Costa Rica, what a fabulous place on earth!! The lush green tropical forest, vibrant sunshine, fog covered canopy, colorful birds and above all people with the warmest of hearts, it indeed is a rich coast. This country is truly blessed by mother nature and the Costa Rican lifestyle and food reflects that to the core. As a vegetarian, one constant travel concern of mine is food. Though I love exploring local cuisines, sometimes there are not many vegetarian options available in some parts of the world. Costa Rica did not disappoint me on this front. Just as I got an eyeful of scenery to enjoy, also got to savor mouthful of wholesome vegetarian Costa Rican meal. Costa Rican cuisine displays simplicity, balance and are very close to nature with very little processed food on the plate.
A typical Costa Rican vegetarian spread is a combination of rice, beans, hearty bed of vegetables, both in the raw and cooked with mild spices. Sometimes accompanying the rice and beans is a slice or two of fresh cheese and small tortillas. No Costa Rican meal is complete without a piece of Plantain, I found a slice of deep fried plantain on every plate that was served to me. The simple preparation served as a very good side dish adding that Costa Rican signature to the simple plate.
It is evident by every plate served to you that plantains are an integral part of Costa Rican food. When we reached the Arenal, Costa Rica, we asked our tour operator about the local vegetarian speciality. He suggested us to try Patacones, deep fried green plantain snacks. These are deliciously crispy deep fried plantains served with a side of refried beans, with a dash for grated cheese and a side of zesty salsa.
The first look of patacones made me wonder, what are the ingredients for this absolutely delightful snack? Patacones had glimpse of palntains but, also felt as if they have been mixed with some type of flour to make them into a dough for deep frying. I was in for a surprise when I later learned, they are made from only one ingredient, plantains! Aptly crispy yet slightly soft snacks stole my heart and I kept eating them every chance I got during my stay in Costa Rica. The first Costa Rican recipe I tried after returning home were Patacones do try these super easy recipe and enjoy.
Rice and beans – After plantains these were the stars of our meals in Costa Rica. At first, it felt like we are going to be bored to death with rice and beans. We did get to eat rice and beans for almost every meal but, it was far from being boring. MangoPickle has always enjoyed showcasing simple food preparations that make use of one or two simple ingredients and make a wholesome meal. Costa Rican food was an epitome of this simplicity and the variety that these simple ingredients could bring was simply amazing.
For morning breakfast, you get a delicious concoction of rice and black beans mixed with bell peppers, onions called “Gallo Pinto” with a side of juicy tropical fruits. Gallo Pinto, often considered national dish of Costa Rica gives you the necessary kick for your day, sufficient to keep you going for good part of the morning. If you are an eggitarian, you can add a side of omelet or boiled egg. Of Course you get to pour flavorful Costa Rican coffee to your heart’s content.
The days we couldn’t get to eat our breakfast before stepping out, we got to eat brunch which included an egg omelet, a decent size burrito filled with beans and cheese with a side of fries and in true costa rican style served on a bed of fresh vegetables and a slice of fried plantain.
There are several modern restaurants serving dishes such as pasta, sandwich, pizza etc, if you want to experience the typical Costa Rican food, you should look for a “SODA”. Sodas are the humble Costa Rican food joints that serve local Costa Rican food. Most of the sodas serve “Casado” which is nothing but the rice and beans with a side of salad and veggies boiled in mild spices. Typically, the salad contains some greens, tomatoes, cucumber, sometimes some avocado. Boiled veggies contain, carrots, zucchini, chayote, sometimes also including potatoes, onions, cauliflower and red peppers. Some Casados also came with two small tortillas and slice of cheese, but, the added zing comes from the slice of deep fried plantains which are slightly sweet, starchy and slightly salty from the natural salt in the plantain. I was bowled over by the wholesome nutrition a typical Casado had to offer. There was some luxury in that simplicity, we came out fully satisfied with every meal we had.
Other than Casados we also got to taste some Quesadillas at a local Costa Rican coffee shop at Monteverde. As every Costa Rican plate, Quesadillas came on a bed of fresh salad, but, also the filling inside Quesadilla had ample filling of fresh veggies. A dash of salsa inside gave that zest to Quesadilla and gave a different taste than the quesadilla I have eaten elsewhere. Though I got to taste the more popular desserts such as Tres Leches Cake in some fancy restaurants, the surprise dessert I came across was a coconut bar at a coffee plantation which was surprisingly similar to Indian dessert Coconut Barfi.
At Moteverde, Costa Rica, we also got to taste some fusion cuisine. A tapas place called Chimera was serving latin infused tapas and had several vegetarian options. The two main ingredients in the vegetarian tapas were Yuca and heart of palm, both were new to us and made for interesting snacks, specially for the cloudy, rainy atmosphere.
We tried some Yuca fries, heart of palm fritters and heart of palm salad. There were also some popular dishes like onion rings but, my favorite was again the Costa Rican special Patacones, served fresh and hot out of oil.
Every where you go, fresh tropical fruits and fruit juices are easily available and makes you feel you have a slice of heaven at your disposal.
One last dish I must mention is the delicious black bean soup that we got to taste at a chain called Vishnu in San Jose, Costa Rica. The black bean soup is made of black beans, red bell peppers, onions, cilantro, garlic and a dash of lime juice. Excellent combination of mild flavors and filling black bean, we savored our bowl of warm soup as we recalled our journey in this heavenly country.
Costa Rica captured our hearts with it’s simplicity, natural treasure and the warm people. Costa Rican cuisine is a true reflection of everything that is Costa Rica, natural, simple and balanced. I know we probably got to taste only a small part of Costa Rican cuisine, but, they filled our stomach and more than that our hearts!
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