Ever since day #1, my mom’s second question to me (after the obligatory but kind hearted “how are you”) has always been “What are you eating.” If you’re like her, then food is probably the number one reason you would or have traveled. So here is a little bit about the food we’ve seen, tried or heard of. Disclosure: Apart from your occasional guinea-pig-on-a-stick or insect street food, there’s not too many “crazy” things, by westerner standards. Never the less, it’s been so much fun getting to know so many different food cultures and different traditions. Since each place is so unique, I’m going to break this down by country, starting with Costa Rica.
Food at the Jobs
Our first two months in Costa Rica, we were on a remote farm with no electricity. The kitchen was a an outdoor structure with walls just of mesh to keep the mosquitos out. We had a gas stove and running water. We grew kale, cilantro, arugula (or rocket), squash, broccoli leaves, purple cabbage, radishes, peruvian purple peppers, and bok choy. Easy to say, we at alot of greens.
Usually it was oatmeal or the previous nights dinner for breakfast and a veggie stir fry with beans, rice or lentils for lunch and dinner. Once and a while, when the propane tank ran out, we’d have to cook over the fire for a few days, which meant keeping it going for hours during the day to let the beans cook fully.
It seems that every country has their own favorite bean and for Costa Rica, it was black beans. In fact black beans are 50% of their national dish, “Gallo Pinto”, made up of rice and black beans. We ate this at different times of the day on the farm, but at a restaurant you will typically find it for breakfast served with scrambled eggs, a hunk of fresh cheese and often times “Tico Sauce” or “Salsa Lizano,” two different brands of their most popular sauce/salsa. (I think it was most similar to steak sauce.) We also ate a lot of plantain chips, since we had a looot of plantain trees.
A shop owner also gave us our first exotic fruit one day while we were in town. In English people call it the “ice cream bean” but I can’t remember the local name for it right now. The whole thing looks like a snow pea but the length of your forearm and a lot harder. When you pry the thing open long ways/ down the middle you find the beans; about the size and shape made when you touch your index finger to your thumb. The black, smooth beans are covered in a sweet, white pulpy material. It sounds weird but I think the best way to describe it is “hairy.” You just stick the whole thing in your mouth until you get all the pulp off then spit out the seed. I thought it was really good!
The second place we worked was at the home of a Costa Rican and Canadian couple on the Nicoya Peninsula (husband from San Juan and wife from Toronto). Breakfast was typically a tortilla with sour cream and avocado or gallo pinto. Most meals were just different combinations of veggies and rice or pasta, but this was also the pig farm, so they ate pork about 5 days a week.
At our third job, a hostel on the Caribbean side, the food was definitely different but our day to day was about the same since we just cooked for ourselves. However, we learned how to make some new food from some of the other volunteers. Vic and Addie, a couple from Mexico, showed us how to make tortillas, fresh jalapeno salsa and “gorditas.” To make gorditas, we made a tortilla dough but only flattened them until they were about 1/2 in thick. Then we fried them in a little bit of oil, topped them with refried beans, ground beef and shredded cheese and dressed them up with cheese and salsa. (Thanks Vic and Addie!)
Our neighbor also came over often and would make Caribbean Coconut Chicken, which he would not tell anyone else how to make but would feed the whole hostel when he felt like making it. It looked like one big pot of coconut milk, peppers, onions, spices and chicken. I skipped out on the chicken, but I think it made everyone at the hostel fall in love with him.
The town of Puerto Viejo also had the best fruit that I have ever had! The variety wasn’t crazy, but the papayas, mangos and pineapples were amazing.
Our final job in Costa Rica was on the Nicoya Peninsula again, this time in Playa Samara. As before, we were shopping and cooking for ourselves, so usually it was some combo of rice, beans, veggies and smoothies (yay for finally having a freezer and blender!)
We got really lucky because while we were there, it turned into mango season and the abandoned property next door had about 5 mango trees that were completely weighed down with huge, ripe mangos.
We also had several people that came to our door to sell food once in a while. One guy sold homemade kombucha (it was kind of a hippy beach town) and the second sold coconut water and whatever fish he caught that day. One volunteer made us delicious ceviche one night out of this guy’s red snapper that he caught (I think that’s what is was?).
Because many of our locations were much too far from any restaurants, and because we were very tight with our money in the beginning, we did not eat out a lot in Costa Rica.
A couple highlight meals : we had great ceviche at a little bar on the Pacific side in Playa Hermosa and a huge, amazing dinner plate at a little place on the Caribbean side called “Ghetto Girl.” Skylar’s was coconut chicken and rice, beans, string beans, patacones and veggie stir fry (mine about the same without chicken). (Patacones- thick slices of green plantain that have been fried, smashed and fried again. Yum.)
Other than that, we went to a couple “Sodas” which are just small, local restaurants that do simple meals for about 5$. We would often get rice and chicken bowls or gallo pinto and scrambled eggs at bus stations (yes, you can actually find good, homemade food at bus stations!) for a couple dollars and of course a couple ice cream bars here and there.
Snacks and Beer
And of course, with every country we go to, it’s mandatory to pick your favorite beer, ice cream bar and pack of cookies. Down here, virtually every store has a small freezer with ice cream bars and they are all individually wrapped, which makes buying a 50 cent ice cream bar every time you go to town very easy. Maybe too easy…
And then you have to pick your beer. Costa Rica has two: the Pilsen and the Imperial. I’ll let you guess which one we chose…
I know Costa Rica probably has more to offer in the food department, but not eating out alot and not living with a local family for very long limited us a bit. But what we did eat, we really enjoyed, not to mention the new fruits, farm grown veggies and plantains!