By Bradley R., guest blogger studying Spanish in Heredia and Samara Beach, two of AmeriSpan's most popular Costa Rica Spanish schools
The food in Costa Rica isn't particularly revolutionary, although I enjoy it greatly. As one might expect of any Latin country, the most common staple is rice, with black beans as a close second. Nearly every meal, breakfast to dinner, includes at least a small portion of each.
The typical breakfast is often called Gallo Pinto, although technically Gallo Pinto refers to the black beans and rice with added flavorings that is omnipresent here. It can be served with everything from eggs and sausage or bacon to pancakes, french toast, or tortillas–as long as they are fried. Fresh fruit and juices are almost always a part of breakfast, especially at home, and there is a stupefying selection of fruits and juices that are readily available and delicious. Possibly most important to Gallo Pinto is the addition of a Costa Rican sauce, Salsa Lizano, that is somewhat like ketchup but with chiles rather than tomatoes. It is not spicy, and available at every restaurant. The author of my guide book reported a popular saying in Central America along the lines of "Where there are Costa Ricans, there is freedom"–this due to the country's history of stable government and lack of a military–and compared it to the slogan of the Lizano company, "Where there are Costa Ricans, there is Salsa Lizano." He quipped that he found these two sayings to be equally true, and I agree.
The normal lunch for many Ticos, especially those working outside of the home, is a Casado, which is a platter available in the local form of a greasy spoon restaurant, called a Soda. It includes rice and beans, three or four small sides, fresh juice, and a choice of beef, pork, chicken, fish, or vegetables as the primary dish. All of them are fried. I have found Casados to be uniformly delicious, if uninspiring. The common sides include french fries, potatoes, fried yucca, shredded cabbage and carrots, beet salad, fried squash, lettuce salad, and a second helping of beans. The going rate is $5 in very busy areas, and $4 off the beaten path, and at either price a huge amount of food and a great deal.
Dinner seems to vary much more than the earlier meals, but is almost sure to include rice and/or tortillas. My host family has yet to serve me something a second time, making it difficult to identify any further trends, so instead I will just name a few spectacular dinners that stick out: spaghetti and tomato sauce topped with an unheated sauce of oil, fresh tomatos, and a ton of garlic; hamburgers whose patties were made with a number of vegetables and spices, and which were topped off with bacon, avocado, a fried egg, and Salsa Lizano; black bean soup with fried eggs, plantains, and a large chunk of a vegetable that had the texture of a beet and the flavor of a slightly sweetened potato, but which was neither beet nor potato (with rice of course); and lastly Gallo Pinto with a shredded cabbage, beet, and tomato salad, topped with spicy sausage and served with quail eggs.
Lastly, I would like to make special mention of the Empanada de Chiverre, which is a small, unfrosted turnover filled with the fruit Chiverre. It is popular during holy week. My google search informs me that it is similar to spaghetti squash, but this seems dubious. The flavor is most similar to that of a date or a fig, with a similar texture. Regardless, try one.
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