Eating Rice in Costa Rica
I was away from my kitchen for a few weeks because Steve and I were vacationing in Costa Rica.
The vacation was primarily bird-watching (my husband is the birdwatcher), but we still had to eat! And I think that it is pretty obvious that I am interested in food and culture.
I want to try food and dishes representative of places that I am visiting. As mentioned, that wasn’t the focus of this trip, but I did get to try some things, and eat rice.
Eating rice might not sound exciting to you, but I had been doing low-carb for several months prior to the trip, and I was pretty excited to break my rules for a few weeks since rice was part of most meals, including breakfast.
I didn’t take pictures of every meal, but here are some notes. This turned out to be rather long. Can you imagine how long it would have been if I wrote about every meal?
If you have visited or read about visiting Costa Rica, you probably know about Gallo Pinto. This rice and bean dish is served with most breakfasts, and varied just ever-so-slightly at each place.
I realized that all I knew was that it was called Gallo Pinto and involved rice and beans. So naturally I did a quick search to find out that Gallo Pinto means Spotted Rooster, supposedly because of the speckled look the rice gets when cooked with the beans and spices usually used to prepare the dish.
Then I went down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos and now I think I ought to try making it. Most seem to start with sautéing some onion, chopped red or green bell pepper, and garlic together, adding some cooked rice and cumin, and possibly some Lizano Salsa, then adding some black or red small beans. If you know me, you know I am going to try making this myself one day.
One of the best
One of the star breakfasts we had was at Soda Mima in La Fortuna.
This delicious breakfast had two eggs (fried or scrambled), gallo pinto, fried plantain, fried cheese, and coffee (we had Coke Zero instead) for $5 USD. If you find yourself in La Fortuna, definitely make your way to Soda Mima for breakfast.
(there’s no website, but if you Google you will find TripAdvisor reviews and other blog postings about Soda Mima)
In the nature/eco-lodges we stayed in, breakfast was buffet style. The buffets pretty much without fail had gallo pinto, fresh fruit (usually at least watermelon, pineapple, papaya) fried plantains and eggs. From there the offerings varied.
I think the best breakfast buffet was probably at the Arenal Observatory Lodge in Arenal Volcano National Park.
On this particular morning they had little beef empanadas (the two squares at the top of the dish) and a sort of potato croquette with shredded beef inside. Both were melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
Breakfast at the Pura Vida Hotel
We stayed several nights at the beginning of our trip, and one night at the end, at the Pura Vida Hotel in San Jose. Unfortunately because we were always leaving early (birdwatching and on the last day, the airport) we only got one sitdown breakfast there.
We were really missing out because the breakfast was delicious, and the Pura Vida Hotel has a reputation for good food.
Everything was beautifully presented, as well. Just take a look at this fruit tray.
I forgot to take pictures, but there was a delicious yogurt/fruit/nut dish, eggs, and an unbelievable slice of warm bread pudding with syrup. And juice.
Breakfast at Miriam’s Quetzals
One night in San Gerardo de Dota, we stayed at the cabins run by Miriam’s Quetzals. The cabins came with breakfast at Miriam’s, at a cost of $55 USD cash for both the night and the breakfast.
The breakfast was hearty and made with fresh and local ingredients. The butter and egg yolks were a vibrant yellow that you don’t see in factory farm eggs.
We actually ate 3 meals total at Miriam’s. If you plan on visiting this area, and tell people where you will be, they will all tell you to stop at Miriam’s for the best Comida Tipica in the area. I’ll tell you about the Casado in a minute.
Miriam and her daughter Ana run the restaurant, and the other daughter, Liliana, met us at the cabins and got us set up in our cabin.
The first three days in Costa Rica we went out with a great bird guide, Patrick O’Donnell. We also benefited when it came to lunchtime as he knew the best places to stop for our midday break.
The Big Plate Restaurant
Pat introduced us to patacones at Marisqueria Restaurantico near Carara National Park. He ordered patacones for lunch, and after he described it to us I asked him to order the plate with six so that Steve and I could each try one (and leave Pat with 4 for his meal).
I don’t know how they make them, but those are thin frisbees (my word) of fried, crispy plantains. They were served with salsa, refried beans, and shredded beef.
They were so good that we got the smaller order to go to eat for dinner that night.
And I had Arroz con Mariscos at the same restaurant—featuring shrimp, calamari, octopus, etc.
It was then that we started calling it the restaurant of the big plates. These were pretty filling meals, as you can imagine. The single serving of patacones was more than enough for both of us for dinner that night.
If you are a birdwatcher, it’s worth looking up Pat in Costa Rica, and just fun to follow along on his web site as he talks about birding in Costa Rica. In addition, he writes for another site called 10000 Birds.
I could not find a web site for the restaurant, but they have a facebook page and you’ll see another picture of the patacones there. Definitely a star dish.
Lunch at Arenal
The breakfast buffet at Arenal Observatory Lodge was really good, but the dinner menu was a little fussy. The lunch menu, though, was more simple, with soups and salads and other basics.
We were at the tail end of the rainy season, and it rained most of time we were there, and it was a bit chilly. So this bowl of roasted tomato soup was very satisfying.
A Great Excursion Lunch
I did take an excursion with Canoa Aventura up to Rio Frio/Cana Negro. It was an all day excursion, and included a buffet lunch that had most of the tourists going back for seconds (plus they gave us each a beer).
I didn’t take a picture of the whole buffet—but I enjoyed the chicken, rice, black beans, and salad. I didn’t sample everything, but by all reports, the whole buffet was definitely a notch above.
We also enjoyed the bottle of beer after a warm afternoon on the river.
Everyone we encountered at Canoa Aventura was warm, friendly, and seemed genuinely interested in everyone seeing everything, and having a good time.
The excursion started out of La Fortuna, and they have lots of different excursions available.
We were primarily staying in nature/eco-lodges. Dinners varied in format and quality. A few places had buffets, others where you ordered off of a menu.
The best dinners we had were at Tirimbina in near Sarapiqui, and Finca Luna Nueva near La Fortuna.
Someone is going to steal this chef
To be honest, we weren’t expecting a lot at Tirimbina. It’s primarily an education and research center, and the dining area felt a little like the dining areas at sleepaway camp.
The first night I ordered mushroom soup, and Arroz con Camarones.
Why does mushroom soup never photograph well? It tasted a million times better than it looks! This was pretty encouraging, and next up was the main dish:
Sounds simple, right? Rice with Shrimp? I don’t know what kind of magic they did in that kitchen, but the dish was amazing. Everything we had, both that night and the next, was just that next level of taste. Someone is going to steal that chef from that lodge when they find out.
It’s hard to get more local than most of the food at Finca Luna Nueva Lodge
It’s not surprising that the dinners at Finca Luna Nueva were outstanding. The emphasis of the farm, after all, is on quality, organic products. The milk, cheese, and yogurt are all from the farm, as well as much of the rest of the food that appeared on our table.
I was terrible about writing down and remembering names of everything, but there was a tasty green that showed up in nearly every salad or garnish.
One night we had chicken tacos—and the avocados weren’t good so they replaced guacamole with honey mustard. I thought for sure that wouldn’t work, but it did!
We had hummus that night, that they served with yucca chips.
This was also the night that I tried a Guaro Sour (and I liked it).
At breakfast Friday morning they informed us that they would be having a Pizza Party that evening. I had noticed the wood-fired pizza oven at one end of the restaurant, and it turned out they were going to fire it up and make pizzas that night.
We needed to place our order before leaving that day, and of course we decided to participate! We gave a time of 6:30, and when we arrived we could see the pizza oven going, and people who started at 6 already digging in to their pizza.
They had soup, salad and breadsticks buffet style in addition to the pizza, and while I didn’t try the soup I heard it was great, and the salad and breadsticks I did eat, and they were excellent.
The pizza was awesome. And it seemed appropriate to have a beer.
The Casado at Miriam’s Quetzals
Miriam’s Quetzals lived up to its reputation as having excellent Comida Tipica. When we first arrived it was lunch time, and Ana recommended the Casado to me and said that would be the usual thing to have for lunch.
To make sure I got it right, I looked up Casado, and Wikipedia told me this:
“A casado (Spanish, “married man”) is a Costa Rican meal using rice, black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and an optional entrée that may include chicken, beef, pork, fish and so on.
The term may have originated when restaurant customers asked to be treated as casados, since married men ate such meals at home. Another theory is that the rice and beans and/or the grouping of dishes are married, since they are always together”
It was so good that when we returned for dinner that night, I had it again, with chicken. As it turns out, that was our Thanksgiving meal.
Dinner at Arenal
As mentioned, the dinner menu at Arenal Observatory Lodge was a little fussy. But the beef tenderloin with Gorgonzola sauce and penne pasta was tender and so tasty that I had it both the first and third nights we were there.
It didn’t photograph very well though.
The second night I had their osso bucco. Although it was slightly different from a traditional osso bucco, it was good.
Certainly this wasn’t a culinary tour of Costa Rica, but I did get to try some new things, and eat rice.
The Pura Vida Hotel has a Farmer’s Market Tour where the dinner that night is made featuring items bought at the market, and that would be fun to do.
I also enjoyed the occasional good cup of coffee,
And tried new and interesting fruits.
I learned about chocolate, and brought home some cacao nibs and organic spices such as turmeric and black pepper, grown locally in Costa Rica.
And of course I brought home a bottle of Lizano Salsa, the condiment found on most tables in Costa Rica the way hot sauce is found on the table in Louisiana.
I hope I get to return to Costa Rica Soon, and try a few more things!