Costa Rica is world famous for its coffee, but its cuisine is usually something of an afterthought. If visitors should happen to ask any Costa Rican chef for vegetarian food, it will initially be met with confusion or possibly mild panic as they run through all the meat dishes on the menu in their head. However, it is just because vegetarianism is something of a rarity in the country. There was never a country better equipped for vegetarians than Costa Rica. Although meat is a beloved staple, those rich rainforests are filled with more than just coffee plantations.
Luckily for vegetarians, Costa Rica's most beloved traditional breakfast dish is actually a vegetarian affair. When it comes breakfast time, nearly everyone is noshing on gallo pinto, which consists of a mixture of rice with black beans, served with sour cream, eggs and fried plantains on the side. It serves as an excellent meal alongside a cup of Costa Rican coffee.
However, because gallo pinto is so similar to another popular vegetarian dish that visitor's will need to get used to eating for lunch or dinner, vegetarians might want to find another option for breakfast. Aside from the usual eggs and toast, an additional favourite breakfast option is ensalada de fruitas, or fruit salad.
Costa Rica is flush with tropical fruit including papaya, banana, maracuya and many more that most visitors haven't even heard of. There is so much fresh fruit to be found, diners can likely have a different variety of fruit in their salad for every meal.
Lunch and Dinner
The most unfortunate aspect of eating vegetarian for dinner is that the meals can get a bit repetitive. The country has the bounty, but due to a low number of native vegetarian eaters there is a low demand for dishes.
One of the most popular vegetarian dishes that diners should get used to enjoying is casado. Traditionally, the dish is served with chicken or beef, but it is simple enough to make vegetarian. Without the meat, casado consists of beans, rice, bell peppers, onions, fried plantains and a cabbage salad. Essentially it is not so much a proper dish as it is a bunch of different tasty ingredients sitting side by side. While vegetarian visitors will be eating a lot of it, the major benefit of casado is that it can be found absolutely everywhere.
To shake up all that casado, consider trying some picadillo de papa, but vegetarians need to be very particular when ordering it. While most picadillo will have some sort of vegetable in the name, it is mixed in with meat. However, without the meat, it is just as good. It combines whatever vegetable is in the name with chopped onions and bell peppers before being served with tortillas and black bean paste, similar to a vegetarian fajita.
For vegetarians that make exceptions for fish, Costa Rican cuisine becomes a much wider place. Meat dishes can easily be replaced with fish while fish-based soups and ceviche are popular in the country. Visitors won't find much in the way of shellfish, however, as they are quite expensive to import. As always in Latin America, ceviche can be a flavourful and wonderful experience, but also a gamble.
Dessert is the perfect playground for the vegetarian in Costa Rica, although not so much if is visitors follow a vegan diet.
Fried plantains are not only a favourite side dish for many meals, but when fried up with sugar they make for one of Costa Rica's favourite desserts. Alternatively, the fresh fruits that visitors will likely enjoy for breakfast make a reappearance at dessert served with rich sweet cream. With the coconut flans and ample servings of rice pudding, visitors will be spoiled for choice when it comes to sweets.
However, the most popular dessert in Costa Rica is tres leches. Tres leches, or three milk cake, is gaining popularity worldwide. This delectable dish involves a sponge cake that is soaked in three different kinds of milk - evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream. This allows for an unparalleled moist, sweet cake.
When it comes to vegetarian snacking, there are actually a number of wonderful options.
When it comes to vegetarian snacking, there are actually a number of wonderful options. One of the favourite snacks in Costa Rica is empanadas. While some empanadas are filled with meat, others are filled with cheese, beans or potatoes. The fillings are stuffed into dough before being fried or baked before being served with a dollop of hot sauce. This popular street vendor food is good fuel for a day of sightseeing.
Like empanadas, there are also bizcochos, which are baked cheese and cornmeal dough rings. Visitors can buy bags of them in grocery stores, but they are better quality when bought directly from restaurants or small bizcochos factories. They make an excellent snack for that afternoon coffee.
For a more portable snack, consider grabbing an order of yuquitas, the Costa Rican answer to french fries (although they have those too). Yuquitas consist of thick, fried slices of the starchy yucca plant. They have a taste similar to a sweet potato.
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