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Home Blog Gallo Pinto - The History and a Recipe

Gallo Pinto - The History and a Recipe

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While most people have never heard of Gallo Pinto before their travels to Central America, this dish is a source of national pride in Costa Rica. Indeed, every household and restaurant in Costa Rica claims to have the best Gallo Pinto!  You will find this dish being served everywhere from the typical Costa Rican quick-service restaurants, (Nationally called, “Sodas”), to even the highest-end of restaurants.

Gallo Pinto Costa Rica
So what is Gallo Pinto and where did it come from?

Gallo Pinto is a traditional dish consisting of white rice and black beans, which is often served at breakfast or dinner in Costa Rica, however it is not uncommon to find it being served at every meal. Deceptive in its simplicity, this delicious dish is one of the most loved foods by tourists and Costa Ricans alike.

The exact origins of Gallo Pinto are hotly debated in Central America, and have sparked an unparalleled rivalry between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, with both countries claiming that the dish originated on its soil.

Nicaraguans claim that a rudimentary version of the dish was brought to Nicaragua by African-Latinos, who arrived on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua during the 17th and 18th centuries. In their traditional recipe, white rice is combined with red beans.

Costa Ricans, however, dispute this claim, citing a more recent history. According to the legend, Gallo Pinto was created in the San Jose neighborhood of San Sabastian in 1930. According to the story, a small farm owner spent several months fattening up a spotted rooster for a dinner party he was having. On the day of the party, he found that news of the event had spread throughout the neighborhood, and that the number of guests who showed up far exceeded the yield from a single poultry bird.

Thinking quickly, the Latino-Jamaican kitchen staff devised a plan to mix a large batch of rice and black beans together in order to provide enough food for the large gathering.  As the evening wore on, more of the guests were served the rice and bean mixture than those who received chicken. The guest who were not able to get a serving of chicken subsequently joked with one another, calling the rice and beans, “Gallo Pinto”, which in Spanish, means “spotted rooster”.

Fun Fact: Costa Rica created the world’s largest batch of Gallo Pinto in 2009, which contained 2,640 lbs. of beans and 3,300 lbs of rice. The batch, prepared at the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura, fed a astonishing 50,000 people!

Once you’ve experienced Gallo Pinto for yourself, we just know you’ll want to take the recipe home with you.

Traditional Costa Rican Breakfast


3 cups of white rice
2 cups of black beans, rinsed and soaked
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup of chopped, fresh cilantro
2 tbs of olive oil
Lizano, (traditional veggie-based Costa Rican salsa), salt & pepper to taste

On the day before:

  • Cook white rice, allow it to cool and then transfer it into an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight.
  • Rinse, sort and soak black beans and then simmer in lightly salted water, flavored with a dash of white vinegar until fully cooked and most of the moisture has been absorbed. Allow beans to cool and then transfer along with the juice into an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight.

On the day of:

  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add red pepper and onion. Saute until the onions are translucent and the peppers are soft, approximately 6 minutes.
  • Add garlic and saute for approximately 1 minute, until fragrant.
  • With a slotted spoon, add black beans to the skillet allowing some of the juice to accompany the beans. Stir in the Salsa Lizano to taste. Simmer until all ingredients are incorporated and the mixture thickens slightly.
  • Slowly add cooked rice, salt and pepper and stir until the mixture has combined and the rice has absorbed some of the liquid, but is not dry, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add more of the bean juice as needed.
  • Stir in cilantro, remove from heat. Add salt, pepper and Lizano as needed.

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