When it comes to food in Costa Rica, we need to start with a bit of a history lesson. We’ll make it quick, promise!
Food in this Central American gem is truly a mix of cultures. First, it was influenced by the indigenous. Then came the Spanish, who heavily wiped out a lot of the traditional food and paved the way for what is commonly eaten by tourists today. And of course, there is a slight American influence since so many migrate there annually.
See, we told you it would be a quick Costa Rican history lesson. Now, let’s get to the exciting part. Food!
9 must-try foods in Costa Rica
What do you picture when you think of Costa Rican cuisine?
Beans? Rice? Fish? Chicken? Well, you’re right!
Beans and rice are two staple ingredients. And due to the various altitudes and climates across the country, you will also find a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits. In particular, plantains, tomatoes, pejibaye (palm fruit), pineapples and mangoes.
But you can’t live on beans, rice and fruit alone. There is a lot more to choose from.
Gallo Pinto (most famous food in Costa Rica)
This is an obvious start for the 9 must-try dishes since it’s the national dish and arguably the most Costa Rican food you can eat.
It may be a simple dish, but then again, less is more. Gallo pinto is a side dish comprised of two main ingredients; white rice and black beans. Other components include red bell peppers, onions and cilantro.
Breakfast foods in Costa Rica always include a side of gallo pinto, so you don’t need to go out of your way to try this dish! It will be one of your staples by the end of your trip.
Second to gallo pinto, casado is a very traditional Costa Rican food.
Casado means marriage which is essentially what this dish is all about: a union between multiple ingredients in one dish. Expect a plate with rice and beans (are you seeing a theme?), tortillas, salad and fried plantains. Additionally, you can choose a protein to accompany your meal, such as chicken, beef, pork or fish.
Sopa Negra (Black Bean Soup)
There isn’t anything too fancy about this dish, nor does it look super appetizing. However, it hits the spot on a long day hiking through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Walk or Arenal Volcano. Like many Costa Rican dishes, this one contains hard-boiled eggs along with a base of black beans. The black bean soup is generally topped with onion, garlic and cilantro.
Tamales are a dish that can be found throughout Mesoamerica. However, Costa Rican tamales are prepared differently.
For example, in Mexico, they are wrapped in corn husks, but in the land of Pura Vida, they are wrapped in banana leaves. Inside, you will find corn-based dough stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables, or beans. As the ingredients are cooked in the banana leaf, the components develop an earthy flavor.
They are a cultural tradition, and while served for breakfast, lunch or dinner in Costa Rica, it is a dish most commonly served on Christmas Day. Makes sense, right? As you unwrap the banana leaf, it’s just like opening a Christmas present.
If you have a travel day ahead of you, such as from San Jose to La Fortuna, you may want to stock up on snacks. One of the most popular is chifrijo which is chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and frijoles (beans). It’s typically served with a side of tortilla chips.
It’s the Costa Rican version of guacamole and chips! You can find this dish at farmer’s markets as well as in restaurants.
Another favorite snack food in Costa Rica is patacones—deep-fried green plantains.
You can munch on them alone or find them served alongside black bean dip, pico de gallo or guacamole. They make the perfect appetizer for any meal.
Breakfast foods in Costa Rica range from gallo pinto, a serving of eggs, patacones or chorreadas. You will most likely be tempted by the latter option if you have a sweet tooth.
Chorreadas are sweet corn pancakes made from corn kernels, flour, milk, eggs and sugar. Unlike other pancakes, no syrup is needed as the corn makes them sweet enough. Ironically, some locals even add a dollop of sour cream to counterbalance the sweetness of these pancakes.
One of the most famous and traditional dishes from the Caribbean Coast is Rondon stew, which is also known as run down. It’s typically made from whatever you can run down at the end of the week.
The primary ingredient in this soup is coconut milk. To add punch, chillis are always added, along with fish or shellfish, sweet potatoes, green plantain, onion, bell pepper and garlic.
Due to the country’s location between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, seafood in Costa Rica is very fresh. And this soup usually highlights it.
Olla de Carne
Last but not least, Olla de Carne is a beef and vegetable stew best devoured when you are after a hearty, meaty dish. It is typically served in a broth alongside sweet potatoes, pumpkin, corn and cassava.
So there you have it, a wrap-up of the best 9 foods in Costa Rica. Get ready to stuff your face on vacation because tasting these local dishes is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
Now it’s time to go eat. We are starving just writing about all that yummy cuisine.
Citizens of many countries can stay in Costa Rica for 90 days. But check the government website to be sure.
There is no bad time to go. It depends on why you are going. For example, surfers need to go when it’s rainier, and wildlife lovers need to go in the dry season. For monthly weather details about where and when to go, read this.
It most definitely is! With a lot of outdoor activities, it’s a fun-filled holiday for adults and children alike. From beaches to jungles and animal sanctuaries, there is something for everyone.
Skip the tourist traps and head to a soda (not the fizzy type!). These local restaurants serve the best food in Costa Rica, hands down. Some might look a bit run down, but don’t let that scare you. You will thank us later.