Central America, Food, Travel

Gallo Pinto & More: Eating in Central America Part 1

September 30, 2012

My yearning for travel lately has prompted me to write another nostalgic post: come with me as we travel back in time to the winter of 2009/2010, when I wandered throughout Costa Rica and Nicaragua for three months! For many people, this is the best kind of travel, since no passport is needed 😉

Some of my favorite things to eat on this trip were batidos (fresh fruit smoothies), plátanos fritos (fried plantains, a very common side dish throughout Central America), and of course, all of the perfectly ripe aguacate (avocado), which I ate to my heart’s content.

This was so ripe that I pretty much ate it by squeezing it out of the peel right into my mouth. Good times.

Let’s start with my two months in Costa Rica.  I worked as a mother’s helper on this part of the trip, so I was treated to plenty of amazing meals that I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. The first place we stayed, Hotel Mi Tierra, was small and in a not-so-great part of town, but they had a great breakfast spread: 

Admittedly, this seemed so great only because it was our first breakfast in Costa Rica– we would soon learn that the amazing variety of fruit- banana, pineapple, papaya, mango, and watermelon, were generally standard as part of any hotel’s breakfast offerings.  The rice and beans you see on the left is a dish called gallo pinto, literally ‘spotted rooster’ in Spanish.  It differs from the rice and beans combo we might see here in the States in that it’s fried, there are more rice than beans, and it contains cilantro and red or green pepper, usually. Oh yes, and it’s all fried 🙂

Next we truly seemed to enter paradise when we stayed at Rancho Margot, a gorgeous eco-ranch (too many tourist attractions like to use the prefix eco to draw people in, this place actually practices what it preaches) in north-central Costa Rica near Lake Arenal (ah-ray-NAHL).  They grow all their own fruits and vegetables, raise cows, pigs and chickens to produce all the milk, butter, eggs, cheese, ham and pork, and food scraps from the kitchen are all composted on their own land.

Now, I’m not a huge tomato lover, but I distinctly remember this one being so fresh and sweet.

Grilled eggplant, queso freso and lettuce on their homemade bread. Plantain chips on the side. Fresh and delicious!

Despite their farm-raised beef and pork, there were lovely vegetarian options, like this lasagna with garden vegetables

Yogurt and granola for breakfast one day…

And pineapple, papaya, watermelon, potatoes, scrambled eggs and pastries the next! Yum!

The Monteverde area, high up in the cloud forest further east, felt the most otherworldly: we saw lots of new wildlife and hiked in the mountains with the clouds hanging so low you could touch them.

The suspension bridge in the dramatic Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Here in the jungle, we ate like kings (I mean queens!).  Our hosts for the week were a local family- Costan Rican woman, American man, and their two children- and I felt so lucky to have home cooked, vegetarian meals placed in front of me day after day.

Of course, I don’t remember exactly what all of this is…definitely fresh greens, rice and beans, cabbage with lime juice and salt, and fried cheese. The other fried stuff, not so sure.

The sunlight was particularly striking in the afternoons, giving my lunches an even more photogenic quality:

Veggie penne pasta- anytime you give me pasta, I’m golden

Ain’t it pretty? I have this tagged on Flickr as beet salad, but now I’m confused, because beets are definitely purple and not pink. I do know that I liked it!

Curry in Costa Rica! Splendid! And of course, avocado on the side

Solo time is of the utmost importance when traveling with other people, so I did treat myself out a few times– first, here’s the view from one of the restaurant balconies in the villages of Cerro Plano:

The sunsets were SO gorgeous here, every day

And here is what I treated myself to at said restaurant:

Mango streudel and vanilla ice cream. Oh so decadent.

Of course I exercised the utmost restraint so as to properly capture this masterpiece

That’s it for now, kids.  As I went through my photos, I realized that there’s enough to warrant two food posts for Costa Rica (plus one for my month in Nicaragua)! So far I’ve covered the first two weeks of my three months in Central America. Have you ever been there? Did you travel alone (as I did for the Nicaragua portion), or with others? Do you prefer one method of travel over another? I look forward to hearing any experiences you might share!

I’ll leave you with the view from my host family’s  east-facing kitchen window in Cerro Plano, Puntarenas Province:

Dreamy sunset with the Nicoya Gulf and Peninsula beckoning in the distance



One can only really travel if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it into a healthy private pattern of one’s own, and I suppose that is the difference between travel and tourism.  —Freya Stark

 We have a new joke on the reservation: ‘What is cultural deprivation?’ Answer: ‘Being an upper-middle class white kid living in a split-level suburban home with a color TV.’  — John Fire Lame Deer, “Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions”

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  • Jocelyn Pascall October 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Wow! Great pictures and all of that food looks amazing. And I agree about fried plantains – they are such a treat! It is so great to travel and experience a new world, and getting to taste all of the wonderful foods just adds to it all.

    • Christy October 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm

      Thanks Jocelyn! It pretty much *was* all amazing- and I’m glad I have all of my travel experiences to draw on and remember as I sit here in my (for now) stationary, domestic life 🙂

  • Kiersten @ Oh My Veggies October 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Whenever I travel to another country, people always ask what I eat. I tell people you can get vegetarian food just about anywhere, but they don’t believe it! It looks like you ate pretty well on your trip. 🙂

    • Christy October 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm

      Yes, I did- still amazing to think about how blessed I was! You really can eat vegetarian anywhere, it just requires a little more effort.

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