Costa Rica is often recognized for its beaches and wildlife but its culinary side is getting more attention through a new gastronomic program. Recently I went on an assignment through Visit Costa Rica tourism board to learn more about a new national gastronomic program that promotes more use of native Costa Rican ingredients and dishes – as often done with home cooking – for sustainable, healthful and economical benefits.
Of course to see this program in action we went to places that reflected good examples.
Our start was in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, with a visit to Feria Verde, or translated as The Green Fair. Founded by the Organic Lovers Association (AAMOR), a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable living within Costa Rica, Feria Verde is an eco-minded farmer’s market happening on Saturdays mornings in the neighborhood of Aranjuez.
My group went to Feria Verde Aranjuez, which is about five years old now. It’s held at a place called Polideportivo Aranjuez, in the morning hours, and on our day we walked along a pathway is lined with booths manned by restaurants, organic farms, and other various local producers offering fruits and veggies, breads, sauces, and even coffee.
Other edibles available for purchase included locally made cheeses, hot and mild sauces and even popsicles. And we were able to get some breakfast too. From one vendor, we ordered “un gallo ranchero,” an egg, cheese, and tomato sauce medley on a corn tortilla. We also had coffee from Taza Amarilla, an organic coffee farm that has a regular spot at Feria Verde Aranjuez.
Another place that we went to on our first full day is Chateau 1525, a culinary school and restaurant inside a former mansion dating back to the 1930s. During lunch hour, the school’s students put on a five-course culinary presentation that gave us a taste of tradition and a side of interpretation. We were given a history lesson too on the food staples in the Costa Rican diet and the Spanish, African, and indigenous influences reflected in these dishes.
For example, “Vuelve a la Vida” can be compared to ceviche (raw fish treated with a lime or lemon juice) but a dish is made of different types of seafood that are diced and then given some lemon juice. Stew also has its place in Costa Rican traditions and a regional one called “Olla de Carne,” a strong beef and root vegetable concoction that can make for a nice remedy when someone is sick – like chicken soup.
Rice and beans are also essentials in Costa Rica and a typical dish is called Gallo Pinto and it can come with chicken or fish. For dessert, the student chefs whipped up different treats that are featured at town festivals, which are called turnos. We had sorbetera (a vanilla based ice cream with spices), churros, and sugared apples, among other goodies.
We ended our day with dinner at Tintos y Blancos, a family-owned restaurant in San Diego that focuses on Mediterranean cuisine. Its innovate decor is built around wine, with a look that resembles a wine cellar. There are nearly 500 wines in stock – with many also available for purchase – that compliment every meal. Origins extend to France, Italy, Chile and Argentina – the latter a nod to the owners’ heritage. Overall, it was a filling first day.
Editor’s Note: I was invited by Visit Costa Rica to learn more about its culinary offerings, but all opinions are my own.