Costa Rican cuisine arises from the confluence and contributions of 3 very different cultures: that of the Native American, Spanish and African peoples. Food used in the pre-Columbian era is combined with the Spanish Mediterranean influence and has been shaped by the contributions of the African peoples who settled on Costa Rican soil in past centuries.
The union of these 3 different worlds has given rise over time to delightfully unique gastronomy.
In a mixture of the prehispanic and the Iberian, this meat dish is considered the quintessential Creole dish of Costa Rican national cuisine. It has its origins in a Spanish stew from the Middle Ages known as olla podrida, with a special tradition in Extremadura and Castilla. Generally accompanied by white rice it is made from native beef and vegetables, among other ingredients such as chayote, corn, pumpkin, carrot, onion, banana, cassava, potatoes, ñampí (taro), tiquizque and celery.
The Casado, whose name means ‘married’, is another of the most typical dishes of Costa Rica. It is a combined dish that presents a selection of regional foods cooked in different ways, in which, as is to be expected, rice, beans and fried plantains are included. Peppers and tomatoes cut into small chunks and accompanied with onion or a salad of cabbage, tomato and carrot are the 2 side dishes that together with a pork chop, a chicken fillet or a piece of fish will complete this family dish that over time It has become commonplace in a number of restaurants and gastronomic businesses throughout the country.
Ceviche is another dish of great tradition in several South American countries of the Pacific coast that consists of raw fish marinated with several citrus dressings. The lemon and the lime acid are the most often used to marinate the fish in the ceviche although orange juice was used traditionally. The seasoning also includes a variety of pepper, chili, mustard and sometimes cilantro. The fish most commonly used in ceviches are croaker and a freshwater fish called tilapia, and it is served cold, usually accompanied by pieces of avocado or mango cut into small pieces. It is one of the dishes that is perfect for the hot tropical climate.
It is a drink prepared from the seeds of Chan or Hyptis a well-known and abundant plant in the region. Very popular in the prehispanic era, its use was limited in the past by the Spaniards, who related its consumption to pagan rites. However, tradition has managed to survive until today and now chan is the base of several soft drinks and ice creams in Costa Rica. Chan's seed is small and has an aroma similar to lavender. The drink of chan, slightly sweet and viscous is prepared from the addition of water to some of these seeds.
Chorreadas are simple tortillas prepared with tender corn, flour, milk, eggs and sugar, which are seasoned and cooked in a comal, a traditional cooking vessel made of baked clay or ceramics heated in the fire. Accompanied with custard, it is usually served as a sweet, although it can be turned into a salty dish omitting the sugar of the recipe and replacing it with grated cheese.
Also known simply as pinto, one of the most representative dishes of the country is gallo pinto. It is traditional Costa Rican dish. Made with a base of rice and beans and usually dressed with onion, sweet pepper and cilantro, this mixed dish of great African influence can be served at any time of the day. It is often found as part of breakfast and is usually consumed during all 3 meals of the day. It can be accompanied with a variety of ingredients and it is sometimes seasoned with Lizano sauce.
As regards to liquors, the most traditional is guaro, a kind of cane liquor produced in Costa Rica since the 19th century with which several cocktails are prepared, such as "guaro sour" prepared with lemon juice, sugar, cola syrup and a lot of ice. Another very popular variant is the "chiliguaro", a mixture of this brandy with tomato juice, tabasco pepper, lemon and salt.
Lizano sauce is a liquid mixture of spices and vegetables similar to English Worcestershire sauce. Made with criollo ingredients, it is the Costa Rican sauce par excellence. It has an aftertaste flavour that sits somewhere between sweet and acid, a colour similar to that of coffee, and a strong spice. It is used in many meals in Costa Rica, either in the preparation of the dishes or directly on the food. It is also custom in the country put this sauce on all kinds of fruits: mango and apple especially.
A dish of Afro-Antillean heritage is the rondón. Its origin in the Caribbean can be traced back to the beginning of African influence in the region. It is a soup of fish or seafood, seasoned with green plantain, coconut milk, vegetables, peppers, and spices.
The tamale is a dish of Native American origin is consumed in a large part of Central America. The tamales, usually made from a mass of corn flour, can be filled with different combinations of meat and vegetables, chillies or fruits, which are later wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The most popular Costa Rican variant consists of a mixture of corn flour, hulled corn, rice, carrot, chickpeas, peas, pork, sweet peppers and coriander.