June 17, 2013

The 4 Best Things I Ate In Costa Rica

My father was a commercial pilot, so I have had the fantastic fortune of being able to travel all over the world for cheap.  My most recent excursion took me to the incredibly beautiful Manuel Antonio area of Costa Rica over a long weekend.  Located along the country’s central Pacific coast, the region is known for its small but stunning national park and magnificent sightlines along the coast.  While my girlfriend and I went for some beach themed R&R, we really wanted to get a taste of the Tico culture, and the best way to learn about a new place is through their food (pun, absolutely intended).

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” has become a travel mantra of mine as I seek out the local delicacies anywhere I am, and Costa Rica was no different.  Over my short stay, we thoroughly enjoyed everything we ate, but only 4 made the list of the absolute best things I ate in Costa Rica.

beach tostones fresh costa rica

Check it all out after the jump.

On our first day, we found ourselves on the beach with a local hustler selling buckets of beer at tourist prices. Since we were on vacation and didn’t feel like haggling, we paid his asking price.  Aside from hawking cold Imperial lagers, our new friend proclaimed that he ran a surf school on the side of his private chef business, and as a private chef with a sophisticated palate, he recommended food from a restaurant across from the beach -- that he would not-suspiciously deliver to us on the beach.  Despite the skepticism, this is where our new friend really delivered.  It wasn’t long before he brought us delicious plates of shrimp ceviche with a side of tostones (fried plantains) which we used as chips to scoop up the ceviche.

Ceviche is fish and shellfish, marinated, usually overnight in lime juice, with the citric acid “cooking” the fish.  The limes in Costa Rica have a slightly sweeter profile than what we're used to in America, so it adds a different wrinkle to the dish.  Tossed with some thinly sliced onions and fresh cilantro, and you have yourself a bright and refreshing dish to enjoy at the beach.  Then we piled the ceviche on top of the slightly chewy and well salted tostones for the perfect pairing to our ice cold beers.

rice beans lisano salsa lizano scrambled eggs fresh fruit mango papaya

A typical Costa Rican breakfast is something that I quickly became a fan of.  Included together on a plate was a rice and bean mixture, scrambled eggs, and fresh fruit. Although so often bland and unexciting, the real star of the breakfast were the rice and beans.  It had the simple flavors of a classic Latin rice dish but it was fortified with the brown sauce you see on top, called salsa Lizano.  Salsa Lizano is a bold sauce made of roasted vegetables with a slightly sweet tang and peppery bite that is commonly found throughout Costa Rica.  This is just honest food from local ingredients, but it is prepared with love and care, making it a truly memorable experience.

fresh fish red snapper cilantro onion tostones

After our first experience with ceviche, we knew we had to have it again. But this time the shrimp was replaced by red snapper.  Prepared in this fashion, the snapper maintains a little bit of a bite, making for a very pleasing texture. Yet again the sweet lime and fresh cilantro flavors made it a prefect meal to enjoy on a humid Costa Rican evening.

wood smoked chorizo, plaintains, fresh, bbq

This was my favorite thing I ate during the whole trip, not only because of the flavor, but because I knew how much work went into the final product.  This house made chorizo came from a whole hog that the restaurant had butchered themselves, then smoked over cinnamon wood and charred on a grill.  The smoky snap of the outside let onto a slightly spicy and intensely porky sausage with a hint of earthy cinnamon dancing in the background.  Now this was eating.

If you haven't been to Costa Rica, and you ever get the chance to go, take it.  The country is beautiful from coast to coast, the people are genuinely friendly, and there is plenty of good food to be had.  In the meantime, keep moving and keep eating!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review. Makes me want to jump on a plane and head there now! I cannot wait for your pictures and comments on the food in the St Louis area. Hope to see it soon.