Costa Rica foods

Costa Rica foods - 10 authentic local dishes you must try

With its signature combination of palm-fringed beaches, delightfully diverse wildlife, lush rainforest and adventure activities galore, it’s hardly any surprise that Costa Rica has secured a spot as one of the world’s top sustainable travel destinations. But despite its esteemed reputation as a paradisiacal land of sloths, surfing, and sunsets, Costa Rica’s culinary culture remains all too hidden of a gem. Whether due to the surplus of international restaurants or the general confusion that Costa Rican food should resemble the iconic dishes so prevalent in Mexican cuisine, it’s surprisingly easy to extensively travel this mesmerizing destination—yet never actually taste authentic Costa Rica food. Don’t fall prey to this common mistake. Instead, head straight to a soda, a no-frills family-run diner, and start taste-testing the local fare with this ultimate list of traditional Costa Rica foods you absolutely must try.

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When it comes to eating in the land of Pura Vida, nothing is more quintessentially Costa Rican than Gallo Pinto—the national dish of the country

1. Gallo Pinto

When it comes to eating in the land of Pura Vida, nothing is more quintessentially Costa Rican than Gallo Pinto—the national dish of the country. Gallo pinto is a scrumptious combination of rice and red beans cooked to perfection with onions, red pepper, garlic, and cilantro. It’s typically served with eggs, plantains, tortillas, local cheese, and coffee. Gallo pinto is most commonly enjoyed for breakfast, a hearty start to any day spent exploring the highlights of Costa Rica.

2. Casado

A Casado, another classic food in Costa Rica, is all about the harmonious marriage of rice and beans, staple ingredients for many Latin American dishes. The Spanish word for a married man, locals say the Casado gets its name from the days when wives would prepare similar lunches for their husbands working in the fields. Alongside the rice and beans, you’ll find fried plantains, a small salad, colourful picadillo (or vegetable hash), and the protein of your choice. Casados vary slightly depending on the soda, so it’s worth trying this typical Costa Rican food more than once.

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3. Patacones

When you’ve got a hankering for something deep-fried, nothing hits the spot quite like patacones. Smashed green plantains are twice-fried and salted, and then typically served with black beans, local sour cream, and pico de gallo. Sometimes you’ll find patacones served in nacho form, smothered with cheese, ground beef, and guacamole. It’s as delightfully delicious as it sounds, a worthy reward after an adventure-fueled day.

4. Chifrijo

A relative newcomer to the country’s culinary scene, Cordero’s I bar claims to have invented Chifrijo in the 1990s. Since then, the tasty boca has quickly become one of the most beloved foods in Costa Rica, and you can now find this popular appetizer in just about any local Costa Rican bar. The dish consists of a corn tortilla shell filled with rice, beans, and chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and then topped with pico de gallo, avocado, and—more often than not—the bar’s signature hot sauce. Wash it down with an Imperial, Costa Rica’s national beer, and you’ll fit right in with the locals.

Photo: Steve Tsang

5. Olla de Carne

When you’ve indulged in one too many boozy libations (and are forced to deal with the consequences the next day), make a beeline for a soda serving Olla de Carne. This hearty stew includes beef, corn, carrots, plantains, and yucca—and is considered by locals to be the ultimate hangover cure. The healing soup is most commonly served on the weekends, so save your grand fiestas for then.

6. Tamal

Popular in Mexico and across Central America, the Costa Rican tamal is a corn flour dough filled with meat, rice, and vegetables. The filling is then wrapped in a plantain leaf and boiled for around two hours. Every family has their own variation of tamales fillings, often passed down through generations. Come December, local families gather to prepare the tamales that will be enjoyed together on Christmas day. Unlike Mexican tamales, the Costa Rica version tends to be softer, wetter, and with fewer spices.

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7. Rondon

Traveling to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast? Lucky you. Costa Ricans tend to go light on the spices, except for the Caribbean, where flavorful dishes showcase regional ingredients and Afro-Caribbean culture. Of the many yummy recipes, don’t miss Rondon, a creamy coconut milk soup made of fresh fish, crab, yucca, and vegetables. If you’re on the Caribbean, chances are you’ll be passing through Puerto Viejo. Head straight to Soda Lidia’s to chow down on exquisite food in a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

8. Ceviche

Another food in Costa Rica that is also popular throughout Latin America, ceviche remains a mainstay in the country—specifically alongside the coast where fresh ceviche is prepared straight from the morning’s catch. Chunks of raw fish, typically tilapia, are marinated in citrus (which works to “cook” the fish) and served with red onion, cilantro, and salted crackers. Insider note: some ceviche stands still use bolillo, or shark, so we always recommend asking what the ceviche is made of before chowing down.

Ceviche | Photo: Silvia Trigo

9. Sopa Negra

Many travellers to Costa Rica are surprised to discover that the mountains and cloud forest can be quite chilly. On a cool, rainy day, there’s nothing better than a bowl of Sopa Negra, or black bean soup. Onions, peppers, and cilantro provide plenty of flavour, and a side of rice and tortillas turn this into a filling meal. Sopa Negra is also a smart option for vegetarians travelling off the beaten track.

10. Tres Leches

When it comes to authentic Costa Rican desserts, it’s hard to beat the decadent sponge cake that is Tres Leches. As the name suggests, this cake is soaked in three types of milk: heavy cream evaporated milk and condensed milk. Typically there is some rum thrown into the mix, and it’s then topped with cream and fruit.

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These are the top 10 authentic Costa Rican foods you absolutely must try while in the country. That said, we would be remiss not to mention a couple of beverages to wash it all down! Since this list of food in Costa Rica will primarily take you to sodas, do as the locals, and request a refresco, or a refreshing fruit drink. The refresco available will depend on what’s fresh but could range from passionfruit to tamarind to watermelon to sour guava. Note that Ticos have an undeniable sweet tooth, so there’s typically a generous amount of sugar pre-added to the juices.

Another traditional Costa Rican beverage is Chan, a hydrating drink made of Chan seeds, water, local limes, and honey. Similar to chia seeds, the chan seed develops a slimy coating when mixed with water. The nutrient-dense beverage is said to aid in digestion as well as boast a melange of health benefits. It’s challenging to find Chan in restaurants, but the seed-based drink is extremely popular in households as well as some of the best wellness retreats in Costa Rica.

Interested in exploring more South-American cuisine? Try the best Panama foods.

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Costa Rica | Photo: Dan Moore

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