Studying abroad in Costa Rica is like studying abroad in paradise. And paradise is, of course, never complete without food. Costa Rican food is pretty simple, but only because the ingredients make it tasty on its own. The only problem is that the service is sometimes a little too pura vida (pure life), aka slow.
Pura vida encourages a chill lifestyle, but it’s hard to feel relaxed when you’re hungry. However, this pura vida, when reflected in the food, makes up for that in the service.
1. Batidos (and the fruit in general)
The paradisiacal tropical climate makes the country a major exporter of fresh produce, so I was excited to try the variety of fresh fruits and veggies. Papaya is one of my favorite fruits, but it was like I’d never tried papaya until I had it in Costa Rica.
There are many smoothie specialty places around, and most restaurants serve them, but they are called batidos. Better ingredients make for better batidos—and what makes them even better is an amazing range of fruit options to choose from.
2. Gallo Pinto
I need a hearty breakfast to fill me up, get me going, and keep me full. Cereal, a favorite in the U.S., just doesn’t keep me satisfied. On the other hand, Gallo Pinto, the typical Costa Rican breakfast, is about as hearty as a breakfast can get.
At the minimum, it comes with nicely seasoned rice and beans along with eggs cooked how you like. Personally, I prefer fried—so I can break the yolk and let it ooze into the rice and beans.
These are delectable little chocolates filled with guava jelly. They are made right here in Costa Rica, a country known for its quality cocoa, and the locals told me that Guayabitas used to be even better before the company changed the recipe. I can hardly imagine how that’s possible.
4. Fresh Coconuts
I just couldn’t get enough of the fresh coconut water. In Costa Rica it’s called Pipa and can be found everywhere for really cheap.Sometimes I buy it on the way to school and drink it instead of coffee; it’s a great alternative pick-me-up because of the electrolytes. Just look how happy and awake I am walking into class, coconut in hand.
Many Latin American countries make ceviche, but the recipes vary greatly. All ceviche recipes involve raw fish cured in citrus juice along with spices and other fresh additions. It’s a very popular dish in Costa Rica, and they seem to offer every type imaginable.
Pictured is Peruvian ceviche served in fried little platano maduro (green plantain) bowls called patacones. Traditional Costa Rican ceviche, however, is much simpler: its main ingredients are seabass, lime juice, bell pepper, and onion, and it is usually served with fried platano maduro on the side.
There are few options in terms of bar food in Costa Rica, but one of the main ones is Chifrijo and it’s pretty darn good. Plus, it goes great with a nice cold Imperial, Costa Rica’s national beer.
Classic Chifrijo is served with tortilla chips and contains rice, beans, lime, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and chicharon (pork belly). At some places you can get it with other additions, like avocado. Most places offer a vegetarian version as well.
If you go to Costa Rica, you’re guaranteed to come across these unforgettable foods. The pure and simple food is definitely representative of the pura vida lifestyle that defines Costa Rica. I recommend you try everything whenever you get the chance; the everyday food is a really important but often overlooked part of getting to know a culture.
I’ll definitely miss these dishes because, although many of them are replicable, they just won’t be the same without the quality ingredients and my host mom's magic touch.