Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Food Spoils from Costa Rica

Costa Rican Breakfast
I am the first to admit of a certain amount of food ignorance when it comes to our neighbors to the south.  I know of the meats on swords from Argentina, the Tex-Mex variant of Mexican food (beans, rice, tortillas and chips, pico de gallo & cheddar cheese everywhere), tostones (best use of green plantains), molé (chocolate for dinner?) and queso fresco and horchata.   But when it comes to local specialties and deep knowledge.  I can say the words on the menu, but I mostly don't know what I'm talking about.

I was lucky enough to get to go to Costa Rica for 5 days.  It wasn't the trip I would have chosen, but notice me not refusing.  Hey... it's 45˚F at home and 92˚F there.  Bathing suit, ponytail holder, sunglasses, sandals and a dress.

And sunscreen.  I'll be using Nordic 70.  Thanks.  Otherwise I'll look like a monkey's butt, and feel like one of those burned fields I passed.

Anyway, we had a tour guide on our drive from the airport to the resort where we were staying.  After he introduced us to "Pura Vida," gave us a run down on the local landscape, that fact that littering with bottles is a fire hazard in CR (the magnifying glass effect - dang!), coati descriptions (raccoon + monkey) and some monkey sounds, he asked us if we had any questions.

"Tell me about the food."

So he did.  The big points:
1. Not so much fans of the spicy.  A small consumption of chiles.  I never found ANYthing that was "too hot."
2. Corn is not the grain of choice - rice wins.
3. The starch of choice is plantain, green or ripe.
4. The national liquor is Cacique Guaro, fermented sugar cane - but it isn't rum.  (my favorite way is in a Caipirinha)
5. Eat more fruit, and if you don't feel like eating it, drink it.  ¡Agua Fresca!
6. Chicken, Pork, Beef or Seafood - with rice & beans, or beans & rice.  And plantains.  And a soft white cheese.
7. Picadillo - A mixture of diced vegetables and meats.   Eaten as a relish and with rice. Try lots of different sorts.  Most are good.  Some are great.  Always herbs, often tomatoes, sometimes vinegar.

So as far as I can tell, if there is a Global Meal, that the whole world can sit down over, it is going to be Chicken Rice.

I sorted out the "everyday" diet of the "average" Costa Rican (I'm using quotes based on my own acceptance that some MAJOR streamlining had taken place for my gringo oídos.)  But is was still plenty of new information, and I found most of what he told me about.  Interestingly much of the best was at breakfast.  But that may have had more to do with the fact that breakfast was a buffet.

And the dishes worth pursuing turned out to be:

Platános Maduros en Tortillas con Natilla
"Plantain Tortillas with Sour Cream"
-note the sour cream is more like Mexican "crema" than American sour cream, has a cheesier flavor, and kept at air temp for longer.  Air temp can be closer to 85˚F.

Gallo Pinto
"Spotted Rooster"
Breakfast of Everyone.  Rice sauteed with overnight cooked beans, onion, sweet pepper and cilantro.

eat this with

Salsa Lizano
(known as "lizard sauce" to some of the more suspicious).
A greenish sauce of concentrated vegetable mystery with a definite sour savory flavor.  Sort of the Worcestershire Sauce of Costa Rica, but with a sour, mild chile kick and good on everything but ice cream.

Plátanos Maduros Fritos con Queso
"Fried Sweet Plantains with Cheese"

Sweet plantains are fried, split down the center, so they look a bit like a canoe, and filled with shredded cheese.  This is a mild white cheese, and the assembly is baked until the cheese melts into mozzarella like gooey-ness.

I also found a recipe for the same thing baked where the plantains are brushed with oil and baked instead of deep fried.  That makes more sense to me since you have to bake the darn things anyway.  And cleaning up after deep frying... bleh!

And the easiest one.  The food (well, drink) that has me smacking my forehead in sheer DUH!

Aqua Fresca
"Fresh Water" literally.  But really a refreshing drink for all seasons.

We go al multi-fruit smoothie in this country.  There's a need to add a little of this and a little of that.  How about, just whirring up some fruit that's almost too ripe to eat, add just a little water, maybe a little lemon or lime juice, and enjoying?

A few recipes are coming...

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