Food and travel are inseparable on any great trip. Here are some essential traditional dishes you must try when you visit Costa Rica.
Trips to Costa Rica wouldn’t be complete without forgetting your diet and digging into chifrijo. Central America’s answer to “pub grub,” chifrijo is the go-to dish in bars and casual eateries across the country. While combinations vary, rice, beans, tomato and lime are mixed and topped with meat. The latter is often chicharrónes, fried pork chunks or skins that crunch with fatty goodness. Scoop chifrijo with tortilla chips and enjoy with a cold Cerveza Imperial.
A fruit from the peach palm tree, pejibaye has a flavor that echoes both potatoes and squash. It’s often sliced and served with a side of mayonnaise as a snack, cold or battered in cornmeal and fried to a light crisp. Ticos also love pejibaye in soup. The fruit is combined with onions, peppers and garlic to make a creamy creation that warms the soul.
Another deep-fried delight in the snacking category, patacones are side dishes that are slightly healthier than your average junk food. Flattened plantains are fried, seasoned with sea salt and served with a variety of salsas. They’re often found on menus as substitutes for french fries to accompany entrees. You won’t be disappointed if you order patacones topped with shredded beef or refried beans.
Having little in common with better-known Mexican tamales, the Costa Rican variety uses banana leaves to encase a host of delicacies. Enjoy steamed or boiled tamales filled with chicken, pork and corn, alone or with masa dough mixed with ingredients including carrots, peas, olives and capers. While Mexican tamales lean to the spicy side, Costa Ricans tend to like their cuisine with a bit less kick and favor garlic in their versions. If you're heading out for a day trip, freeze the tamales to enjoy later.
Call it soup. Call it stew. Olla de Carne is delicious no matter the name. Sourcing from the abundance of agriculture in Costa Rica, Ticos add a bounty of produce to broth with short ribs or lean flank steak. A savory mix of taro root, cassava, carrots, corn and plantains are brought to a boil and simmered for hours. Relish the flavor-filled dish with rice and beans.
Popular across the region, Tres Leches is a traditional treat for capping a meal in Costa Rica. As its name of “Three Milks” suggests, the dessert is made with three types of milk -- condensed, evaporated and heavy cream. The sponge cake is soaked in the milky mix for hours and then refrigerated until dessert time. In cafes and restaurants across the country, you’ll find it topped with white or whipped cream and cherries, chocolate or cinnamon. If you’re an aficionado of culinary tourism, you shouldn’t miss this decadent Costa Rican dessert.