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A Twist on Costa Rican Cuisine

Few culinary fixations beat my penchant for sushi. My introduction to the delicacy was in Brazil, during an all-you-can-eat night at a fantastic restaurant. As our large group sat Japanese-style on the floor, we laughed and downed warm sake while a tiny conveyer presented a constant rotation of delicious dishes. That night, my obsession began – I sampled everything from edamame and fresh seaweed salad to salmon rolls and tuna sashimi. 

To this day, my first choice for dining out is sushi. When I first moved to Costa Rica, I lived in the San Jose suburb of San Pedro, home to the country's largest university – and all the accompanying amenities. I was thrilled to learn that there were nine sushi restaurants within a half mile of my house, and I immediately set out to try them all. I soon identified my favorite: Ozaki, which offered not only sushi, but also Peruvian cuisine and Nikkei – a Japanese-Peruvian fusion that rocked my world. 

My favorite dish at Ozaki quickly became the Ceviche Tres Banderas (Three Flags Ceviche), a genius blend of ceviches, or raw fish preparations, from Costa Rica, Peru and Japan. At least once a month, I made my pilgrimage to dine on the delicious trilogy. Costa Rican and Peruvian ceviches are traditionally made with a white fish (sea bass or tilapia, most commonly), but their preparations are slightly different. While Costa Ricans favor mild garlic, onion, and sweet pepper, Peruvian ceviche uses different citrus juices and often has a slight kick thanks to spicy pepper. Ozaki's Japanese version was by far my favorite of the three; the chef had chosen fresh yellowfin tuna and spiced it with dried seaweed, toasted sesame oil and a spicy marinade. 

When I moved away from San Pedro, I went into Three Flags withdrawal. To ease my suffering, I could either travel the two hours by bus to Ozaki, or I could invent a version of my own. (Obviously, forgoing the indulgence was not an option.) Armed with a grocery list compiled from Internet recipes, I headed to my closest Auto Mercado – the only supermarket I knew that offered sushi-grade fish – to pick up some white sea bass and ahi tuna. If you don't live near an Auto Mercado, but are within a reasonable distance of the coast, the local pier might have what you need. 

While my recipe doesn't quite capture the flavors of Ozaki's blissful ceviches, I've found that it does take the edge off my cravings – and it's delicious in its own right. The wonderful thing about white fish is that it absorbs flavors very well, so you can create a signature ceviche all your own. 

Emma's Dual Citizen Ceviche

Make sure all your ingredients are fresh. The herbs and vegetables should be crispy, or they will wilt and/or turn to mush in the citrus marinades. These ceviches are excellent served with a light salad of fresh greens. 

Costa Rican Ceviche

  • 1 pound boneless white fish, diced (sea bass is traditional, but you can also choose tilapia, flounder or any other mild white fish)
  • 10-20 limes or lemons, juiced
  • 1 small roll of cilantro
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into thin rings 
  • 1 medium tomato, finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Optional: 1/2 to 1 cup orange juice or ginger ale, for extra flavor
  • Optional: finely minced hot pepper 

Mix all the ingredients together, and leave to marinate for 3-5 hours. Eat plain, or serve with saltine crackers. 

Japanese Ceviche

  • 1 pound ahi or yellowfin tuna, diced (sashimi grade)
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • Dried seaweed, cut into ribbons for garnish
  • Toasted black and white sesame seeds
  • Recommended: Minced hot pepper – jalapeno (mild), Serrano (hot), or habanero (hottest; known in Costa Rica as chile panameno)
  • Optional: Green onion, minced

Mix all the ingredients together. The ceviche is ready to eat as soon as it is coated in the marinade, but if you want to infuse extra flavor, let it sit for a few minutes. Sprinkle with seaweed and toasted sesame seeds.

A Twist on Costa Rican Cuisine in Pictures