Culinary By Corey Quinlan Taylor

Costa Rican Cuisine: Fresh, Mild and Flavorful

For the first-time traveler, there's a tendency to believe entire regions are the same from a cultural and culinary standpoint. It's assumed for China, though the Chinese will tell you the difference between regions; and it's assumed for Africa, though the Beninese will explain their distinctions from Nigerians. The same point can be made for Latin America.

Costa Rica is a Latin American country that proves that cultural and culinary differences exist, even among people who share the same territory, body of water and language.

Unlike the foods of Mexico, just three nations north, Costa Rican cuisine isn't spicy, nor are there burritos, tacos or quesadillas. Instead, you'll find a lot of dishes made with fresh fruits, grains and vegetables with mild seasoning. And although meat plays a role in some dishes, many meals are simply vegetarian-and delicious. Here are a few examples of Costa Rican cuisine you can try during your next vacation.

Costa rica food


Literally translated as painted (or spotted) rooster, gallo pinto is a breakfast dish of beans and rice, often served with scrambled or fried eggs and a slice of avocado. The dish consists of red bell peppers, cilantro and onions, and it's typically seasoned with a bottle of Salsa Lizano, a tangy sauce used in a variety of Costa Rican foods. Enjoy this early-riser dish before taking that eco-tourism excursion.


Casado, another popular Costa Rican dish, literally translates to "married." In a sense, the dish is a union of flavors: beans, rice, salad, tortillas and fried plantains are coupled with a protein. The location where the meal is served determines which meat you'll receive. This lunch dish is often served with a refresco, a fresh fruit drink mixed with milk or water. The region's most popular fruits for a refresco include sour guava, passion fruit, pineapple, watermelon, blackberry, mango, papaya and banana.

Costa rica food
Costa rica food


Most people are familiar with the Mexican version of the tamale: steamed, corn-based dough stuffed with meat, cheese, fruit or vegetables. While Mexican tamales are traditionally spicy and wrapped in a corn husk, Costa Rican tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, flavored with garlic and generally less spicy. Either way, tamales make a great snack with a chilled beer during a Sunday afternoon on the beach.


After a morning of yoga at your resort spa, you might prefer a vegetarian dish that's both light and refreshing. Consider sopa negra. Its main ingredients consist of black beans, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, spices and a hard or soft-boiled egg. Oh, and it's a gluten-free soup, making it a delicious comfort food you can consume without the guilt.

Costa Rica food


After a day of snorkeling or sailing, ceviche is another light snack that could easily take the place of lunch or dinner. Fresh fish is marinated in lime juice and served with red bell peppers, onions, diced vegetables and cilantro. Some restaurants, roadside carts and bars serve tilapia, sea bass, mahi-mahi or tuna in their personal variations of ceviche. Closer to the coastline, particularly on the Caribbean side, lobster, clams, calamari and crab are added in the recipe.


For a heartier, distinctly Costa Rican meal, chifrijo would fit high on your list. Often served at farmers' markets and local events, chifrijo's name is a combination of two ingredients: chicharrones (fried pork belly or fried pork rinds) and frijoles (refried beans). This savory layer cake also contains rice, tomatoes and onions, all served over fried tortilla chips, corn tortillas or bread.

Costa Rica food Costa Rica food Costa rica food


Considering this is a vacation menu, a little guilty pleasure is permitted from time to time. Tres leches cake, or "three milk cake," is a rich and sweet complement to any Costa Rican dinner. Though its origins are unclear, this cake is baked throughout Central America and always soaked in three forms of milk: evaporated, sweetened condensed and heavy cream. Enjoy a slice, then take a rainforest hike if you're feeling guilty.


In the interest of fairness, let's add another dessert on our vacation menu-flan. This sweet treat blends milk, vanilla, sugar and eggs to form a delightful custard. Commonly believed to have been created by the Romans, who used honey instead of sugar, flan is placed in a pan lined with caramel and chilled before serving here in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a country known for its beaches, biodiversity and ecotourism. While vacationing in this beautiful paradise, you'll have many exceptional hotels and cruises to choose from, several of which our agency can enhance by securing Internova SELECT Hotels & Resorts bonus amenities for you to enjoy.