If you’re a traveler at heart, you probably feel that experiencing local culture is an essential part of every trip. From traditional music and performances to shops run by the locals, it’s important to immerse yourself in the community to learn what a place is all about. Part of diving into a foreign culture is sampling the time-tested cuisine of the region and enjoying genuine cooking that you likely can’t find elsewhere.
While you’re teaching English in Costa Rica, you should make it a point to try all of these delicious dishes and drinks. Be warned though, if you decide to leave Costa Rica, you might never stop thinking about those incredible meals from the soda up the road.
A popular dish throughout that region of the world, ceviche is a staple at Costa Rican restaurants. This tantalizing combination of fresh fish, citrus and flavorful vegetables differs between the countries around the Caribbean Ocean that include it on every menu. In Costa Rica, your ceviche will likely contain fresh raw tilapia or white sea bass, lime juice, cilantro, garlic and hot peppers. Depending on the restaurant you visit, you’ll find variations of this recipe that have been passed down through generations of local families.
No matter where you go in Costa Rica, you’ll find casado on the menu as well. Considered a national dish, casado incorporates beans, rice with red bell peppers and onions, fried plantains, cabbage salad and a meat of choice. All the different components are separated on the plate so you can use a handful of different sauces to add unique flavors to every bite.
Another important dish in the Costa Rican diet is gallo pinto. Rice and beans are mixed together with fried or scrambled eggs, fried plantains, chopped beef and tortilla make up this common breakfast dish. Unlike casado’s separate portions of rice, beans, meat and veggies, gallo pinto is all combined. Dress your gallo pinto up with the national sauce, Salsa Lizano, that adds tangy and smoky flavors to your breakfast, and top it off with a dollop of sour cream or cheese.
Rice and Beans
We’ve talked about casado and gallo pinto, both of which incorporate rice and beans. But then there’s a separate dish just called rice and beans? Yep, a third tasty iteration. This recipe involves coconut milk, thyme, red beans and spicy chilies to provide mouthwatering flavor with every bite.
As one of the biggest coffee-growing regions in the world, Costa Rica will introduce you to incredibly fresh and high-quality cups of joe, made from local beans. The deep, robust flavor will have you thinking, “Starbucks who?” On long weekends or semester breaks, you can travel to coffee plantations, many of which are centrally located near San Jose, and learn how the plants are harvested. Plus, you can probably pick up a bag of the fresh roasted beans while you’re there to enjoy before school in the mornings.
A must-have when in Costa Rica, the guaro sour is considered the country’s national drink. Watch your bartender mix Cacique Guaro, a slightly sweet clear liquor, with basil leaves, lime, soda water, ice and simple syrup. Depending on who’s behind the bar, these delectable drinks can be quite strong, so please consume wisely.
For an authentic experience, the best place to buy tamales is a farmer’s market because they taste best when they’re fresh. Boiled plantain leaves are stuffed with saffron rice, pork, corn meal mix, beans and vegetables. You might have to be patient in your hunt for this traditionally Mexican dish tamales, as they’re most often cooked for special occasions like weddings and holidays.
Olla de Carne
If you’re a soup kind of person, don’t hesitate to task olla de carne. The stew combines beef, carrots, yuccas, sweet potatoes, plantains, chayotes, camotes and green plantains. With all these ingredients and flavors, olla de carne is a hearty stew that will leave you satisfied every time you indulge.
There are many scrumptious fruits in Costa Rica that you likely haven’t experienced before. From pejibaye, the peach palm fruit that locals spread mayonnaise on, to cacao fresco, the sweet and tangy fruit that surrounds the cacao beans that are used to make chocolate, there’s an endless supply of exotic produce for you to try.
Stave off the heat with a refresco, the popular beverage that combines fruit and ice or milk and refreshes Costa Ricans on warm days. These fruit smoothies can be found in most restaurants and corner stores, and there’s no shortage of flavors to try. The freshness of the fruit will change your standards for fruit smoothies forever.
If you’re yearning to experience the distinct dishes and drinks of Costa Rica and enjoy flavors that you can’t find at home, it’s time to think about teaching English in Costa Rica. With a TEFL certification, sense of adventure and desire to help children of the world advance their education, you can be qualified to start a new career as an ESL teacher.
Words by Christine Hayes.