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Typical Costa Rican food is definitely not the most exciting cuisine on the planet. In fact, many people may even go as far as calling traditional Costa Rican foods unmemorable, boring, and bland. This is not surprising as the Costa Rican diet consists primarily of two staples: rice and beans.

“How can they eat rice and beans every day three times a day?” – I asked before my trip to Costa Rica.

Just wait till you try them, then you’ll understand” – I was told.

One day into my Costa Rican trip and three rice and beans meals later, it all made sense! I was hooked on typical Costa Rican food.

traditional Costa Rican foods: Inside a "Soda" in San Jose, Costa Rica
Inside a local’s restaurant in San Jose

Traditional Costa Rican Foods

Over the next two weeks, I had to force myself to branch away from the most famous Costa Rican food, rice and beans. So I could try some of the other traditional Costa Rican foods. The food in Costa Rica is fresh, and there is such a variety! 

So, if you are curious about what food is like in Costa Rica, here are the eight that made my list of must-try, typical Costa Rican food.

Gallo Pinto

They say “There is nothing more Tico (the term for local Costa Rican) than Gallo Pinto“, and it’s true. Most days begin with a plate of Gallo Pinto, a dish that consists of Costa Rican rice and beans sautéed with garlic, onions, and cilantro, often served with 1-2 fried or scrambled eggs and a sausage on the side.

If you want to eat Gallo Pinto like a true local, you have to pour some Lizano salsa over your rice and beans and enjoy the meal with a cup of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee (unfortunately, drinking tea is not a part of the Costa Rican culture).

Gallo Pinto $2 at a Soda, in San Jose.
Costa Rican Gallo Pinto

Casado

At dinner time, locals savour another popular Costa Rican food, a traditional dish called Casado. Casado is a perfect combination of rice, beans, fried plantains (a type of not sweet banana), cabbage and tomato salad, and a piece of fish/meat. You’ll find a simple version of Casado in every local restaurant (known as a Costa Rican “Soda”) and maybe a slightly different interpretation at the restaurants catering to tourists.

Traditional Costa Rican foods: Costa Rican Casado at a local restaurant
Costa Rican Casado at a Soda
Traditional Costa Rican foods: Costa Rican Casado at a Western Restaurant
Costa Rican Casado at a Western Restaurant

When preparing Casado, locals always cook more rice and beans than they need for the meal and use leftovers to whip up a perfect Gallo Pinto the next morning. Yes to delicious leftovers as a Costa Rican breakfast!

Ceviche

Not just a typical Costa Rican food, but a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of both Central and South America. Ceviche is made from raw fish cooked in lime/lemon juice with onion, cilantro, salt, pepper and other optional ingredients like bell peppers, celery, and tomatoes. As one of the more popular Costa Rican recipes, it is served as an appetizer and eaten with salt crackers or plantain chips.

The beauty of ceviche is that it has so many variations in Costa Rican cuisine and each one tastes slightly different than the other. There is red snapper ceviche, tuna ceviche, Mahi Mahi ceviche, marlin ceviche. As well as a mix of shrimp, octopus, clams, ceviche, and many more!

If you like seafood we guarantee you won’t get tired of having this popular Costa Rican food with every meal!

Traditional Costa Rican foods: Costa Rican Ceviche
Costa Rican white fish Ceviche

Tamales

When it comes to traditional Costa Rican foods, Tamales tops the snack chart as the most traditional and delicious. Tamale is a dish made of masa (a starchy corn-based dough) mixed with vegetables, meats and/or cheese, which is steamed or boiled in a banana leaf as one of the most loved Costa Rican snacks.

Typical Costa Rican Food: Costa Rican Tamale served in the banana leaf wrap.
Costa Rican Tamale served in the banana leaf wrap.

When ready to be consumed, tamales are opened, seasoned with Lizano salsa and eaten with a fork or by hand. This typical Costa Rican food is particularly popular over the festive season, so look out for tamales when traveling to Costa Rica around Christmas time. There may be better times to visit Costa Rica but Tamales make the holiday-time worth it!

"Typical

Chicharrónes

Chicharrónes are not just a popular Costa Rican food. They are popular across all of Latin America. Chicharrónes are a snack food and essentially deep-fried pork rinds, the skin part of the pork, served with lime juice, fried yucca, and/or cabbage salad.

There is absolutely nothing healthy about them and they probably carry very little nutritional value, but these crispy, crackly, juicy pork bits are a wicked treat that’s impossible to resist. You can never have just one, so no wonder it ranks as one of the more popular foods in Costa Rica.

Popular Costa Rican food: Plate of chicharrones served with salad and salsa.
A plate of chicharrones served with salad and salsa.

Chicharrónes are typically sold at local fiestas, or outside of a Costa Rican Soda. You’ll sometimes find this item on a menu at western restaurants, but they are never as good there, so keep your eyes peeled for them on the streets of Costa Rica.

Carne Asada

Carne Asada is Spanish for meat (specifically beef) on a stick. Typically consumed as a late night snack, but also served as a dinner main, Carne Asada is another typical Costa Rican food. It is often eaten with tortillas along with other local favourites like black beans, onions, guacamole, etc.

Popular Costa Rican food: Pollo and Carne Asada on the grill in Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Pollo and Carne Asada on the grill in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches cake literally translates into “Three Milks”, and is a popular traditional Costa Rican dessert. Tres Leches is a sponge cake/butter cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream for over three hours.

The cake is then stored in the fridge until it is ready to be consumed. Depending on the recipe Tres Leches cake might also come with an additional layer of whipped cream and a garnish on top. It’s spongy, it’s sweet, and it’s delicious!

Traditional Costa Rican foods: Tres Leches
Costa Rican Tres Leches

Chifrijo

You’ll find delicious bowls of Chifrijos in cantinas (bars) across the country. With some locals claiming that visitors to Costa Rica have not truly experienced the country until they dine on this typical Costa Rican food.

The bare bones of the dish is a combination of chicharron, beans, chile, and chimichurri. Then topped with a chef’s choice of pinto de gallo, avocado, cabbage, and tortilla chips. And of course, as one of our favorite Costa Rican dishes, Chifrijos must be accompanied by a refreshing beer. They are cantina staple after all!

Read Next: 13 Costa Rican Recipes And Dishes You Can Make At Home

Traditional Costa Rica foods: Chifrijo
A hearty bowl of Chifrijo. Photo by Raul Alvarez via Flickr CC.

A trip to Costa Rica would not be complete without trying these traditional Costa Rican foods! While you are there, give them a go… you will be glad you did. So, if you have been wondering what type of food to try in Costa Rica, we hope this gives you a good idea of traditional Costa Rican foods to try as you travel.

BEFORE YOU GO: Don’t forget travel insurance!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like Costa Rica. Whether you plan to explore the cities or get a taste of the different foods and delicacies, being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind.We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.

Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.

Have you traveled to Costa Rica before? What are some of your suggestions for must-try Costa Rican foods?

8 thoughts on “Traditional Costa Rican Foods You Have to Try”

  1. I really enjoyed Gallo Pinto and Casado when I visited Costa Rica. I wish I would have tried that dessert- it sounds so tasty!

  2. I live in Arizona but I was born in Costa Rica… I grew up with all of those dishes and I miss it so much. When I got married I thought my husband wasn’t going to like the food I cook, I thought the food is simple and kinda repetitive… but he fell in love with the food. I’m not kidding he would ask for costa rican food every day.

    1. I can totally relate to that, Paula. When I heard that food in Costa Rica was all about rice and beans I thought there is no way I can eat that every day. But now, I love the traditional dishes here. I think it’s all thanks to Lizano. That sauce makes everything taste better!

    1. You’ll be able to find everything you need to cook the same meals you do at home, Debi. Larger cities have big supermarkets, like Maxi Pai or Supermercado with a wide selection of produce and all other foods, toiletries, etc, while smaller pulperias (corner stores) will carry just the basics. So we suggest that you make a stop in a large city en route to your destination and stock up.

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