Costa Rica Report (mostly general stuff) July 2006
As I mentioned in my post about cheeseburgers in Atenas, Costa Rica (see link below), I was in Costa Rica for a month this summer. I was leading a trip that was pretty much planned before I got there, so we ate many meals in the hotels we stayed at. We also ate some meals in regular restaurants (although none that particularly stood out) and of course in our homes during the homestay portion of the trip.
Overall, I thought food in Costa Rica was pretty good. I just spent 5 months in Ecuador and I thought Costa Rican food was pretty similar to Coastal Ecuadoran food....both of these have more flavor than most food in highland Ecuador or Peru or even southern South America (Chile, Argentina, etc). Rice and beans were everywhere in Costa Rica, but not always in the same form....I ate plenty of both red and black beans, sometimes pureed and refried, sometimes mixed in with rice, sometimes in the form of gallo pinto, the traditional breakfast dish in Costa Rica. I really like Salsa Lisano, which is similar to Worcestershire Sauce and is used in many dishes (including gallo pinto) and was also available as a condiment.
Usually breakfasts consisted of eggs, gallo pinto (rice, beans, salsa lisano, cilantro, onion), tortillas or toast, and then at many hotels there were things like french toast or pancakes. The main fresh fruits in season in July were watermelon, papaya and pineapple. We ate these everywhere....when we ordered fruit punch, it was often just a mix of these (maybe with some banana too). Fruits for juices were more varied and I was really impressed by the diversity of fruit juices. On both coasts we had lots of tamarind and cas (sour guava), also pineapple, watermelon. Mango season was about to be over, so we didn't eat too many mangoes. Other juice choices included mora (blackberry), guanabana (soursop) and carambola (starfruit). I really began liking starfruit a LOT during this trip, and during my homestay, I lived with a family who liked fruit as much as me! I spent a lot of time with my host mother visiting her friend's orchards and picking fruit...guavas (which are long, pod-like fruits), guayaba (which we call guava), starfruit, oranges, lemons, sweet lemons (which tasted like lemon fruit loops), bananas, mangoes, maracuya (passion fruit) and some other fruits I don't remember the names of. One fruit was small and looked kind of like a yellow cherry....it tasted a lot like Manichewitz sweet wine. Another fruit was small (about half the size of a lime) and probably related to mangoes....when unripe, it was tart and very starchy....it got sweet but still very starchy once it was ripe. Finally, the favorite fruit of the trip was cacao....on the Peninsula de Osa we visited Kobo Farm, which is situated on an old chocolate plantation. Two of my students LOVED the cacao fruit and decided to pick about 20 of them the night before we left for the busride back north.
Kobo Farm was a nice place to visit, and we got a tour of how chocolate is made (starting with the fruit). We saw the fermentation process, the drying of the seeds, then tasted some dried cacao after various stages of roasting. The next day, they prepared a chocolate fondue buffet, with homemade chocolate sauce (all made on premises). Pretty cool. Kobo Farm is located near Rincon de Osa on the Osa Peninsula, about 35 minutes north of Puerto Jimenez.
The traditional lunch in Costa Rica is a 'casado', which is a plate with choice of meat (usually steak, chicken or fish), rice, beans, salad, sweet plantain and usually some other type of vegetable. These lunches are usually a good deal and are generally very tasty. Another popular favorite in my group was the classic 'arroz con pollo' which was generally great as well. On the coasts they often had arroz con camarones (rice with shrimp) or mixed mariscos (squid, fish and shrimp). I also saw a fair amount of ceviche in restaurants on the Pacific coast....the one fish ceviche I tried though was homemade by a friend of my host mother's.
During the homestay, we got to try some more traditional foods which were great. My host grandmother made tamal asado, which is a mixture of cornmeal with sugar, raisins, milk and other spices. This is cooked in banana leaves in a wood burning fire. I also tried a sweet made with unrefined brown sugar, grated coconutWith some meals we had some excellent avocado...really sweet and refreshing with meat stews and rice and beans.
Coffee in Costa Rica was everywhere (which was nice compared to Ecuador, where people only drink Nescafe). I didn't think the coffee was particularly amazing, but it was definitely good. I was living in an area where coffee was grown, but I did not get a chance to visit the nearby coffee cooperative.
Other than coffee and juices I have too many drinks....Imperial, probably the most popular beer, is okay and nice for the hot weather I guess. Sort of like Corona. On the Pacific coast I had some nice virgin piña coladas....the pineapples in Costa Rica were really good.
That's about all for now, I'll post more if I think of anything specific I forgot to mention. Once again, my post about the cheeseburger stand is linked below,
Eating out in Costa Rica is hardly a looked-forward-to event.
It's pretty much "gninid enif," i.e. "fine dining" spelled backwards. In the 10 years I've resided there I have had some exceptional meals. But every one of the restaurants no longer exists.
Even first-class tourist hotels aren't willing to pay for a gifted chefs for the few weeks of high tourism.
One cafe I frequently return to for lunch is Cafe Torino in Escazu. The chef is serious about what he's doing. Soups and desserts are first rate and so is the pleasant wait staff.