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HomeCosta RicaVeganism And Vegetarianism In Costa Rica: Easy Tips For Travelers

Veganism And Vegetarianism In Costa Rica: Easy Tips For Travelers

When I first moved to Costa Rica 2 years ago, I had little idea that being a vegetarian would make traveling difficult for me. Coming from India, where 24% of the population is strictly vegetarian, having trouble finding vegetarian food was no less than a shock to me.

Fast forward to the present and I am traveling hassle-free and even enjoying Costa Rican food. How did I do that? Well, first, I had to blend in with the local culture and dishes, and second, I trained myself with common Spanish phrases and terms.

You will easily find vegetarian dishes in popular tourist areas but it’s difficult to find them at local sodas and restaurants where people may not even understand what type of food you want.

Veganism vs. Vegetarianism

Few people know the concept of veganism and vegetarianism and the difference between the two. Some common responses that I get when I say “I am a vegetarian!” are –

So you do not eat eggs and cheese?

Oh, so you don’t eat chicken.

What about fish? Do you eat that?

So, let’s understand both terms. A vegetarian does not eat any animal flesh such as meat, poultry, fish, or seafood. A vegan is a stricter vegetarian who, in addition to avoiding the above, also avoids consuming eggs, milk & any other dairy products, and other products derived from animals.

Some food options for Vegetarians and Vegans at local restaurants

  • Ensalada – Salad
  • Frijoles – Beans
  • Arroz – Rice (typically served with beans. Check the next 2 items for rice options)
  • Gallo pinto – Breakfast dish with white rice and black beans cooked with onion, garlic, red bell pepper, and cilantro. It comes with a few sides such as eggs, natilla (sour cream), plantains, tortillas, and cheese.

This is mostly a vegetarian dish, but few restaurants can give meat as a side. Remember to tell them that you don’t want meat. If you are vegan, tell them to remove dairy products.

  • Casado – Typical meal for lunch or dinner. It consists of white rice, black beans, fried plantains, a salad of lettuce, tomato & onion, and meat/chicken/fish.

You can ask for vegetarian casado which consists of steamed vegetables instead of meat.

  • Yogurt – Yogurt
  • Papas fritas – French fries
  • Frutas – Fruit
  • Platanos – Fried plantains
  • Nachos or patacones  – Nachos or fried plantains with guacamole, beans, cheese, vegetables, and pico de gallo.
  • Quesadilla – A corn tortilla that is filled with cheese, meats, vegetables, spices, and other fillings. This can easily be converted into a vegetarian dish by asking them to not put meat.
  • Chorreadas – Corn pancakes served for breakfast or with coffee. If you are vegan, check if they are made with milk.
  • Vegetales al vapor – Steamed vegetables
  • Arroz Jardinero – Garden, or vegetarian rice dish
  • Arroz con palmito – Heart of palm rice
  • Sopa Negra – Black bean soup, usually served with a hard-boiled egg. Remember to ask them to remove the eggs if you are vegan.
  • Crema de pejibaye – Peach palm soup
  • Tortillas de maiz – Corn tortillas

If you go to a high-end restaurant, you will also get vegetarian options for pizza (Margherita and vegetarian pizza), pasta, pancakes, onion rings, jalapeno poppers, and sandwiches.

6 Tips for a Vegan/Vegetarian Lifestyle while Traveling in Costa Rica

1. Learn some common food phrases and terms in Spanish

One important thing to note is that not everyone speaks English in Costa Rica. Especially at local restaurants and small sodas. Therefore, it is advised to learn some Spanish food names and some basic Spanish terms & references.

  • I am a vegetarian – Soy vegetariano/a
  • I am a vegan – Soy vegano/a
  • No animal products – Sin productos de animales
  • No cheese – Sin queso
  • No milk – Sin leche
  • No butter – Sin mantequilla
  • Con vegetales – With vegetables
  • I do not eat meat – Yo no como carne
  • I do not eat chicken – Yo no como pollo
  • I do not eat eggs – Yo no como huevos
  • I do not eat fish – Yo no como pescado
  • Is there xxx? – ¿Hay xxx?
  • In water – En agua (can use this to order fruit smoothies, called batidos in Spanish, in water and not milk)

2. Research in advance

Whenever I am planning to visit a town or a beach, I do a quick research on some restaurants that offer vegan or vegetarian food. Usually, the names show up on google. This saves me the trouble of stopping by every restaurant and taking a look at the menu while I am on the trip.

3. Explain clearly what you can and cannot eat

Sadly, even after telling the staff that I am a vegetarian, I am often served meat. As mentioned above, many people are not clear on the concept of veganism and vegetarianism. They may think that being a vegetarian means you eat a lot of vegetables, or that you don’t want meat but fish is okay. Or they may completely take you as a vegan who wouldn’t even want dairy products. And I am saying this out of personal experience!

So be very clear about what you want and don’t want in your food. Even if that means using a lot of Spanish phrases and giving a lot of instructions. For example, when I am ordering a plate of nachos vegetariano or nachos con vegetales (nachos with vegetables), I tell them – sin carne, sin pollo, sin pescado, pero el queso esta bien (no meat, no chicken, no fish, but cheese is fine).

4. Make a request

It can happen sometimes that you like something on the menu but it may consist of meat. Do not hesitate to ask them if the dish can be made vegetarian. A simple request can earn you a good meal.

Sometimes when I see quesadilla on the menu, and although vegetarian quesadilla is not mentioned, I ask the waiter if quesadilla can be made without meat and only with vegetables and cheese. Most of the time they are happy to comply. Sometimes they say that they need to check with the chef and they often come back saying that they CAN make it vegetarian. And sometimes (very rarely) they say that they cannot fulfill our request. But what’s the harm in trying?

5. Order multiple side dishes or appetizers

Eating rice 3 times can sometimes get boring. Everyone likes variety in their meals. This is why my husband and I sometimes only order side dishes for our meals. They are small portions but often very filling. Some examples are – Papas fritas, black bean soup, jalapeno poppers, onion rings, and platanos.

6. Cook at the hotel/hostel

Now, what’s better than cooking the food yourself? If you are very particular about the food you eat, then cooking yourself is the best option for enjoying a hearty meal. For this, look for hotels & hostels that have a shared/common kitchen where you can cook your own meals. Buy your ingredients from the farmers’ markets (ferias) and local stores when traveling.

Final Words

Finding vegan or vegetarian food is not hard in Costa Rica. You just need to have the right research, the right knowledge, and the right mindset for it. Try to understand that vegetarianism and veganism are not common for Costa Ricans, so you have to be patient and flexible with your needs. And most importantly, try to blend in with the local cuisine. Once you do, you will start liking the food here. Cheers!

Astha Garg
Astha Garg
Content Creator & Certified Yoga Instructor An advocate for environmental consciousness, has a strong quest for knowledge, and a deep love for traveling & exploring.

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