Costa Rica may not be the first location that comes to mind when thinking of foodie hotspots, but it actually has lots on offer for the food-obsessed.
They say one of the best ways to experience local culture in a new place, is to explore the local food, and meet the people who grow and sell it. Roberto, our Costa Rican local expert agrees. Exploring the local food scene is the best way to see the authentic side of the country or city, especially if you find those amazing local places, instead of the well-known tourist haunts.
Roberto fills us in below on his favourite must-do food experiences in Costa Rica.
This is the national dish of Costa Rica, so you simply can’t miss it when you visit. It’s popular all over the country, and it’s most commonly eaten for breakfast. You’ll find it on the menus at street markets, restaurants and cafes in most towns and cities – so make sure you get round to trying it during your trip.
“This is a traditional way of cooking rice and beans and we eat this for breakfast. So what you do is, when you have the rice and beans ready, in a pan you fry onions, peppers, cilantro, garlic and you add the rice and beans and then add a sauce, kind of like a spicy sauce. We eat this for breakfast a lot”
Bocas is another unique Costa Rican food experience, and is a really popular dining choice for locals all over the country. Bocas is very similar to tapas, and involves having lots of different, smaller plates of food to try and sample. Bocas is as much about the experience and fun, as it is about filling yourself up.
On a Bocas menu you might find traditional Costa Rican food, Mexican inspired cuisine, Tipico food, or western inspired dishes. The idea is to try lots of options and enjoy a wide variety of tastes and textures.
“Bocas is our version of Spanish tapas. It’s smaller plates of food that we eat when we go out. And there’s a lot of different Bocas you can order. Probably the most famous Bocas is chifrijo and coincidentally, this one also has rice and beans but it is a different type of beans, more like the bigger type of beans, but anyway, it’s rice, beans, with tomato with onion and then pork chops, fried pork chops. This is one example of Boca we eat a lot. This is famous to eat when we go out for drinks and stuff”
We also asked Roberto for his favourite Bocas restaurant, so you can try his favourite dishes first-hand during your trip.
“I always recommend La Posada de la Bruja, which kind of translates to ‘the witches lodge’ (Bruja = witch). Here they do really good Bocas and it’s quite cheap as well. Another place I recommend for Bocas is La Casona de Lally. Both in San José Province” we should say what town these are in
Visit a Saturday farmers market
Across Costa Rica you’ll find Saturday farmers’ markets, where a lot of local farmers and traders come to sell their produce. It’s a great chance to experience local life, but also to interact with locals too. You’ll meet friendly communities, and get to see what authentic Costa Rican life is like away from the tourist hubs.
“The farmers markets, which happen across the country at various locations on Saturdays are a great experience. This is where the farmers go and sell their products, so you can go there and buy all the fresh fruits, veg and agricultural products. There are also food stalls, selling breakfast, cheeses and more”
Visit a street food market
If you’re visiting San Jose, then Roberto recommends visiting the Central Market. It’s an experience, and full of wonderful food stands and stalls to explore. The market is busy and bustling and one of the only ones like it in the city.
He also recommends the more ‘hipster’ food markets, which contain trendier pop-up food stalls… “There are two famous ones: Mercadito Escalante, Mercadito El Mestizo. You can get any type of street food here, they’re really international, so a mix of everything”
Explore the food on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica
Because of the position of Costa Rica, the food can vary depending on where you are in the country. Roberto recommends trying the culinary offerings on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica because it often varies from cuisine in other parts of the country. In this part of the country the food is inspired by different flavours and cultures and is delicious.
“The Gastronomy on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica is worth experiencing because the cuisine has a lot of influence from the Afro-American communities. Here they use a lot of coconut and spices in their cooking, which is very different to what we eat here in the central valley. I love their food and it’s really different, if people come here and want to try something different, I’d always say go the Caribbean and eat their plates. They also have their own special rice and beans plate which is cooked totally different, cooked with coconut milk and it’s a little bit spicier so it’s really good and they eat with fish or chicken, with mashed plantains”