My Experience with Food in Costa Rica
This is an important topic for me. I have chronic stomach problems – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I’ve learned over the years how to deal with them and how to travel without getting sick – OK at least not sicker. I can’t eat milk products and have to reduce food additives and fructose. I also have to avoid certain foods altogether, and limit the amount of spices (even though I LOVE them). Needless to say this was a concern when visiting Costa Rica for the first time.
In this post I will talk about my food experience in Costa Rica, including:
- Typical Tico food
It turns out that I need not have worried about my IBS while in Costa Rica. I had to be food-conscious, as always, but I’m happy to report that I felt better during the week in Costa Rica, than I feel most days at home.
Here is why:
- Costa Rica’s food is generally mild but flavorful.
There are lots of spices used in cooking but typically the food is not spicy. They are used to add and enhance flavor of the food – not to drown out flavor of what you’re eating.
Tico food does not overuse milk products.
Cheese and milk are usually a problem when I travel (I’m lactose intolerant, which is quite common for folks with IBS). It was very refreshing to order food and not have it piled with mounds of cheese like some other parts of the world. In fact, when I asked if there was cheese in some of the dishes, I got kind of odd looks and a NO.
- Costa Rican dishes use mostly fresh ingredients like fresh fruits and vegetables.
I loved this. Fresh fruit and veggie stands are literally scattered around town on every other block. A typical Tico meal always included a small salad. The fruit is to-die-for! Super flavorful and ripe – none of the pick green and sell later stuff. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the fried plantains – amazing.
Rice and beans are staples of Costa Rica’s cuisine
Rice is very IBS friendly; beans – mmm, it depends. Many of the traditional Costa Rican meals include rice and beans. A very common breakfast dish is Gallo Pinto: rice, beans, onion, and bell peppers all mixed together. Yum. Also, a typical lunch called casado includes rice and beans as a side to choice of meat or fish and a salad. It’s not mixed in like in Gallo Pinto but it’s delicious nonetheless.
- Most Costa Rican food is basic and
organic. Update: it turns out that by most accounts food in Costa Rica is not organic but that is for another post….
Butcher shops and small bakeries are common. Fresh fish is available everywhere and it’s cheap! I love fish! And it usually loves me. One night while sitting in a local Soda (Tico style tiny diner), we witnessed a truck full of freshly caught fish and seafood pull up and the fishermen making a deal with the owner\manager of the diner. Now that’s fresh, caught the day it’s delivered!
- Costa Rica is not plagued by water purification problems like many other Latin American countries. Tim brushed his teeth with regular tap water; I was not quite so adventurous. But we did drink ice in most of our drinks with no problems and tried local drink concoctions – a no-no in other countries we’ve visited.
– better known as “crack in a bottle” – kidding, of course.
Honestly, I don’t know what’s in that stuff but it sure is good. AND it does not seem to bother my stomach. They have different types of the salsas but I’ve only tried the stuff in the brown bottle. If you want to try some for yourself, check out this started pack.
OK, I think this is one of my favorite dishes – ever. I love, love, love ceviche. If you don’t know what ceviche is, it is a raw fish and/or seafood dish marinated in lemon or lime with additional veggies and spices. I’m Polish so of course by default, I love anything “pickled” and that’s essentially what ceviche tastes like – citrus pickled seafood. There are cevicherias all over Costa Rica that serve freshly made ceviches – and I mean fresh. I’ve even had ceviche for breakfast. Yum!
Coffee is amazing in Costa Rica, especially the mountain varieties. See my post on Costa Rica’s Coffee. It is normally served with breakfast and then later at mid-afternoon break. Many of the coffee shops have these huge coffee machines – that look like a vending machine. I was a little doubtful when I tried coffee out of one (given my experience with vending machines back home) but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were deliciously brewed.
These are blended fruit water/ice and sugar drinks. They are delicious. Yes, that is Tim in the picture trying to show just how much he liked them. Once we tried these we were hooked. We would go back every afternoon for 1-2 of these goodies. Since I’ve been home I’ve tried making them but they just don’t taste the same. I think the fresh, ripe fruit is the key.
Finely shaved ice and syrup, refreshing on the beach. Sometimes they are served with condensed evaporated milk on top but of course, I had to skip that.
Simply a chilled, fresh coconut with its top chopped off for a straw. Lots of folks get these on the beaches. I did not try since I’m not a big coconut milk fan. Update: As a reader pointed out, these are actually coconut water, not milk. Here is some info about them: http://www.welovecostarica.com/public/The-Power-of-Pipa-Fria-What-in-the-world-is-this.cfm
Costa Rica’s liquor is Guaro and is quite inexpensive. It is usually consumed as shots or with soda pop or juice. Imperial and Pilsen are common beers made locally. I enjoyed them both in moderation. As most IBS sufferers would understand, alcohol for me is only an occasional treat.
All in all, I was truly amazed how well my stomach fared in Costa Rica. I know that some say that Tico cuisine is boring. And perhaps to the average person it is but from the IBS sufferer prospective, I’d give it 2 thumbs up. By the way, I do think that as North Americans we take for granted the variety of foods we have available to us: anything from Italian, Chinese, Mexican, French, etc. I can only imagine that unless you live near a larger (or touristy) city in Costa Rica, those types of foods are just not common. So, after a few years of eating rice, veggies, fish, and beans, perhaps I’d be tired of Costa Rican food too.
But if you’re like me and have a list of stomach problems, or you simply are health-conscious, and you like basic, fresh, wholesome food, you will love Costa Rica.
PS. Tim has no stomach issues and he still loved the food.
Coming soon a post about Costa Rica’s food costs.
- Most Costa Rican food is basic and