While it may hurt our feelings to say this, Costa Rica is not one of the top food tourism destinations in the world. And how could it be, when it has so many established, world-famous cuisines to compete with, extensively covered by the media? But like all other areas of the world, Costa Rica has its distinctive tastes, dishes that make it stand out.
These are quite often overshadowed by international dishes served in popular tourist destinations. Those of you who only visit these may miss out on some truly exquisite dishes, though. So, if you plan on traveling to Costa Rica anytime soon, make sure you seek out and taste these traditional dishes before you leave.
Breakfast: Gallo pinto
Gallo pinto means “spotted chicken” – and what a perfect name it is for this speckled, colorful dish. Rice and beans are at its base to perfectly express its long history and duality – beans were traditionally cultivated by the Precolumbian people living here, while the rice was introduced by the Spanish conquerors in the first years of the 16th century.
Gallo pinto has three major variants that you can taste: in the Valle Central, it’s less greasy, moister, and traditionally seasoned with chili, onions, and cilantro, in the Guanacaste province, it is usually more greasy, made with red beans, while on the country’s Caribbean coast, the rice and the beans are cooked with coconut milk and they are seasoned with Panamanian chile (habaneros).
A rich, hearty meal that any husband would love to have while working the land – this is Casado, one of the most traditional dishes in Costa Rica. Wives usually packed this in a banana leaf – today, though, you will almost always find it served on a plate.
The base for Casado is also beans and rice but it comes with other, more consistent ingredients, too – a type of meat (usually beef, pork, chicken, perhaps fish), surrounded with salad, tortillas, and fried platano maduro – also known as sweet plantain or cooking bananas.
Those into Italian foods – especially lasagne – will probably spot a few similarities between their favorite dish and Pastelón. Sometimes referred to as “Puerto Rican plantain lasagne”, Pastelón is a layered casserole not entirely dissimilar from its Italian counterpart. Except its ingredients are completely different.
Pastelón is usually made using ingredients like yucca, batata, breadfruit or sweet plantains. These are cut thin, they are fried, then layered in a dish with meat, cheese, a sauce, and garlic, peppers, and onions. There is a lot you can discover about a country by tasting its traditional dishes. Make sure to dive into the Costa Rican life through the flavors of these.