Costa Rica's Local Flavor
Costa Rican cuisine runs the gamut from traditional favorites of rice and beans to complex fusion creations. Satisfy your inner foodie on a gastronomic tour through the country's bustling farmers' markets, home-style restaurants and haute cuisine.
Every weekend, Costa Rican towns come alive just after dawn to bargain over fresh produce and meats at the farmers' market. Wooden tables are piled high with familiars like cucumbers, broccoli and watermelon, while seasonal exotics such as star apples, mangosteens, yucca and cacao are worth a try. Vendors are generous with samples, so taste everything and buy what you love. Top off your authentic meal with a cup of delicious coffee, grown in Costa Rica's fertile volcanic soil. At around $2/pound at your local grocer, you can't beat the price!
Wander into any town's central market, and a tumult of sights, sounds and scents will greet you. Choose a crowded cafeteria (soda) – they always have the best food – and order a "surtido," an assorted selection of dishes. On the menu: corn empanadas, filled with potatoes and cheese, or shredded meat; patacones, fried green plantains; seasoned refried beans (a great dip for patacones); yuquitas, thick slices of fried yucca; and chorreadas, hot corn pancakes topped with a dollop of sour cream. If you're feeling adventurous, add an order of chifrijo, a mouth-watering combination of fried pork pieces, salsa, white rice, and beans, usually served with yuquitas and a slice of lime.
Sodas also serve the nation's favorite lunch or dinner dish – a casado, which loosely translates to the "married man's meal." Your casado brims with rice, beans, salad, fried plantains, and your choice of fish, chicken, beef or pork. And if you're lucky, it will also have a scoop of picadillo – a tempting medley of perfectly spiced potatoes or squash, finely chopped. Soda cooks excel at preparing local meats, and use tried and true family recipes to prepare savory concoctions. After your meal, look for a granizado vendor and order a Costa Rican-style shaved ice. Choose your syrup flavor and opt for a topping of evaporated or sweet condensed milk.
Due to large immigrant populations, Costa Rica has become a melting pot of cultures and flavors. Tiny Chinese restaurants are nearly as prevalent as sodas, and offer affordable chop suey, egg rolls and vegetable fried rice. If you're after a more complex dining experience, the country's fine restaurateurs proffer delicious Lebanese kebobs, Japanese sushi, Peruvian seafood, Korean BBQ, and Spanish tapas – usually for less than $20 per person. Fusion cuisine is a special treat, blending local traditions with international flare to create one-of-a-kind dishes like ahi ceviche – raw tuna marinated in lime juice and topped with green onion, sesame seeds and seaweed flakes. Enjoy!