Ask any Tico their favorite meal, and one of these Costa Rican dishes is sure to pop up. Whether it;s breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack, Costa Rica has been cooking unique cuisine for years and is finally gaining the international attention it deserves.
Whether you like savory or sweet, salty or tangy: these ten Costa Rican dishes are sure to please any foodie on their journey to Latin America.
If you are going to Costa, you MUST try these 10 foods:
1) Gallo Pinto
Is it Costa Rican or Nicaraguan?
While the jury is still out on its origins, this dish is considered the national breakfast of both countries. The beloved Latin American dish is made with rice and beans and is also served with a side of eggs cooked to your preference. Gallo Pinto means “spotted rooster” in Spanish, the name likely given for the spotted look of the beans and rice. Because every family has its own recipe, Gallo Pinto is best tried while dining with a local family.
2) Casado or Comida Tipica
If you came to Costa Rica without trying this national dish, then you really didn’t visit Costa Rica. This lunch or dinner meal is easy to find in most restaurants, and it’s extremely easy to please. Although there are variations across the country, casado typically includes rice, beans, simple salad, and a grilled meat such as chicken or fish. It’s a staple in every Tico’s diet, and if you are spending some time in Costa Rica, it will likely become a part of yours, too!
Side note: Casado means “married man” in Spanish, referring to the marriage between the components of the dish.
3) Olla de Carne
This hearty traditional Costa Rican dish is a stew of beef and vegetables. It’s very popular in the capital city of San José and there are variations of it across Latin America. It is most commonly prepared on the weekends because the vegetables and meat taste better the longer you cook it, so the process is often kept to special occasions. It can be served with rice, beans, and plantains, but all kept on separate dishes so the taste of the Olla de Carne can be preserved.
Chicharrón traditionally consists of fried pork belly or friend pork rinds, but can also include chicken, mutton, or beef. The Costa Rican version uses fried pork ribs with lime juice, usually accompanied by tortillas.
5) Arroz con Pollo
This is the sister dish to casado, and a popular choice all throughout Latin America. Simply put, it’s chicken and rice. However, the Costa Rican version uses deboned chicken throughout the rice with onions, red peppers, and cilantro. Arroz con is not just limited to pollo, or “chicken”. Its style varies on the area where you buy it and can also be made with pork, beef, shrimp, or fish. Expect a salad or tortilla chips as a side dish to this meal.
Ceviche is essentially raw seafood, salt, and limes. The citrus and salt marinate and “cook” the seafood by breaking down the proteins in the same way that cooking with heat does. In Costa Rica ceviche is classically made with the freshest local sea bass, but other fresh fish and shellfish are sometimes used. Additionally, locals sometimes put ketchup and ginger ale in their ceviche for a sweet and tangy taste.
Served as sandwiches or pastries, these snacks are greasy, but delicious. They are often filled with a variation of cheese, chicken, and beef. You will be able to find this little delicacy on the street or in local bakeries.
Is this a snack or meal? Who knows. This “anytime” dish is a popular accompaniment to late night beers or as a quick meal at a farmers market. Chifrijo is made with beans, rice, fried pork skin, corn, tomatoes, onions, and a heaping spoonful of chicken broth. Served with tortilla chips, this dish is often made in bulk for family functions and national holidays. The soup version, with all the ingredients blended using a food processor and the addition of hot chilis, is a popular hangover remedy.
Are you tired of having gallo pinto for breakfast every morning? Fear not, chorreadas are the answer. These pancakes are made from corn flour and can be served in a sweet or savory version. The sweet version is akin to American-style pancakes, served with honey or syrup and a morning coffee. The savory version is a popular lunch-time option, being served with bacon and sour cream.
This dessert is so popular in Puntarenas, a city on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, that it was deemed the city’s “official snack”. Named after a store keeper in the 1940’s who was thought to resemble Winston Churchill, this “drink and dessert” is made by combining condensed milk, syrup, and fruit in a large cup. While some food trucks simply put these ingredients in a small cup as a snow cone, true Churchills are served in a large cup. Some variations include ice cream and shaved ice.
Don’t forget to also try the famous Costa Rican coffee! Most of the coffee is locally grown and delicious! Additionally, your money will be going to keeping independent coffee farms up and running.
P.S. If you’re looking to stay a while, read our Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in Central America
Have you ever had Costa Rican food? What was your favorite thing that you tried in Costa Rica?
Words by Dara Denney.