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Costa Rica
Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Rice and Beans and its place in Costa Rican Culture

After visiting Costa Rica you will be left with endless memories that you cherish and remember for months and years to come. Sprawling jungles of exotic wildlife, the paradise beaches of wondrous sunsets, and the friendliness of the people. One thing you are sure to remember whether you want to or not is the never-ending rice and beans.

Beans, beans, and more beans. They are a staple of Costa Rican cuisine served pretty much three times a day in almost all of the country’s homes and restaurants. Many of us may not have been a fan of beans back home or found them on our plates but there is something a little different about the beans here. Or maybe you just start getting used to them!

Whether they be red or black it usually comes down to people’s preferences. They are an economical and reliable food source helping to reduce the monthly food bills in a country that is still considered a developing nation.  Regardless of what your source of income is, many want to find a way to keep spending down and beans are a cost-effective way to do so.

Providing fiber and antioxidants with calcium, magnesium, and potassium they offer the vitamins and minerals that help to sustain good health.

But what do you do with all these beans? Surprisingly enough many just enjoy their beans the way they are, or slowly simmered with gluttonous chicharrons enhancing the flavor. Beans are incorporated into Costa Rican cuisine in a multitude of ingenious and delicious ways.

One of the most recognized and popular ways you will find rice and beans is on your morning breakfast plate.  Most Costa Rican homes start their day with a simplistic combination of the well-loved rice and beans with their gallo pinto. Considered by some as the national dish of Costa Rica gallo pinto is far from simplistic in taste, especially with the much loved and secret sauce of salsa Lizano.

Rice is essential to every meal, almost as air is to breathing, it is just as much a staple to everyday living as beans. Depending on who you talk to, they may even say gallo pinto is compulsory breakfast food.

Gallo Pinto

Gallo pinto was an ingenious way of using up the foods already in the home from the day before and creating something quick, delicious and to sustain one for the day of work ahead of them. Day-old rice is one of the secrets to a perfect serving of gallo pinto.

Eating a plate of spotted rooster, not literally of course but what gallo pinto translates to with its marked appearance contrasting the white rice against the colors of the beans is served almost every morning. Some prefer it quickly mixed with its basic flavors before heading out the door or the traditional method giving the gallo pinto its addictive flavor.

Using common yet flavourful ingredients of diced onion, peppers, oil, salt and pepper, and some garlic, however, be careful, the mention of this to certain people could give you some strange and blasphemy looks as it’s a no to others.

Mixing the beans with a bit of their liquid and the leftover rice you are set to finish it off with cilantro and of course, the salsa Lizano or whatever secret ingredient one may have stored away. In the end, what you have is something that has become so traditional that it becomes second nature.

Served alongside eggs, fried plantains, cheese, a tortilla with a side of natilla and café and you have the classic Costa Rican breakfast. After you have tried it, you wonder how you ever lived without it.

Casado

Rivaling in popularity with gallo pinto comes the casado, meaning married or married man, fittingly so the plate is a marriage of rice and beans accompanied by a protein and vegetables or often a salad. Serving up a hearty meal to keep one full for hours to come, casado’s are the most typical meals within Costa Rica.

Across the country, you might find variations and different flavor profiles such as the Caribbean coast’s style of rice and beans where coconut milk is added. You can’t escape rice in Costa Rica, it follows you everywhere and somehow the tables turn and you are in search of it. There is some sort of magic in how the meals come alive in Costa Rica with the base of rice.

It even makes its way onto the dessert menu with arroz con leche (rice pudding) and is on the table at almost every festivity.

Arroz con Pollo

Arroz con pollo (rice and chicken) is shared with family and friends at many gatherings and featured on all the menus with its signature color of orange. It doesn’t come from ingredients within the arroz con pollo but from an added ingredient achiote, which you don’t need much of at all to create the beautiful color of the dish.

Achiote comes from the ground up seeds of the annatto tree and is sold as a hard paste, when added to your dish it melts and transforms your meal into its beautiful orangish-red color.

Costa Ricans and tourists alike relish in all the seafood of the country and arroz con mariscos and arroz con camarones (rice with seafood or with shrimp) are ones to be craved by all and a must-try when in Costa Rica. Fresh seafood of the waters creates this savory dish with the traditional vegetables finely diced to give it that extra hint of flavor.

Guanacaste Version

As you travel across the country to Guanacaste, here you will find arroz de mais (rice and corn stew). The long-standing recipe has been passed through Nicoyan generations and is not one that you will too easily find as it is very labor intensive to prepare the dish in its traditional ways.

The most time-consuming part of preparing this dish is plucking every single little hair or feather off of each grain before even beginning to cook the corn.

Final Thoughts

So, when you come to Costa Rica and see rice and beans on every menu don’t be plagued with memories from your budget college days. Here, it is something that you will find yourself making without even thinking twice, it just naturally becomes a part of your everyday life.

Thrifty, easy to put together making a delicious accompaniment for whichever food you are trying to highlight, give rice and beans a chance and you will be more than surprised by the love that you feel in each bite.

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