Like many of their neighbors in Central America, many dishes in Costa Rica are based around white rice and black beans as a base.
Which may stand mostly on its own or may add some shredded meat, fried veggies, or tasty broth.
While these seem like simple ingredients at first glance, they can be combined and prepared in a wide array of ways to create very different, unique, and above all, tasty dishes.
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Most Popular Costa Rican Dishes
As with any nation, different sections of Costa Rica may focus on certain ingredients over others or certain dishes over others, but there are some delicious dishes that are going to be favorites no matter where you visit in the country.
A breakfast dish beloved in Costa Rica everywhere, the two main ingredients are rice and beans which are mixed together with a smattering of red bell peppers, cilantro, sauteed onions, and the local specialty Salsa Lizano to mix together into a surprising burst of flavor as simple ingredients create a delicious, filling, and healthy breakfast dish.
Olla de Carne
Olla de carne is a hearty stew composed of beef ribs, squash, corn, sweet potato, chayote, and a handful of herbs and spices. It is commonly served with a side of white rice and flour tortillas.
Olla de carne dates back to the Spanish colonization of Costa Rica when settlers arrived on the island for the first time. It is derived from the Spanish dish Olla Podrida which the settlers brought over and originated in the Middle Ages.
Casado is interesting because it is one of those dishes that doesn’t have one set recipe.
In fact, casado isn’t a single recipe or dish but it is best to think of it as a description of a local food plate. In some shape or form when you order casado in a Costa Rica restaurant you’ll be getting a plate with rice, beans, tortillas, a touch of salad, fried platano, and some type of meat.
Depending on the region this might be a rice bowl in the middle with each ingredient separate, in another part of the country this might appear in stir fry form with everything mixed together.
The meat will likely be a local specialty whether chicken, fish, beef, or pork. Sometimes this plate comes with a local fresh fruit choice and a popular spicy sauce known as Chilero Sauce to add some heat and flavor.
Picadillo is a common side dish. This won’t be the star of the plate, but it is a great side dish that comes with Casado and many other main plates. Picadillo will be a combination of diced veggies that are parboiled then fried.
Carrots, garlic, onions, chayote squash are all common ingredients and some versions will even have a dash of some ground meat.
Rice & Beans
With plenty of Caribbean influences, the Costa Rican version of rice and beans not only has the obvious ingredients of beans and rice but also combines it with coconut milk, red beans, fresh thyme and some very spicy chilies from Panama.
Arroz Con Pollo
Arroz con pollo is a popular, traditional Latin American dish that combines chicken and rice with onions, bell peppers, garlic, and various seasonings such as cumin, paprika, and oregano. The chicken is simmered in a broth or tomato-based sauce until it becomes tender and infused with the rich flavors of the spices.
The rice is cooked separately and then combined with the chicken and its sauce. This allows the rice to absorb the delicious flavors from the chicken and the aromatic seasonings.
This is a unique fruit eaten widely throughout Costa Rica that is found in fresh juices, smoothies, and slushies.
Fresco de Cas is a popular Cas fruit & ice smoothie treat that is found near every beach. This fruit tends to be acidic and slightly sour by itself but can be sweet in a juice mixture and by itself actually creates a very interesting and unique taste when eaten with salt.
Majarete, also known as Dominican corn pudding, is a traditional dessert prepared using freshly-cut immature corn, milk (usually coconut milk) and several different spices. It is often associated with the Dominican Republic but it is also popular in many Latin American countries including Costa Rica, Venezuela and Cuba.
The dessert is known to be creamy and smooth and is typically served cold. Garnished with ground cinnamon, this dish is usually consumed for breakfast or dessert.
Chifrijo is a dish consisting mainly of stewed beans, white rice, pork chicharron and pico de gallo. The items are cooked separately then combined and served in the same bowl. Typical accompaniments are tortillas or corn chips, avocados and lime wedges.
Chorreadas is a type of pancake from Costa Rica made of ground corn or corn flour, milk and eggs. This dish is often served with sweet or savory toppings. Chorreadas’ few simple ingredients make it an ideal breakfast or snack between meals.
Rompope, also known as Mexican eggnog, is a dairy-based alcoholic drink similar made using milk, sugar, spices, egg yolks, vanilla and rum. The milk and sugar are heated up to infuse with the spices. The egg yolks are beaten first, before adding into the milk mixture and the alcohol is added last.
It is popular in many Central and South American countries, although it is most commonly associated with Mexico where it was invented.