Costa Rica Food and Drink
Costa Rica is a not a major foodie destination, but what it lacks in sophistication it makes up for in choice. Restaurants in coastal towns and larger cities serve a variety of foods – you’ll find everything from Argentinian steaks to Middle Eastern food. Expect to see Chinese, French, Italian, Mexican and North American joints selling food that can range from satisfactory to sublime.
The Caribbean side of the country tends to be more aligned with food on the islands – jerk chicken is a staple, rice and beans (gallo pinto) is more likely to be prepared with coconut milk, and ginger and curry spices feature heavily as ingredients, leading to dishes with a very distinct flavour from their counterparts on the Pacific coast. The Costa Rican diet is fairly healthy with smaller portions than in the US, and low use of dairy or high-fat dishes; fruits and vegetables make up a high proportion of meals, whilst pork, chicken and beef are the meats predominantly available. Seafood is available throughout the country, particularly in coastal regions, with seabass being the most common fish on the menu.
In San José, options range from expensive and exemplary gourmet restaurants to cheap sodas (small, simple restaurants) serving local food, including set lunches called casados at bargain prices.
• Casado (a fixed daily lunch, usually featuring rice, beans, stewed chicken or beef, fried plantain, salad and cabbage).
• Olla de carne (soup of beef, plantain, corn, yuca and chayote).
• Sopa negra (black beans with a poached egg).
• Picadillo (meat and vegetable stew).
• Gallo pinto (rice and black beans, a staple dish).
• Bocas (savoury snacks served at bars or before main meals in restaurants).
• Empanadas (small corn flour pasties filled with cheese, beans and sometimes meat).
• Ceviche (raw fish ‘cooked’ in lemon juice and coriander).
Tipping is not necessary but is acceptable if the service was particularly outstanding;no more than 10% though. Restaurants add a 13% sales tax plus a 10% service charge to the bill.
• Coffee. It’s how you drink it that counts! Coffee is usually served black, with about as much hot milk as coffee.
• Horchata (cinnamon-flavoured cornmeal drink)
• Refrescos (fruit drinks that can either be made with water (con agua) or with milk (con leche) for a milkshake effect.
• Pipas (fresh coconut water served in the husk. Found mostly in coastal rural areas, the green coconuts are served with the tops cut off and a straw. There’s always less in there than you’d think, but they’re great ice cold.)
• Cuba Libre. This is Latin America after all; have a rum and coke with lime. Cebada (fermented barley; an indigenous beverage).
• Pinolillo (corn and cocoa).
• Batidos (fresh fruit shakes made with either milk or water blended with ice).