Top 10 Foods to Try in Costa Rica
In this guide we have put together our top 10 list of foods to try while visiting Costa Rica. When travelling to another country, you always want to ensure that you have access to clean water and good, wholesome food. Nothing spoils the fun more than bad food. Let’s face it — having fun can be very exhausting! Eating healthy local food is essential to replenishing your energy reserves. This article will introduce you to tasty local dishes that tick all the nutritional boxes. Enjoy!
Our List of Top 10 Foods to Try while in Costa Rica (in no particular order)
1. Gallo Pinto
Although Gallo means chicken, this dish has nothing to do with roosters, though Gallo pinto means spotted rooster. It is made of rice and beans. If you ask for this dish using its full name, then that is a dead giveaway that you are not a local, despite getting the tan to look like a Costa Rican national.
Locals just call it pinto. Bland, you might think, because it is only made of rice and beans. But what makes this dish a delight is the accompanying spices. You can mix it with cilantro, onions, and bell peppers. Some versions include an egg, but common variants don’t.
The best thing about it is the Salsa Lizano, a 100% Costa Rican salsa developed back in the 1970s. Once all mixed, crumbs from the beans give the rice a speckled color, and thus the name.
2. Tres Leches
Ok, I know. Dessert comes after the food. However, I cannot risk that you miss this one. So I just have to tell you about it right at the beginning of this article.
See, while the recipe for Tres Leche has not been invented in Costa Rica, and also other Latin as well as Oriental countries offer this amazing cake, it has become part of Costa Rican tradition and you just NEED to try it!
Tres Leche is a vanilla sponge cake that is soaked in three kinds of milk: whole milk, condensed milk, and sweetened condensed milk. To top it of whipped cream or meringue is added as well.
You only live once, I guess.
Typically served during lunchtime, Casado is a Costa Rica food that will fill your tummy for the latter part of the day until you get to your afternoon snack. The main ingredients are rice and beans, salad.
However, if you desire to get your dose of protein, you can also choose to have it cooked with fish or meat. You can select from the meat list of the restaurant, but it is best coupled with beef or chicken. Often times it is served with pork.
If you do not mind those love handles, ask the server to toss some eggs, avocado, cheese, fries, tortillas, or other options available at the joint.
4. Arroz Con Something
If you know what paella means, then you will find this one very familiar. Arroz refers to rice and con means with. So, depending on the restaurant where you are dining, this dish is mainly rice served with something.
First, the rice is steamed. Then, it is sautéed with different ingredients. Some are cooked in tomato sauce, without getting too saucy, while some are like fried rice mixed with chicken strips. This dish has evolved into too many variants, all of which are delicious and fulfilling.
The dish is also typically cooked with vegetables like green peas, carrots, bell peppers, and a myriad of meat choices.
Rice and beans again! Lots of starch in here!
What separates chifrijo from its brothers and sisters is that it is a small dish. Think compact cars—small but packed with features. It is also topped with pork belly or little fried ribs. The dish is served with avocado and lime.
In some variants, the dish is topped with a lot of diced tomatoes. It is often served with dry tortilla chips, which you can eat best if you top it with tomatoes and salsa like pico de gallo, which is commonly served with the dish.
And before we forget, do not ask this from restaurants. Ask this from bars as it is best served with sub-zero refreshments along the coastlines of Costa Rica.
Nope, this is not the Mexican tamale. They share some similarities, but Costa Rican Tamale is a distant cousin of the Mexican version. This one is wrapped in banana leaves.
What you’ll find inside are rice, potatoes, bell pepper, beans, and vegetables. Some variants come with chicken meat. Although it can stand on its own as a meal, it is still best served as a snack in the afternoon, especially if you are on a boat and out fishing.
The tamale is akin to a burrito, but the tamale is a tradition in Costa Rica, where its history can be traced as far back as 7,000 B.C. The word means wrapped food, and thus the banana leaves. Today, Costa Rican families often prepare and eat this traditional dish around Christmas time.
If a restaurant serves this, grab it. An average Costa Rican family eats this only once a year. It is tedious to make so do not let go of that opportunity to get a bite.
And don’t eat the banana leaves.
7. Sopa Negra
Called black bean soup in the English tongue, this delicacy is a sumptuous feast of all flavors best taken at night, especially once you have had your fill of the morning and afternoon activities you are just about ready to hit the sack. Made with vegetables, the primary source of its flavor is the black beans.
It is a vegetarian dish that is made of the broth of cooked black beans and comes with a colorful mix of bell peppers, cilantro, spices, tomatoes, onions, and corn. In some variants, the soup is served with meat cuts, specifically beef cubes.
The dish has a dark broth because of the black beans. In some variants, the broth will have a reddish hue if the cook added tomatoes. In Costa Rica, Sopa Negra is served with tortillas or rice. If you want a soup that gives you a kick, ask the server for some hot chilies. If there is none, a bottle of Tabasco should do the job.
8. Olla de Carne
This dish is one that meat lovers will adore. Made with beef as its primary ingredient, the stew comes with a whip of herbs and spices. Vegetables and tubers are also part of the dish such as corn, cassava, taro root, and carrots.
The soup is a little saucy, and it is best served Tabasco or any hot sauce available in the joint. And of course, can you guess what comes with it? Rice and beans! You can ask the server to replace this with tortillas.
9. Fried Whole Fish
Fish lovers have to try this one. What you will usually find on your plate will be a whole fried Red Snapper or whatever fresh fish is available, with salad and some potato variation as side dishes.
Not everyone will like the look of a whole fish on the plate, but I’m sure that if you like fish, you will just love how the fish is crispy on the outside, and so rich in flavor and juiciness when prepared this way.
Oh, Costa Rica – where are you?
10. Ceviche Tico
Talking about fish, if you have a tummy that can accommodate uncooked fish, then ceviche tico is a must-try. No, you will not eat it like Leonardo di Caprio in the Revenant, sorry. It is practically drowned in lemon juice or any citrus fruit, along with spices and peppers.
Usually, Costa Ricans use sea bass and cut it into cubes. The head is not included. The cubes are mixed with diced onion, cilantro, peppers, and lemon juice. It is not heated, but the acidity of the citrus fruit kills off the bacteria.
Ceviche is best served cold, so you can basically snack away while watching the Costa Rican soccer national team kick some butt!
There you have it! Never leave without trying at least one best food in Costa Rica. One of the things that really make a vacation meaningful is to get deep into a country’s culture. And one of the best ways to do this is by eating what they eat.
There are many hotels and beachfront properties where you can find these meals. Even if you rent condominium units, you will be surprised that the restaurants are accessible, provided that you are within the beach area.
And certainly, you will find that a Costa Rican restaurant serves the polished version of the food. Nevertheless, the original recipe still keeps that spirit of the dish alive, and you will get a real taste of what the locals eat whenever they celebrate important occasions.
Pro tip: typical Costa Rican food restaurants are called “SODA”. So if you are looking for the real experience, and you are not able to visit a Costa Rican family at home – make sure to look for an authentic soda and get yours.
And oh, forget the weighing scale. I mean – okay – if you are really conscious about your diet, just take a little bite here, and a little bite there. Hey, I said just ONE — oh, well. You only get to do this once. So enjoy!