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Food and Drink

Costa Rica - Food and Drink

The national dish of Costa Rica is gallo pinto, which is a dish comprised of black beans and rice with other ingredients as desired. It is a common belief in Costa Rica that if you are not served gallo pinto when visiting someone’s home it means that you are unwelcome! Most homes will have a constant supply of gallo pinto to accompany every meal.

Plantain is grown widely in Costa Rica and therefore is included in some form as part of most meals. Despite being very similar to a banana, plantain should not be eaten raw, but it can be cooked in an assortment of different ways. If you are in a café or restaurant you may choose to order ‘Casado’ which is a set lunch, normally comprising gallo pinto, plantain, salad and meat or fish. Rice with chicken, soups and tortillas are other popular dishes.

Thanks to its tropical climate, Costa Rica is abundant in fresh fruit, many varieties of which are not available in the UK or other countries. Most Costa Rican desserts are based on fruit, but you may also be served “arroz con leche” (rice pudding) or pancakes. Dairy products in general are not consumed frequently in Costa Rica and it is difficult to find items such as a broad range of different cheeses. Bread in Costa Rica is often very sweet or buttery and can be very different to bread in the UK or other countries.

The national drink of Costa Rica is Cacique Guaro which is a strong alcohol (30% - 60%) made from sugarcane. Costa Rica also has two popular national beers – Imperial and Pilsen. Wine is not particularly popular in Costa Rica and it can be a challenge to come across good wine in many areas. You must be aged 18 to consume alcohol in Costa Rica, but for non-alcoholic alternatives, fresh drinks made from blended fruit and ice (refrescos) are far more popular in Costa Rica than bottled fizzy drinks. Coffee is one of Costa Rica’s biggest industries and therefore it is not difficult to find a decent, fresh cup of coffee.

Meal times are set to coincide with traditional manual lifestyles, working in the fields, as well as the early start times of schools and workplaces. It is not uncommon for Costa Ricans to get out of bed at around 4am, and breakfast is likely to be at around 6am-6.30am. Lunch is the main meal of the day and evening meals are taken fairly early in the day as traditionally (and currently in some rural regions) Costa Ricans will go to bed as soon as night falls.

A Costa Rican diet is very healthy as it is made up primarily of fresh foods that are grown locally. Costa Ricans are proud to eat and drink from within their own region and local markets with fresh produce are very popular. A trip to the local market is the highlight of the week for many Costa Ricans. The downside of consuming mainly local produce is that Costa Rican diets are quite simple and not very varied – you can expect to eat rice, beans and plantain with most meals. Meals can be quite large, especially if you are a guest in someone’s home, and heavy due to the variety of different starches. Costa Rican supermarkets are generally very basic and it can be difficult to get hold of foreign foods and ingredients.

Italian cuisine is popular in Costa Rica but beyond that restaurants are typically very simple, unless you’re based in San Jose. You can easily find restaurants with amazing “miradors” – viewpoints – and prices are cheap. However, do bear in mind that there is a 13% sales tax on food and a 10% service charge. It is unusual to leave an additional tip but you may do so if you are pleased with the service.

Despite Costa Rican food being fairly consistent throughout the country, in areas with better access to one of the two coastlines you will find plenty of fresh fish and seafood available, including the popular dish “ceviche” (fresh raw fish marinated in lemon or lime juice). As you move South towards the Caribbean region the food will take on a more local flavour, with more unusual dishes containing lots of spices and flavours.

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