Thursday, April 17, 2008

Colas, sodas, and what’s on the menu

Here’s a little tidbit about eating and drinking in Costa Rica, with a Spanish lesson thrown in for fun.

If you’re looking for a bubbly beverage here in ticolandia, don’t ask for a cola. In Costa Rica, a tail—whether on an animal or a ponytail in the hair—is called a cola (sounds just like the cola you drink).

Perhaps you could order a soda? Not here. A small restaurant that serves traditional, inexpensive Costa Rican food is called a soda (yep, sounds just like the soda you drink). These little sodas are all over the place, even in remote areas of the country where one wonders how the soda gets its supplies and who is eating there. Anything but fancy, sodas often are sometimes just simple support structures with tin roofs or tarps overhead, as you can see was the case at Soda El Mango where we had lunch on a Manuel Antonio beach.

Sodas serve comida típica—typical/traditional tico food—which relies on local agriculture and cultural tradition. These very modest eateries sometimes don’t even offer menus to diners since it’s known they serve native dishes.

Typical tico dishes such as gallo pinto (a mixture of rice and beans) and casados are the norm. Casado means married, and casado plates are marriages of food to make a meal: rice, beans, a salad of some kind (perhaps heart of palm or cabbage and carrots), fried plantains, and some kind of meat or poultry. My favorite soda food is chifrijo—a combination of chicarrones (fried pork), frijoles (beans), rice, pico de gallo and some other yummy stuff that tastes fantastic.

Eating at soda is a great way to immerse oneself into the tico culture while getting a filling meal at a fair price.

So what do you ask for if you’re thirsty? A carbonated beverage is most often called by its actual name: Coca (for Coca Cola), Coca Light, Fanta … you get the idea. There are oodles of fruit juices here. Coconut milk—sipped from a coconut through a straw—is sometimes sold along well-traveled roads. And of course coffee is king in Costa Rica.

Our favorite drinks are the refrescos—sweet, satisfying concoctions made of liquefied, fresh fruit blended with either water or milk. These traditional drinks are available in loads of flavors such as watermelon, mango, strawberry, blackberry, tamarind, passion fruit, guanabana, and cas. Our favorites are watermelon and strawberry.

If you’re brave enough to try something that really packs a punch, sip a bit of guaro, the national liquor of Costa Rica made from distilled sugar cane.To minimize production of bootlegged guaro, the tico government nationalized the manufacturing of the stuff with the Fabrica Nacional de Licores-Fanal, offering Cacique, the only legal brand of guaro, since the mid 1800s. Just don’t become a guaro vaquero (guaro cowboy)—someone who’s had too much too drink and acts like an obnoxious fool!

There are plenty of other drinks available here in Costa Rica, but perhaps the best news is that you can safely drink tap water here, which is not the case in many Latin American countries. It's freeing not having to worry about what's in the water and makes eating and drinking much simpler.



JujuBoo said...

Thanks for the great lesson. I an so intrigued in what things are like in Costa Rico, from and American family point of view.

I have to ask though, what kind of fruit are tamarind, ghanabana, and cas?

Shelli said...

Local stuff sounds good!

Laurie Starr said...

Hey Christine,

Do they also have Starbucks there? They seem to be everywhere I turn here. Just curious (even though I know you're not a coffee person, right?)

I'm glad your water is safe for drinking because I know you are a major water drinker. Why is it safe there but not so in many other places in Central America?


Four in Costa Rica said...

In answer to the comments and questions ...

Tamarind is a sour fruit, guanábana has kind of a vanilla flavor, and cas (guava) is acidic and very yummy in a drink.

Regarding the local food: Traditional Costa Rican cuisine is very basic. It is heavy on rice, beans, chicken and pork. It's high in fat and relatively low in seasoning and spices. You might think it would be somewhat like Mexican food, but it is not; it is very different and bland in comparison, especially because Costa Ricans in general do not like anything hot and spicy.

When Dan and I were home at Christmas, my cousin asked me what we miss most about the United States and we responded instantly: food.

Regarding the water: I'm not sure why Costa Rica does such a good job treating the water and other LA countries do not. This was a real concern of mine before we moved here, because I know what's it's like to live somewhere (Mexico, for example) where the water was unsafe to drink.

And no, I have never seen a Starbucks in Costa Rica (thank goodness!).

JujuBoo said...

MMM I love sour stuff so the tamarind sounds right up my alley!