Eating Local in Costa Rica

by Kelli

Costa Rican Boy with Fish

How do you eat local in Costa Rica?  That’s a good question, and one we’ve been on a hunt to find an answer to since we got here two months ago.  We’ve been surprised at what we’ve found.

First of all, we’ve been surprised at what isn’t available locally.  Despite finding yourself looking at a coconut tree everywhere you turn, we have yet to find any coconut milk or shredded coconut that doesn’t come from either the Dominican Republic or the United States.  We also thought the climate here would be favorable to growing tomatoes and avocados, but it’s very clear from the incredibly expensive and green (not anywhere close to ripe) selection of both these items that they are being picked very early and shipped from . . . who knows where.  They’ve clearly incurred an import tax.

On the other hand, bananas and plantains are incredibly cheap and good here.  That wasn’t too surprising, but what did surprise us is how inexpensive spinach, romaine, and other greens are here.  The spinach is definitely different from what we have in the U.S., and I like it better here.  They also have inexpensive zucchini and eggplant, which would suggest it is grown here in Costa Rica.  And you can’t turn around without seeing a street vendor selling “pipa fria” – cold coconut water straight from the actual immature coconut that you’ll drink through a straw.  This is very good, as well as being good for you.  It has occurred to me that maybe they don’t have any mature coconut products because all the coconuts are being sold as pipa fria.  I’m keeping my eyes open.

We are living in a beach town in the Northwest part of the country.  There’s a local fishing trade here, so after a lot of effort we tracked down the local fish market.  The fish market is a little, open garage with several large freezers and a scale.  Just tell them how many red snappers you want, and they’ll weigh it (didn’t ever catch the price per kilo . . .), filet it up for you right there, then punch a number in on a calculator (no, they didn’t do any math with the calculator) and show it to you.  This is how many Costa Rican dollars you owe them for the fish.  We got several red snappers and some shrimp (very fresh – we did all the peeling and cleaning).  I’m not sure whether we got a good deal on the price, but it was definitely local and fresh, and it tasted great.

I saw the funniest thing I’ve seen since we’ve been here in Costa Rica while we were trying to find this fish market.  We were walking past a little boy, a bike, and a fish.  This little boy had just gotten back to his bike from one of the fishing boats that handed him a big fish.  Time to get that puppy home: he grabbed the fish’s head, put the mouth over one of the handle bars and shoved it on until the handle bar came out one of the gills, thus securely fastening it to his bike for the journey.  As he closed his grip on the fish-head-covered handle bar, one of his fingers went into (or through?!?) one of the fish’s eyes.  He didn’t mind. Just started peddling away. You can’t make this stuff up.

Seriously, eating local is usually your least expensive and most healthy option. There might be some stumbles along the way – we went for too long eating the rice and beans at restaurants before we found out they soak them in oil first – but it will certainly provide numerous adventures and vivid memories.

It pays to do some work to find out what you have available to you locally, wherever you are.

About the author...

, diagnosed with an auto-immune disease as a child, has always paid close attention to her health. But when that disease went beyond the care of traditional care medicine, she found answers, and healing, through lifestyle improvements and working with a functional medicine doctor.

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