Dining Out

It's difficult to look at any particular restaurant menu and point out many dishes that could be described as "typically Costa Rican." Curiously, for a country with so many unusual in­gredients available, restaurant cuisine tends to be rather ordinary. Steaks, fried chicken or shrimp seem to be almost obligatory on every menu; they taste fine, but after while one gets very tired of fried chicken or steak. One of the most common complaints tourists have about Costa Rica is the large number of boring restaurants.
On my last trip, I stumbled across a new restaurant, one which advertised "good old-fashioned American cooking." Since it was operated by an American, I anticipated a good meal. I ordered the featured dish of the evening: a specially prepared beef tenderloin. The owner assured me this was not at all like the normal Costa Rican fare. It wasn't. It turned out to be an over-cooked slab of dry sirloin, topped with a slice of Velveeta cheese and doused with canned mushroom sauce. (Yes, I said Velveeta cheese.) The veggies were canned string beans and carrots. So much for good old-fashioned American cooking.

Not that there aren't some wonderful dining establishments around. It's just that there are many more less-than- ordinary places. Around the San Jose area you can find a variety of inter­esting places, ranging from elegant French restaurants to superb pizzerias. Several excellent Chinese restaurants will surprise you with dishes that are quite different from the oriental cuisine you are used to back home. Their style of cooking is a cross between traditional oriental and tropical American.

Gallo Pinto tipical Costa Rican dish
One very common Costa Rican food—served everywhere, sometimes for every meal—is gallo pinto, which inexplicably translates: "spotted rooster." This is a mixture of cooked rice and black beans which are fried together until the rice turns a purple color. Mixed with eggs and topped with salsa Inglesa or salsa Lizano, it makes a very filling breakfast, nutritious, but boring when served at every meal.

tipical Casado all over costa rica

In small restaurants away from the city, a typical menu item is a casado—a kind of lunch plate with beans, rice, fried pldtano (a green cooking banana) with some sort of meat, chicken or egg. 011a de carne is a tasty meat stew with vegetables such as chayote, squash, yuca or plitano. Arroz con polio, chicken with rice, is one of my favorites when properly done and not too dry. Sopa negra is a soup made of pureed black beans with an egg poached in it, topped with green onions and a little cheese or sour cream. Another favorite is empanadas: fried dumplings filled with meat or cheese, often sold by children who carry them around in galvanized buckets. A tortilla in Costa Rica is properly defined as an omelet made with chopped potatoes or yuca root. Lately, Mexican-style tortillas have become popular in the country and are also called tortillas.

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