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A Guide to Traditional Costa Rican Food

  • March 5, 2021
  • Villa Punto de Vista

guide to traditional costa rican food

Exploring the Diversity of Costa Rican Food Culture

In Costa Rica, typical food is anything but typical for many tourists. When you order food from street vendors or dine at a restaurant in Costa Rica, you can expose your palate to new and interesting flavors and to ingredients you may have never even heard of. A variety of fruits and vegetables grow in Costa Rica. Plus, Costa Rican chefs have access to fresh seafood, amazing local spices and traditional Costa Rican recipes that will have your mouth watering.

Costa Rican Breakfast

The typical Costa Rican breakfast is a hearty meal. A breakfast staple you can expect to see in most Costa Rican homes is known as gallo pinto. This dish is a savory mixture of rice and beans, along with flavorful add-ins like onions, red peppers, garlic and cilantro. Alongside gallo pinto, Costa Rican breakfast tables may contain:

  • Eggs
  • Corn tortillas
  • Cheese
  • Plantains
  • Sour cream
  • Bread or pastries
  • Meat, such as sausage
  • Fresh fruit or fruit juice

casado traditional costa rican food

Casado — The Quintessential Costa Rican Cuisine

Costa Rica’s most famous food is known as a casado, and it is a whole meal served on one plate. This platter is most popular for lunch, but you can order it for lunch or dinner in many restaurants throughout Costa Rica. Each restaurant will have their own variation on the traditional meal, but the basic components tend to be:

  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Salad
  • Meat, seafood or eggs
  • Fried plantains

Depending on the restaurant, you may also get a slice of cheese, cooked vegetables, French fries, tortillas, avocado slices or a fresh fruit drink with your meal. These plates are a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach since they are brimming with a variety of foods.

The casado is also a nutritious, well-balanced meal. Since it provides fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and legumes, it encompasses most of the food groups from which the bulk of our daily calories should come.

Other Traditional Costa Rican Dishes

Casado may be the most iconic type of Costa Rican food, but there are a variety of dishes you should plan to try when you visit Costa Rica. Some types of food to eat in Costa Rica include:

  • Arroz con carne: One of the simplest typical dishes in Costa Rica is arroz con carne. This dish consists of rice, tinted yellow with annatto, diced vegetables and a type of protein. Choose from chicken (pollo), shrimp (camarones) or seafood (mariscos). You can also enjoy a vegetarian version with grilled vegetables.
  • Olla de carne: Olla de carne is a hearty beef stew. Along with beef, this stew is likely to contain root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, yuca and taro along with other types of produce like plantains, chayote and corn.
  • Sopa negra: Sopa negra is a type of black bean soup that is a staple comfort food in Costa Rica. If you are served a bowl of sopa negra, it will likely come with rice, corn tortillas and boiled eggs.
  • Sopa mariscos: Another type of soup to try — especially if you’re a seafood lover — is sopa mariscos. Coastal restaurants will pack this tomato-based soup with flavorful combinations of shrimp, squid, fish, clams and mussels.
  • Ceviche: Ceviche is a Latin American favorite made with marinated raw fish that is served cold. In Costa Rica, ceviche is a refreshing snack or side, and it’s likely to be made from tilapia, onions, lime juice and cilantro. You can also find ceviche made with shrimp.
  • Chifrijo: Another delicious and filling snack you can find in Costa Rican restaurants and bars or from street vendors is chifrijo. This hearty little dish is packed with layers of rice, black beans, fried pork rinds called chicharrones and fresh toppings like avocado and pico de gallo. You may also get fresh tortilla chips or plantain chips on the side.
  • Patacones:  Fried plantains, called patacones, are a popular side dish with any meal in Costa Rica. To make patacones, you simply peel and slice a plantain, briefly boil the slices, then mash the slices down and fry them on a skillet. You can top patacones with salt and lime or pico de gallo.
  • Tamales: Many people are familiar with Mexican tamales, which come wrapped in corn husks. In Costa Rica, you’re more likely to be served tamales wrapped in banana leaves. The tamale itself is made from dough called masa and contains fillings such as meat, vegetables, cheese or even sweet fillings.

flan traditional costa rican dessert

Costa Rican Desserts

If you have a sweet tooth, you may be most interested in what Costa Ricans serve for dessert. You’ll notice that many desserts are dairy-based or take advantage of the incredible tropical fruits in Costa Rica. A few popular desserts you should plan to try include:

  • Arroz con leche: Arroz con leche is a creamy rice pudding that contains raisins and spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon.
  • Tres leches: This dessert starts with a sponge cake that the baker then soaks in three types of milk — hence, the name “tres leches.” These three types are evaporated milk, full-fat milk or heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk. It’s usually topped with whipped cream as well.
  • Flan: Flan is a jiggly custard dessert. The most iconic type is topped with a layer of caramel, but a must-try flavor in Costa Rica iscoconut flan.
  • Cajeta de coco: If you like cookies or other small desserts that pair well with coffee or tea, try some cajeta de coco. This dessert consists of a cooked mixture of grated coconut, butter, sugar, condensed milk and wafer crumbs, which is then rolled into balls and chilled.
  • Granizados: Granizados are similar to snow cones, and you can often find a vendor selling this refreshing treat on the beach. Instead of just shaved ice and syrup, though, granizados also include condensed milk, which makes them creamier. You may also be able to get a Churchill — a granizado with ice cream and fresh fruit.
  • Empanadas: Empanadas are turnovers or hand pies that can contain savory or sweet fillings. Dessert empanadas in Costa Rica are typically stuffed with delicious jam made from fruits like guava or pineapple. The empanadas are either fried or baked. You may encounter street vendors selling empanadas, or you can stop into a bakery to try one.

Treat Your Taste Buds and All Your Senses to an Amazing Vacation in Costa Rica

If you’re looking for a vacation destination that will engage all your senses and will make you feel like you’re in a tropical paradise, Costa Rica is the ideal choice. When you visit, stay at one of the two private villas at the Villa Punto de Vista Estate. You’ll enjoy amazing views and easy access to the beach, rainforest, marinas and more. Plus, the villas are just minutes from the city of Manuel Antonio where you can dine at a variety of restaurants.

During your stay, our private chef will prepare gourmet breakfasts and champagne mimosas to help you celebrate each new day. You can also request additional services from our chef. If you’re ready to experience new cuisine and indulge all your senses, start by checking our availability and rates online.

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