Eat Like a Local in Costa Rica
The cuisine in Costa Rica offers a kaleidoscope of tastes, flavors and textures – from the national dish of “gallo pinto,” to its succulent array of tropical fruits. Translated as “spotted rooster,” gallo pinto is a savory combination of rice, red or black beans, diced cilantro and hefty splash of Lizano sauce (similar to Worcestershire). It’s healthy, vegetarian-friendly, and you’ll find this staple in every restaurant and soda across the nation. If you’re searching for authentic – and inexpensive – food on your next Costa Rica vacation, pay a visit to any one of these family-owned cafes known as sodas for some delicious, home-cooked fare. You’ll find sodas in towns both large and small, so whether you’re staying in popular beach towns like Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo, or off the tourist trail, be sure to try some of these tasty cheap eats.
Casado: a lunchtime specialty
For a satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal, opt for a casado – which also means “married” in Spanish. One of the country’s most popular lunches, a casado will set you back between $4 and $6 and offers generous servings of rice, beans, cabbage salad, picadillo (minced potato or squash with herbs, spices, and sometimes chopped beef) and your choice of meat – chicken, pork, fish, or beef. Every soda has their own variation of the casado, which may also include tortillas, plantains or mashed potatoes. Be sure to try several to see which you like best!
Looking for something a little less filling? Gallos are smaller portions of meat, vegetables, beans or cheese served with corn tortillas. They’re also incredibly reasonable at around $2. If you’re staying close to the ocean, most sodas will offer a selection of ceviches, made with fresh sea bass, shrimp or a mixture of seafood. Marinated in lime juice and served with either crackers or tortilla chips, ceviche makes for a wonderful appetizer or light lunch. A deep-fried empanada is the perfect snack for those on the go, and comes with a variety of fillings – cheese, beans, potatoes or your choice of lightly spiced meat.
Drinks au natural
Wet your whistle with a jugo natural – or refresco – made from fresh fruit mixed with water and a pinch of sugar. Local favorites include cas, tamarind, watermelon, pineapple and passion fruit. Or, go for a decadent, creamy batido blended with milk. Strawberry, banana, papaya and blackberry are all great choices for this healthy milkshake. And of course, you can never go wrong with a Costa Rican cafecito. The country’s fertile, volcanic soil yields some of the richest coffee, which can be ordered any time of day or night.
Tips on tipping
When paying your tab in a soda, keep in mind that tipping is not necessary nor is it expected. In fact, other than within the tourist industry, tipping is quite uncommon throughout Costa Rica. If you happen to be dining in a more formal restaurant, a 10 percent service charge will already be added to your bill, so no need to tip extra unless the service or meal warrants the occasion.