Costa Rican Cuisine: Five Traditional Dishes Everyone Loves - Expat Community

Costa Rican Cuisine: Five Traditional Dishes Everyone Loves

Oct 30, 2023 | Costa Rica, Knowledge Base | 0 comments

Costa Rican cuisine is a delightful combination of flavors, reflecting its rich cultural heritage with indigenous, Spanish, and African influences. These dishes are the embodiment of the nation’s ethos of ‘Pura Vida’ or ‘Pure Life’, a reflection of the simple yet enriching lifestyle of its people.



Traditional Foods

In the local tongue, these dishes are affectionately referred to as “comida típica,” which translates to the traditional dishes that Costa Ricans, or Ticos, hold dear to their hearts.


  1. Gallo Pinto

Often considered the national dish of Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto is a flavorful rice and beans dish. The name literally translates to “spotted rooster” and is likely a reference to the speckled appearance of the dish due to the mixture of white rice and black or red beans.


It’s usually eaten for breakfast, along with eggs, cheese, friend plantains, tortillas, natilla (sour cream) and, of course, a cup of coffee. However, Ticos won’t hesitate to indulge in ‘pinto’ at any time.


The primary ingredients include rice, black or red beans, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and cilantro. Seasonings like Salsa Lizano (a traditional Costa Rican sauce) and spices like cumin and paprika might be added for enhanced flavor.



  1. Tortilla palmeada (with cheese)

This is a traditional hand-slapped tortilla, thicker than the usual tortillas. It’s made primarily from masa (corn dough), water, cheese and salt.


They’re often dipped in sour cream and savored during breakfast. Ticos will also enjoy them with their afternoon coffee.


  1. Chifrijo

A popular Costa Rican appetizer or snack, Chifrijo combines elements of “chicharrón” (fried pork) and “frijoles” (beans) in a layered dish.


Its main ingredients include white rice, red beans, fried pork, pico de gallo (a fresh salsa made from tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime, and salt), and avocado.


It’s often served in a bowl with tortilla chips on the side, making it perfect for sharing at gatherings and bars.


  1. Rice and beans

Not to be confused with Gallo Pinto, this dish hails from the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, specifically from the Limón province. It showcases the Afro-Caribbean influence on Costa Rican cuisine.


This dish is cooked with rice and beans (often red beans) together in coconut milk, giving it a creamy texture and rich flavor. Seasonings might include ginger, thyme, and pepper.


It can be served as a side dish or a main course, often accompanied by chicken, fish, or other meats.


  1. Olla de carne

Symbolic of warmth and comfort, Olla de Carne is a beef stew that is especially popular during the misty, rainy seasons. The stew is a hearty mix of beef, often bone-in for an enriched taste, mingled with an assortment of vegetables and tubers. Ingredients like cassava, taro, plantains, corn, potatoes, and carrots meld together, resulting in a bowl of pure comfort. Best served hot, a side of white rice or tortillas completes the dish, ensuring every drop of the delicious broth is savored.


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