Saturday 18 September 2021

LUNCH AT THE MUSEUM

Paying the bills

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Are you looking for an interesting and different place to have lunch? Are you in search of a menu filled with unusual and hard to find Costa Rican dishes? If so, have you considered la Fonda (The Inn) at the Museum of Popular Culture (Museo de Cultura Popular)? Look no further—this is the place for you!

The Museum is located in Santa Lucía de Barva, off the road between Heredia Center and Barva. Sundays are family days at the museum and currently there is an ongoing event celebrating Costa Rican cooking—traditional and innovative cuisine.

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The museum is housed on the grounds of an estate that belonged to the family of a former president—Alfredo Gonzáles Flores. The gardens are lovely and attract some good birds. We were fortunate enough to watch a Blue-crested Motmot while we had lunch. Apart from the food, it’s a peaceful and pretty place to visit.

I had lunch there recently with three friends, one of whom is a Tica chef—a great source of information on the dishes we tried and discussed. My chef friend ordered olla de carne—pot of meat—and it was a culinary expedition in a bowl. In addition to a generous portion of meat and very flavorful broth, it had big chunks of at least squash, carrot, taro, chayote squash, potato, corn, and plantain (ayote, zanahoria, ñampí, chayote, papa, elote, and plátano). Part of the fun of ordering olla de carne is exploring the ingredients—they vary widely.
If there were a Costa Rican national dish, it would be olla de carne.

This dish traces its origins back to a Jewish dish called adafina and the traditional Spanish olla podrida. Olla podrida is often saddled with the unappetizing mistranslation of rotten pot. In fact, the term means powerful pot or strong pot in old Spanish. Don Quijote was not so demented as to fail to appreciate of this dish.

I ordered gallito de picadillo de arracache con chicasquil—shredded arracacha (yes, that’s the English translation) served on a corn tortilla. The arracacha was fortified with chicasquil, a tree leaf (Cnidoscolus acontifolius) often compared to spinach in terms of nutrition. In fact, there is a chicasquil tree in the garden of the museum. Arracacha is a traditional root from Peru brought to Costa Rica by the Spanish.

My neighbor ordered an almuercito de campesino, a peasant’s lunch. It consisted of rice, beans, plantain, and an egg omelet—all wrapped in a banana leaf for portability.
The chef’s daughter enjoyed a tamal de cerdo—pork tamale—and shared her mother’s ample olla de carne.

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There were many other interesting dishes offered and the menu is not static—it is evolving. I cannot state with certainty what will be offered on any given Sunday, but I can promise you a fascinating excursion into Costa Rican cooking.

The Museum opened in 1994 as an extension of the National Autonomous University (Universidad Nacional Autónoma—UNA). Its mission is to strengthen the university’s bond with Costa Rican society and contribute to the betterment of the quality of life in Costa Rica. The museum hosts a number of permanent and temporary exhibits focusing on traditional Costa Rican life.

The title of the Sunday food event is Tradición e Innovación en Nuestra Cocina—Tradition and Innovation in our Cooking. It runs from 9 AM to 5 PM, but some dishes (e.g. olla da carne) aren’t ready until late morning or noon.

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Jack Donnelly
Jack Donnelly is a writer, photographer, and speaker living in San Pablo de Heredia. His topics of interest include Costa Rican folk culture, national traditions, traditional cuisine, ecotourism, and wildlife. Donnelly is the author of COSTA RICA: Folk Culture, Traditions, and Cuisine which is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

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