Costa Rican cuisine is simple but heavy on oil and some species. Comida tipica or native dishes, rely heavily on rice and beans, the basis of many Costa Rican meals. Home-style cooking predominates. But meals are generally wholesome and reasonably priced. Gallo Pinto, the national dish of fried rice and black beans is particularly served as a breakfast. Notable is the famed Rice n’ Beans of the Caribbean, a Gallo Pinto made in coconut milk, worth trying. Many meals are derivatives, including arroz con pollo or arroz con atun. At lunch Gallo Pinto becomes Casado : rice and beans supplemented with cabbage and tomato salad, fried platains, and meat. Vegetables do not form a large part of the diet. Costa Rica home cuisine has an inordinately ammount of fried foods so keep that in mind when you receive and invitation for dinner.
Food staples include beef, chicken, fish and despite of the 1.000+ kilometers of coastline, seafood like shrimp or lobster, is expensive because Costa Rica exports most of its seafood. Travelers with low budget should stick with the casado on lunch time menus, or ‘plato del dia’ which is a close cousin of the casado with a common denominator of low price and varied ingredients.
Eating in Costa Rica doesn’t present the health problems that plague the unwary traveler elsewhere in Central America, but you need to be aware that some of the pesticides used in Costa Rica are forbidden elsewhere. Something I should say is that you may eat where the locals eat, usually that means tasty and trustworthy food. Beware of black beans and chicharrones, which might prove to be too much for some foreign stomachs.
Costa Rica has no national drink, but very popular in the cultural tradition of drinks are Horchata, a cinnamon flavored cornmeal drink, Chan, a slimy drink made of seeds, Linaza, which is popularly used to cure indigestion, and Fresco de Frutas, which is basically a fruit salad floating on a base of kola and water, delicious!! And, of course, guaro, the campesino’s nearly-tasteless yet potent alcoholic drink of choice. And coffee of course, Costa Rica’s grain of gold. Most of the best coffee is exported, so don’t expect the best coffee everywhere you go. Coffee is traditionally served very strong and mixed with hot milk.
Many bars in Costa Rica have the now disappearing habit of serving bocas with each drink , bocas are different types of food in small amounts, usually ceviche or chicken wings or bean soup, to have a better time with your drinks. Some bars provide them free but others may apply a small charge. Turtle eggs which may have been taken in a special legal season are a very popular dish in many bars for its special taste, but are best avoided because of the possibility of having been poached illegally.
Imported drinks may be expensive so you might be better of trying with the local Costa Rican drinks. The beer is a very popular drink and the ones of most sale are Bavaria and Imperial. Even the poorest campesino can afford the native red-eye, guaro, a harsh , clear spirit distilled from fermented sugarcane. In rural areas you might find Vino de Coyol, which is a wine distilled from liquid that is collected on holes on the trunk of a very spiny palm, drink with caution, intoxication goes away, but many say if you go out in the sun with a Coyol hangover, you might find yourself drunk again.
Avoid the local wines, all of which are made from fruits other than grapes, such as blackberries and ‘nance’. The most memorable thing of them is the hangover. Imported wines are expensive with exemption of the ones from Chile or Argentina which are of great quality. We personally like the Cousino Macul, imported from Portugal.