CIS Abroad Blog

Top Six Foods to Sample in Costa Rica

This post was contributed by Amanda Zetah – student at Colorado State University, world-traveler, and travel writer.

I was able to backpack around Costa Rica with my good friend Kara during my thanksgiving break and I was blown away by all of the authentic Costa Rican food that we were able to sample. We started in San Jose, then traveled to Ciudad de Colon, Monteverde, Arenal, and ended up in the small beach town of Tamarindo. Each city had new and interesting foods to try, but I've listed my absolute favorites below. Now that I am home in the United States, I find myself craving some arroz con leche or fresh ceviche. Guess I have to go back to Costa Rica sometime soon!

1. Arroz con leche

When it comes to desserts, I am an addict. I love anything sweet and savory and I’ll try anything and everything just once, especially if I am in a foreign country. I had the wonderful opportunity to try arroz con leche when I was in Costa Rica and I immediately fell in love. It reminds me of chai tea flavoring mixed with rice pudding. I’m well aware that that description doesn’t do this dessert justice. Imagine warm vanilla pudding, throw in some fresh cloves, a cinnamon stick, and some sweet rice, and you’ve got the perfect concoction! I dare you to only eat one bite (in reality, you’ll finish the whole cup before you realize it).

Costa Rican fruit Costa Rican fruit

2. Gallo Pinto

Being a native of Colorado, with Mexico just a hop and a skip across the border, I am well acquainted with authentic Mexican food. Because of this very reason, I was impressed with the Costa Rican version of the simplistic rice and beans dish. For some reason, gallo pinto is way more addicting than plain rice and beans. I’m not sure if it’s the change in name or the unique history, but I found myself eating gallo pinto for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Gallo pinto, when directly translated, means “spotted rooster” because the beans and the rice mix just enough to give a speckled appearance, similar to that of the spots on a rooster. Don’t be deterred, it pairs well with some fresh huevos rancheros.

3. Fried plantains

I never thought I could love a dish as much as I love plantains. When I first purchased them from a street vendor in Monteverde, I was skeptical. I was told that it was similar to the bananas back home, so I gave it a go. They were completely wrong about the association to bananas. Plantains have a much tougher skin, but when deep fried and coupled with some brown sugar, it is absolute perfection. It can be coupled with most dishes at Costa Rican restaurants as a side entree.

photo (2) Coffee Plantation

4. Costa Rican coffee

Central America is known for its amazing coffee, but Costa Rica has been my favorite so far. I was given the chance to visit some coffee plantations during my stay in Costa Rica and they gave us samples that were fresh off the farm. My favorite was the vanilla medium roast, but the dark roast smelled heavenly as well. The rich aroma, the nice woody flavor, and the variety of flavors make for the perfect cup of coffee. It pairs nicely with a breakfast of gallo pinto and fresh fruit.

5. Bueno bars

I was first introduced to Bueno bars during my study abroad experience in England, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Costa Rican markets carried Bueno bars as well. My travel companion, Kara, had never tried one before so I got to watch her face light up as she took her first bite of the rich, chocolaty goodness. She was hooked from there on out and we spent our entire trip munching on these wonderful treats during long bus rides or stressful travel days.

A typical dinner A typical Tico dinner

6. Ceviche

I’ve never experienced such fresh fish until I made my way down to the beaches in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Kara encouraged me to try this beautiful mixture of raw white fish, raw shrimp, mango, lime juice, and cilantro. I was hesitant at first because she mentioned that the fish was raw, but the lime juice cooks the fish and shrimp just enough to make it safe to eat. The minute I scooped some onto my homemade tortilla chip and placed it in my mouth, I knew I was in love. I finished the entire bowl because I couldn’t get enough of the light, crisp flavor. Make sure to order some, I promise you won’t regret it!

What is your favorite food in Costa Rica or the one you miss most now that you are back home? Any advice about the best foods to try in Central America? Leave a comment below.