If you’re hoping to completely delve into a country’s culture, there’s no avoiding the artistry behind its cuisine. Whether you’re brave enough to sample one of Mexico’s tequila worms or a half-dozen Southeast Asian frog legs, it’s safe to assume just about every country has its fair share of diverse choices when it comes to gastronomy.
After learning how to cook without a given recipe, I’ve always been about taste testing almost everything that comes my way, as long as it’s not moving on its own. I’ve had a taste of the UK’s blood pudding and France’s escargot, but I have yet to encounter what Costa Rica hides among its biodiversity.
Thus, my research began:
Rondón: One of Costa Rica’s most popular dishes, Rondón supposedly imitates whatever the chef can “run down,” which may include spare vegetables, peppers, spices and perhaps even turtle meat—all of which are simmered in a rich coconut sauce. The dish also holds a deep history, reflecting the Caribbean’s necessary usefulness of any and all available resources at any given time.
Cacao fresco: Who would’ve guessed chocolate comes from a fruit? Crack open a cacao pod, and you’ll soon discover a white flesh encasing the cacao beans. Though the beans may taste bitter, the sweet flesh remains edible.
Agua de sapo: Though the drink formally translates into “toad water,” don’t jump to conclusions quite yet. For an even sweeter twist on lemonade, shopkeepers incorporate a refreshing blend of brown sugar and ginger to quench your thirst under the sun’s notoriously strong rays.
Salsa lizano: A condiment typically found next to ketchup, Costa Ricans add this brown sauce developed in the 1920’s to just about everything. Frequently doused on rice and empanadas, it seems like their very own version of a richer, smoother hot sauce.
Tres leches: If you’ve got a demanding sweet tooth that resembles a Costa Rican’s, don’t miss a slice of this cake. A sponge cake soaked in heavy cream, evaporated milk and condensed milk, this dessert is anything but dry. What’s more, tres leches often incorporates a touch of rum.
Olla de carne: Although the stew doesn’t look as appetizing as it tastes at first glance, you can’t leave Costa Rica without sampling its most prized comfort food. With chunks of beef, potatoes, plantains and yuca, enter one of the heartiest experiences of your life.