If you're heading to Costa Rica, then I am sure you’re looking forward to feasting your eyes on the lush tropical landscapes and beautiful beaches. But you’re bound to do some literal feasting, too, which is excellent news considering the tastiness and variety of Costa Rican cuisine.

As in many societies, food plays a central role in Costa Rican culture. This means their traditional dishes have developed from generations of meticulous taste-testing and improvement.

In typical Latin American style, rice and black beans form the cornerstone of the Costa Rican diet. Add to that the fresh fruits and vegetables produced in this tropical paradise, and you have all the ingredients for a unique, delectable cuisine.

Varied Regional Cuisines

While “Ticos” (the nickname for Costa Ricans”) share a national cultural identity, the small country has incredible regional diversity, and each area has its own culinary characteristics. Near the capital of San Jose, for example, you can expect to find a healthy local diet consisting of rice, beans, and vegetables. In the surrounding central valley, a pre-colombian reliance on corn persists, allowing for the proliferation of delicious treats like tamales.

As you would expect, the Pacific coastal province of Puntarenas boasts a more seafood-oriented diet, with ceviche a common dish. Shrimp are also readily found in this touristy region.

In Limon, on the opposite coast, a similar prevalence of seafood is notable, but with a Carribean flair. Many aspects of the province’s unique cuisine can be traced to the population’s African heritage.

Some Famous Traditional Dishes

Casado (meaning “married” in Spanish) is perhaps Costa Rica’s most famous dish, and also its most widely-consumed. As its name suggests, this dish is a household staple at the center of a Costa Rican family’s domestic existence. Typically, it is served every day for lunch (as in many Latin American countries, the midday meal is usually the biggest). There can be a lot of variety in the composition of a casado, but it generally takes rice and beans as its base, complemented by eggs, fried plantains, coleslaw, vegetables, and some sort of meat (steak, pork, fish, or chicken).

Arroz con pollo (chicken and rice, for those of you that need to brush up on your Spanish before your trip!), is another Costa Rican staple. While its name gives its essence away, it is worth noting that the rice is typically tinged with achiote and includes chopped carrots, peas, and corn.

For holidays and other special occasions, Costa Ricans are likely to prepare tamales. These cornmeal-based snacks include beans, rice, and potatoes and, in the true essence of Costa Rica’s tropical vibes, are typically served in a banana leaf.

Pan Bon is a delicious black bread found on the Caribbean coast, and includes dried fruit and vanilla.

Rondon, also characteristic of the Caribbean coast, is a seafood soup made with snapper. It contains plantains, pepper, and coconut milk.

Good for the Soul & the Body

Not only is Costa Rican cuisine delicious; it is also extremely healthy. The Chorotega people, on the Nicoya peninsula on the Pacific coast, are known for their exceptionally-long life expectancy. Their diet, centered on Costa Rican staples like rice, beans, and corn, is likely the main cause for their longevity.

You can of course focus on desserts and miss out on the health benefits of the typical Tico cuisine. But if your mantra remains “when in Costa Rica, do as the Costa Ricans do,” then you should find yourself filling up on rice and lectins, thereby treating your body better than ever before.

Costa Rica is an incredibly beautiful country, with jungles and beaches renowned for their splendor and people celebrated for their charms. And, with your stomach full of that healthy cuisine and your palate enthralled with a variety of flavors, you’ll be sure to enjoy every minute of your trip.

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