Throughout its history, Costa Rica has primarily been a farming nation and this tradition clearly manifests itself through its food and drink. Staples such as corn, rice and beans remain and are the main ingredients in most dishes. Beef (bistek), chicken (pollo) and fish (pescado) are also widely consumed and with over one thousand metres of coastline you are guaranteed that the latter is in ample supply. Despite this quite a lot of the seafood, particularly shrimp and lobster, is pretty expensive due to the fact that most of it is exported.
The national dish is ‘gallo pinto’ which translates directly into English as ‘spotted rooster’. Made from fried rice and black beans it sometimes includes huevos fritos or fried eggs and is mainly served as breakfast but also makes a pretty tasty lunchtime filler. A more common lunchtime meal, however, is ‘Casado’ which is made from rice and beans, surprise surprise, but also includes a cabbage and tomato salad, fried platains and meat of some description or other – usually beef.
Other local favourites include arreglados, sandwiches or puff pastries stuffed with beef or chicken and cheese, tasty but very greasy; ceviche which is marinated seafood usually includding sea bass, shrimps or a combination of shellfish and served with lemon, garlic, onion and peppers and tamales which are boiled cornmeal pastries which have been stuffed with chicken or pork, corn and wrapped in banana leaves.
For those of you who are worried about the safety of food in Costa Rica, you needn’t bother. It certainly doesn’t have the risks that some other Central American countries but there are a couple of things that you should be aware of. Wash fruit and vegetables before eating them and if you’re eating something that’s peeled, ensure that it was you that peeled it. Also when it comes to eating out, the fancier restaurants are not always the cleanest. In fact, eating where the locals eat is always the best and safest way to go.
Finally, when it comes to drink, again the choice is not that wide and varied but you will find plenty of beverages – both alcoholic and non alcoholic – to quench your thirst. For the former stick with local brews which are quite similar to German pilsners and lagers. Imperial, Bavaria and Tropical are the most common but there are many more. You will also find plenty of local vodka, rum, whiskey but this might not live up to expectations. And, for those of you who prefer something a little softer try the refrescos – delicious fruit drinks served with water or milk. Made from a host of local fruits they also contain quite a lot of sugar, another reminder of the farming tradition where the workers needed it for energy to get through the day.