Most people think of Costa Rican snacks and assume gallo pinto or casado, but do you also know about their amazing helados, or what the heck a Guayabana is?
Compared to other Latin American countries like El Salvador, Costa Rican cuisine can often feel underrated, and not without reason. The country’s national dish, gallo pinto, is just rice and beans! Never mind that most people change their minds once they try it. (Real gallo pinto as made by locals is seasoned with peppers, onions, cilantro, and god knows what other delicious things.)
Although ulcer-causing spicy food isn’t Costa Rica’s strong suit, that doesn’t mean the locals don’t know how to eat. Here the 11 best Costa Rican snacks that we’ve gotten addicted to since we got here.
The 11 Costa Rican Snacks We Can’t Stop Eating
Jake and I went to the Tamarindo farmer’s market for the first time last Saturday, and picked up a couple organic fruits. (We’re not really “organic” people, but it’s been surprisingly hard to find good-looking produce in the local grocery stores!) On a whim, we bought a pineapple even though neither of us knew how to prepare one. Best decision we EVER made.
It was the sweetest, juiciest pineapple either if us had ever tasted. We couldn’t stop eating it! Jake cut it into chunks and left the bowl in the fridge. Didn’t even last a day, because we’d take a couple pieces every time we go to the kitchen for anything!
Traditional refrescos is fresh fruit blended with water or milk, and sugar. It sounds just like a smoothie, doesn’t it? Except smoothies cost upwards of $4 in Tamarindo, and refrescos are found in local sodas for much less.
Tamarindo’s namesake is a local juice drink made from liquefied Tamarind fruit combined with sugar. You can buy a concentrate of it from the farmer’s market, and dilute it with water to drink at home. But don’t let the greenish color throw you off–it’s not healthy! The locals put a TON of sugar into the concentrate, so we really have to try not to drink too much.
Ice cream is a big deal in our household. It’s the reason we could never commit fully to a plant-based diet (sorry, almond-milk ice cream—it’s not you, it’s us!).
To be honest, we didn’t have high expectations for the ice cream in Costa Rica. The two gelato places we tried were disappointing and expensive, and the grocery store selection wasn’t great. We had almost resigned to three months without ice cream at all, when the heavens sent us a creamy miracle in the form of Pops!
Our neighbor introduced it to us when he came over for dinner one day with a tub each of Café flavor and Guanabana (pronounced Gua-Nah-ba-na). In terms of Costa Rican snacks, the Guanabana fruit almost deserves it’s own place in the list because it’s such a distinctive local flavor. Although I haven’t had the fruit, the ice cream was light and fruity, with just a hint of zest.
However, my favorite flavor was actually the coffee, which was the smoothest I’ve ever had. Like cold yet soft butter! I actually went to get a few spoonfuls just now to figure out how to describe it—hey, it’s for science!
Although Jake and I eat a mostly plant-based diet, we also love to experience the local culture when we travel, and that includes the food. How do you visit Spain without having paella? Or a coastal town without trying the seafood? In Tamarindo, you can buy freshly caught fish hauled in daily from the Pacific Ocean every morning by local farmers. Try a Red Snapper pan-fried El-Salvadorian style in oil, salt, pepper, and curry powder.
There was some sticker shock the first time we tried to buy junk food in Costa Rica and learned how much a bag of Doritos cost. The brand-name American snacks cost way more than we’re used to paying for them at home because they’re imported. Luckily, some entrepreneurial Costa Ricans have created a few local alternatives. Craving Cheetos? Too bad it costs $6. How about a $2 bag of Quesitos?
I’m obligated to warn you that the Costa Rican snacks are usually not an exact match. You won’t get that distinctive orange “Cheetos finger” effect with these lightly dusted babies! They are however, still delicious. I actually like that the Quesitos are more mild and actually taste like real cheese—or maybe I’ve just been in Costa Rica for too long.
I capital letters LOVE papaya. The best part of living somewhere tropical is that they are always in season, and they are HUGE. None of those mini papayas you sometimes find in American supermarkets. One of these easily lasts me at least 2 days. To put that in perspective, a regular-sized papaya lasts about 3 minutes around me.
Not Pringles, Pringooools, because in Costa Rica even the Pringles guy loves soccer!
OK, so this isn’t exactly a Costa Rican snack. But (almost) every country has its national beer and the Imperial is Costa Rica’s.
Ron y Cola
Ron y cola. Rum and coke. Cuba Libre (which is actually rum and coke with lime). Whatever you want to call it, it’s a local favorite. You can get them in a can for a couple bucks in most grocery stores (usually cheaper than a Smirnoff Black) and you will see many locals drinking them.
While yucca fries aren’t specific to Costa Rica, they are way more common than the potato kind. Yucca is starchier than potatoes, so the fries are much less greasy. I usually only get to eat them when Jake wants to watch a soccer game at a bar, but it’s a common dish in Costa Rican homes.
Have you tried any of these Costa Rican snacks? Would you want to?
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