International Cooking: Food from Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a fairly small country in Central America, with coastlines on the Caribbean and Pacific. It will always make me think of Jurassic Park. I can’t help it; the park was located on an island off the coast of Costa Rica and it always comes to mind when I hear the country. Of course, there are plenty of other interesting things about Costa Rica!

The country was inhabited by indigenous people before the Spanish came along in the 16th century. Costa Rica gained independence from Spain first as part of the First Mexican Empire, then as part of the Federal Republic of Central America, before declaring full independence in 1847. There was a brief civil war in 1948, but since then the country has enjoyed the most stable democracy in the region.

Costa Rica is one of the few countries without a standing army. This allows them to allocate more resources elsewhere; the money that had once supported the military now goes towards health care services and education. In fact, Costa Rica spends more of its budget on education than the global average. The more I hear, the more it sounds like a nice place to live, and that’s before getting to the food!

What Do People Eat in Costa Rica?

There are many similarities between Costa Rican food and that of other countries in the region, and alongside the traditional food, you can also find cuisines from all over the world. This is mostly because of the large tourist economy.

Rice and beans are a common staple and show up as part of many Costa Rican meals. Tropical fruits and vegetables, such as plantain and avocado, are plentiful and served with many dishes. Corn is popular too, and is used to make tortillas which are a common addition to meals.

The most commonly eaten meats are pork and beef, but chicken and fish dishes are also available, particularly on the Caribbean coast.

Tamales, originally introduced by the Aztecs, are popular all over Latin America. In Costa Rica, they are made with masa (dough made from a type of corn flour), with varying ingredients that often include pork, rice, and vegetables, before being wrapped and steamed in a plantain or banana leaf. Tamales are especially popular around Christmas and New Year.

Coffee has been grown in Costa Rica since the early 19th century and remains a popular beverage. It is also the country’s primary export.

What I Made

Chorreadas (Corn Pancakes)


Chorreadas come from a native indigenous recipe and are still commonly found as street food, especially at festivals. They are pancakes made from corn blended with milk, flour, salt, and, for a sweet version, sugar. I kept mine savory and served with sour cream, as suggested. Even without sugar, the corn made them a little sweet, and they were really delicious. I did have a bit of trouble keeping them together though. You can probably tell that the second one in the photo isn’t quite perfect!

I got the recipe from Pura Vida Moms.

Gallo Pinto (Beans and Rice)

Gallo pinto

Gallo pinto literally means ‘spotted rooster’ and is so popular that it is considered Costa Rica’s national dish. It is primarily made of red or black beans and rice, which are cooked with a sofrito made of onion, red bell pepper, and cilantro. There’s also a particularly important ingredient—Salsa Lizano, a popular Costa Rican sauce. According to Costa Ricans on Reddit, gallo pinto just does not taste right without it. It was also an ingredient in the shredded beef I made later in the week, so I got a bottle from Amazon. It’s kind of hard to compare to other sauces, but it’s a little sweet and a little acidic.

Gallo pinto is usually served for breakfast with eggs and tortillas. Avocado and/or plantain would be common additions too, though I didn’t include them. I’m not the biggest fan of beans but I’ve found I can enjoy them in some recipes, and I liked them here. This was a great breakfast dish!

I used the recipe from Pura Vida Moms.

Casado (Lunch Platter)


In Costa Rica, casado is a lunch plate that is usually made to make use of leftovers. The word ‘casado’ means ‘married’ or ‘married man’ in Spanish, and these meals were traditionally assembled by women for their working husbands. The exact components of casado can differ widely, but it usually consists of beans, rice, picadillo, salad, meat of some kind, and tortillas.

For my casado, I braised a chicken thigh with some Salsa Lizano in the braising liquid, and that turned out pretty good (I didn’t have leftover meat to use). I added some leftover gallo pinto, a green salad, corn tortillas that I made into tortilla chips, and a chayote squash picadillo (next entry). I was initially going to add an egg, but I decided this was enough food! This made for a delicious and filling lunch.

Picadillo de Chayote

Chayote picadillo

Picadillo is a common dish in many Latin American countries. It typically consists of small, chopped vegetables, and often includes meat too. Chayote picadillo is common in Costa Rica, and so I made it as part of my casado (above).

I had never eaten chayote before. I found out it is called ‘choko’ in Australia when I was telling my parents about the dishes I was making for Costa Rica week. They didn’t know what a chayote squash was so they looked it up and that’s when we found out it’s a choko, which my mother hates! So I was a bit apprehensive about this dish after that.

This picadillo included onion, garlic, butter, salt, cream, corn, and cilantro, and I think that this combination worked pretty well with the chayote, which as far as I could tell didn’t really have much flavor itself. I probably would not make this again, and I don’t think I love chayote, but it certainly wasn’t bad. The leftovers went well with leftover shredded beef from the Costa Rican tacos (next) on a tortilla.

I used the recipe from Pura Vida Moms.

Costa Rican Tacos

Costa Rican tacos

I’m always excited to make a street food recipe, and these Costa Rican tacos did not disappoint. They are corn tortillas, filled with shredded beef and deep-fried. Then they are topped with shredded cabbage and your chosen condiments—ketchup and mayonnaise are common, and what I used. Apparently, they are not served with fries everywhere, though I decided to include them.

For the shredded beef, I used flank steak, which is apparently important for getting the correct texture. It’s slow-cooked in liquid flavored with Salsa Lizano and a few other things, then shredded. I used the recipe from Pura Vida Moms and it was so, so good. Probably one of the best things I have made during this challenge so far! I was a little wary of cooking flank steak in this way and thought it might turn out dry. At first, it was a little. But I tossed it with some of the braising liquid and then it was moist and delicious. As a bonus, the leftover braising liquid turned out to be a delicious beef stock that I used as a soup base later.

The tacos themselves were good too, but the highlight of this dish was definitely the beef. For the tacos, I also used a recipe from Pura Vida Moms.

Final Thoughts

This was a great week and I enjoyed everything. If I had to choose a favorite though, it would probably be the Costa Rican tacos because of how good the shredded beef was.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Côte d’Ivoire.

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