together enjoying their caldosas.
Even very small stands—some just windows—report selling 150 to 200 bags per day.
This is a dish you will either love or hate. That said, I am a firm believer that to travel is to eat: if you’re not going to try different food, you might as well stay home. You should try at least one caldosa. If there isn’t a stand near you now, there will be soon.