Tico Food

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Tico Food

Gallo Pinto- a typical Costa Rican dish. Pass the tabasco por favor
Gallo Pinto- a typical Costa Rican dish. Pass the tabasco por favor
In all actuality, it is possible in Costa Rica to order anything from sushi to huevos rancheros since the high level of tourism from the USA, Canada and Europe assures a wide selection of just about anything you might want to nibble on: Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, French, Mexican, American, Greek and although a little sad, one can even order a whopper. But that being said, part of the intrigue of traveling is sampling the local cuisine.

Any travel book or website usually characterizes Costa Rican food with one word- basic. Many even say the food here is quite bland and uninteresting. The fact is; the Tico diet IS quite basic, low fat and rich in proteins and carbohydrates. Fresh fruits and vegetables, beef, and plentiful salads are the staples of Costa Rican cooking. Found in any Tico home are picadillos: diced potatoes, chayotes (water squash or vegetable pears) or string beans are combined with finely chopped meat, tomatoes, onions, fresh coriander, and bell peppers. Other ingredients are added at the discretion of the cook, of course. But the Tico diet mainly consists of rice and beans or beans and rice, or any other combination of the two.

Unless you’re eating traditional Caribbean-style cuisine, the food in Costa Rica is not heavily spiced as most Ticos are not fond of hot sauce. Luckily, most restaurants will provide a spicy curtido (a pickle of hot peppers and vegetables) or little bottles of Tabasco. Salsa Lizano, the Tico version of Worcestershire sause is another popular condiment.

More often than not, breakfast is gallo pinto, the classic Costa Rican dish which consists of rice and black or red beans mixed with onion, garlic, and bell pepper, and if specifically for breakfast, will normally be served with scrambled or fried eggs and sour cream. Although mainly a breakfast dish, many Costa Ricans will eat some variation of gallo pinto three times a day together with homemade corn tortillas. Gallo pinto is cheap and hearty and can be rather tasty; and if you’ll be spending the entire day kayaking or hiking you’ll have an abundance of energy.

For lunch and dinner, ticos usually have a set meal called a casado, which is usually cheap and filling. Casado, which means married man, consists of rice, beans, cabbage salad, fried plantains, and a choice of either, chicken, fish, pork, or beef- and sometimes for good measure; will have a couple of carbohydrates added as well, like potatoes or pasta.

Another typical Tico dish is olla de carne (meat pot), a nourishing stew that consists of a small portion of beef and many vegetable common to the region: nampi and camote, both belonging to the sweet potato family, chayote (water squash), potatoes, and carrots and as per every meal, served with rice. There’s also olla podrida, another Costa Rican favorite. This stew owes its distinct flavor to the vegetables used in it: yucca, green plantain, sweet potato, tannia, tacacos, taro, pumpkin, carrot, cho-cho, onion, cabbage, and whatever else the cook deems worthy.

Also available just about everywhere in Costa Rica is another soup- sopa negra, made with black beans, onions, coriander, and hard-boiled eggs. There’s also arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) or arroz con mariscos (rice with seafood) served in sodas and restaurants throughout the country, which are also inexpensive and filling.

And served with just about every meal, is the plantain- a ‘steroided’ sweet relative of the banana. The plantain needs to be cooked before eating and is normally sliced up and fried in oil.

Costa Ricans also love their chicharrones- chittlins or deep-fried pig skin which includes the layer of fat just below the skin and is served with tortillas and lemon wedges. Health wise, probably not the best dish, but with beer and friends, chicharrones can’t be beat.

If the various rice and bean dishes just don’t do it for you, don’t fret- because some of the tastiest local cuisine is found on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Part of the secret seems to be in the coconut milk. Spicy coconut milk stews, garlic potatoes, perfectly-seasoned fish and chicken dishes are rather flavorful and even the sometimes bland rice and red bean dishes are cooked in coconut milk and aromatic herbs are added to provide that ‘extra something.’