Eating in Costa Rica
As we drove through Costa Rica, there were signs everywhere for sodas (lunch counters), tipical food (typo intended) and mini supers (grocery stores). For us, these were sure signs we were going to eat well in Costa Rica!
LEARNING: Not all sodas serve great food and not all are inexpensive. Best to ask around and find out the best mom and pop places to visit.
While known for its coffee (see Tom’s posts for more), Costa Rican cuisine relies on the abundance of fruit and vegetables grown throughout the country. We enjoyed mango, plantains, bananas, sweet red peppers, and lime, among others, at every meal. Rice and black beans are a staple and so is Jackie’s favorite—corn tortillas. Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice) is on every menu. However, with eco-tourism driving the economy and visitors from throughout the world, you are likely to find a hamburger. The food is full of flavor, but mild. I saw Tom use hot sauce (on every soda and restaurant table) on more than one occasion!
LEARNING: Food is often over salted in Costa Rica—try before you salt!
The food at Essence Arenal Boutique Hostel was the best of Costa Rica, but tailored to its international clientele yet well-priced—about $11 USD per person. Each night, Chef Marvin developed a three-course menu featuring his take on a different country’s cuisine. Our first night was a focus on India. We helped make naan (although being Costa Rica, it was a bit more of a tortilla filled with cheese, but it was delicious), that went with our cauliflower soup, veggie curry (featuring cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots grown on the Essence Arenal farm, so a bit more Costa Rican than Indian) and a coconut dessert. Night two was Japanese — and boy, can the girls make sushi!
I was a bit concerned with the cream cheese on the roll, but I learned that I need to trust Chef Marvin, and the combination with the red peppers, egg, carrots and cucumbers was delicious. He served it with a deep fried egg roll and it all worked beautifully. Jackie ate a ton! The last night was Greek. With a greek salad to start, eggplant moussaka (no meat, but delicious eggplant) and a Costa Rican baklava (instead of filo dough Marvin used a flour tortilla and a wonderful mango sauce served on the plate). It was the perfect fusion of Greek and Costa Rican cuisine. Best of all, we learned to make pita!
LEARNING: Jackie can charm anyone. (Well, maybe not a learning, but a confirmation). She didn’t eat much the first night, so Chef Marvin decided to do Japanese food on our second night when he heard she liked Japanese food, even though they had just done that recently. He had a big bowl of plain noodles for Jackie waiting the third night “just in case” she didn’t like the Greek food. She didn’t, but she loved the noodles.
The naan and pita making experience worked to our benefit when it came to the second half of our trip in Costa Rica. With all the cooking up to us and only a mini super to help us find ingredients, we did a lot of creative cooking.
We purchased ingredients before we saw our kitchen,so didn’t know what staples would be available. For us, shopping at the mini super was a bit like shopping at a souped-up 7-11 back in the U.S. Yes, there are is a small bag of flour, but only one kind and you aren’t sure how long it has been there. Thankfully, the owner of the mini super was super friendly. We didn’t see any fresh vegetables, but he got red peppers and tomatoes for us from the back. We thought the rice was very well-priced and the owner told us why — it was basically seconds, broken rice. We were curious as to the taste, and with a warning to keep an eye on it, purchased it anyway.
LEARNING: If eggs aren’t refrigerated, they don’t need to be. Every grocery store in Costa Rica sells its eggs at room temperature. We kept our eggs out on the counter, and were fine. Clearly not something you can do in the US unless you have a source for fresh eggs.
When we got to our lovely house in Costa de Pájaros, we found a well-stocked kitchen with tons of salt and oil. One item it didn’t have: measuring cups. I don’t make rice often and so I had a moment of trepidation. Then I figured I would pick a coffee cup, assign it as a cup and use that exclusively for liquids and solids. It seemed to work well since the rice was delicious and ended up being a consistent element in our dinners and breakfasts during this part of our stay.
To keep within our budget, we thought we’d cook as much as possible. We were inspired by all the bread-making at Essence Arenal and thought we’d put our new skills to use. After purchasing flour, baking powder, cheese, beef, and tomato sauce, we planned to try our hand at making pizza. After making the dough, we discovered a small wrinkle: the oven didn’t work! I was determined to make pizza, so ended up making them on the stovetop and, while the results weren’t pizza perfect, they were delicious!
As a family we are consistently dreadful at consuming leftovers. We decided to change that and use everything we had on hand for dinner. The one item missing was tortillas, so we decided to make flour tortillas. While Jackie prefers corn, the flour tortillas were relatively easy to make and the perfect accompaniment to our leftovers of rice, black beans, tomatoes, and ground beef.
Overall, we ate well and relatively inexpensively in Costa Rica.
- Vegetarian Sushi Rolls
- Pita Bread
Chicken and Tortilla at Restaurante el Sol (although all the meals at Essence Arenal were delicious).
For the Easy Flour Tortillas, I referred to this recipe.
Since I had olive oil, I substituted that for vegetable oil. I didn’t have a rolling pin, so just flattened them by hand as much as possible.
For the Pizzas, I used basically the same recipe, but the pan wasn’t as hot. I cooked it in the pan one both sides, then while in the pan, added the toppings (picking the side that was better cooked), then covered it. I did a white pizza that was the best of the three—I brushed the top with olive oil, added some fresh garlic, and two different cheeses.