Thursday, April 22, 2010

Costa Rican Sodas

There are many reasons to visit the beautiful country of Costa Rica; a variety of flora and fauna, pristine rivers with flowing waterfalls, ocean views of either the Pacific or Caribbean, the best mango, pineapples, and bananas I've had to date, and last but not least, cheap dining at a neighborhood Soda.

The Soda in Costa Rica is the equivalent of a cheap American mom and pop diner, except, you typically dine outside, the food is half as expensive and is delivered quite fast.

The menus are generally simple and divided into categories: Desayuno (breakfast), Comidas Rapidas (fast food like sandwiches and soup), Almuerzo (lunch and usually dinner), Casados (big dinner plates), Batidos Naturales (fresh fruit and water blended), Batidos (fresh fruit and milk blended), Bebidas Calientes (usually limited to hot coffees and teas).

I was in Costa Rica recently for 8 days, and I ate at a soda at least twice daily 5 of those days.
There are a few Costa Rican must-try, staple items- Gallo Pinto, Cafe con Leche, Maduros, Patacones, Ceviche, Yuca, Casados, housemade Chilera.

Gallo Pinto: a variety of spices and aromatics are sauteed with cooked white rice and black beans. Gallo Pinto is served anytime of the day, but is typically eaten at breakfast, accompanied with huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs) and toast or bread. Gallo Pinto is also served with chicken, beef, sausages, maduros, or fried fish.

For 3 days in a row, I ate Gallo Pinto con Pescado (fried fish) for breakfast with a side of Maduros (fried ripened plantains) and Cafe con Leche (costa rican coffee with warm milk) from a soda called La Casa de La Hormiga in La Fortuna, San Carlos , Costa Rica. I typically mixed a generous helping of both bottled Chilero sauce (spicy deliciousness) and the housemade Chilera (a variety of onions, peppers, carrots, cauliflower marinating in vinegar) with my Pinto.....sooo good! (approx $4 or 2000 colones)

For lunch, I recommend something me, you'll still be pretty full from breakfast...go with Ceviche! I prefer Ceviche Mixto because it has a variety of fresh fish and shrimp "cooked" in citrus juices. On my recent trip, the main fish in the ceviche was Mahi Mahi. The better ceviche I had also contained a bit of avocado, cilantro, red bell pepper. Soda crackers, like Saltines, are served with the ceviche, and are tasty if you dip them in the citrus juices. (approximately $6 to $8, 3-4000 colones)

Pre or Post Dinner snacks are always a delight- Patacones or Fried Yuca will hit the spot and only cost you a couple of dollars.
Patacones are unriped plantains that have been pan-fried and salted. Patacones are served with a savory black bean dip. I had patacones while doing a bit of Spanish karaoke and sipping on a Fanta Naranja and Vodka, good memories!
Yuca is sort of like a potato as far as starchy density is concerned, but taste-wise it is slightly sweeter and richer than a typical white potato. Fried yuca is served in large chunks or sometimes in a french fry style. I've had yuca without any dipping accompaniments or served with a Costa Rican Thousand Island-esque sauce. The snack is good either way!

Before you know it, it will be dinner time. Be sure to bring your elastic-banded pants for this feast. The Casado, as pictured above, is a looooot of food, and probably could be shared...though I finished mine and then proceeded to go into a food coma!

Casados are different at every soda, but the 3 I consumed had the following in common: Meat (your choice, I always chose pescado....if I'm by water, I'm eating seafood!), Rice, Black Beans, Salad (not necessarily lettuce type salad, I had one that was a typical salad, another that featured tangy cole slaw and yet a 3rd, that was a creamy beet salad), Maduros, and either Tortillas or Bread.

**The casado pictured contained: Pescado, Rice, Beans, Maduros, Pasta Salad, Yuca, and Tortilla. The veggies you see are from the house-made Chilera and the sauce atop the fish is the bottled Chilero sauce. Oh, and it cost the equivalent of $5 (2500 colones)!

If you're feeling hot and thirsty and need a refreshing beverage, I recommend Batidos Naturales. They are a shake made of blended fresh fruit/fruit juice with water and a little sugar (if the fruit is on the tart side). They are served ice-cold and go down quickly! I tried guanabana, maricuya (passion fruit), raspberry, and mango. The raspberry one was not great....the berry was not quite in season, and added sugar helped but...If I were you, I'd stick with the fun tropical fruits, they don't taste nearly as good in the states so get it while you can! My favorite is guanabana....I don't know how else to describe the flavor, except to say, that on my palate it seems to be a blend of kiwi with a honey dew melon and a green grape. I tried the guanabana fruit straight off the tree while horseback riding in La Fortuna, and as a fresh fruit, it is a little furry and sweet. I'd say, it is better enjoyed as a blended cold beverage!
**If you'd like to try guanabana, go to your local Hispanic market; the Jumex brand has a Guanabana Nectar canned beverage that is delicious.

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