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(506) 2223-1327       Published Friday, May 15, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 95     E-mail us
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Offices for the first Baptist Church in Costa Rica

Heritage sites like these will be the subjects for a new painting contest for Costa Rican artists.  See our story HERE!
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 Schoolmaster's home
church ruins
Ruinas de Ujarrás

New, tough anti-tobacco bill will be introduced
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A proposed law against tobacco would, if passed, eliminate the Costa Rican tradition of street vendors selling one cigarette at a time to customers. The proposal also sets up a special tobacco tax of 100 colons per cigarette or cigar.

The measure, announced Thursday by the Partido Acción Ciudadana, is designed to eliminate the use of tobacco in Costa Rica. The law seeks to make the country comply with a treaty against tobacco. The legislature has passed the World Health Organization Convention on Tobacco.

This new proposal joins at least one other that has been in the legislative hopper since 2004.

The proposal by the Partido Acción Ciudadana appears to be stricter than other proposed laws. It forbids smoking in most public places like soccer stadiums and in the workplace. It also forbids any form of tobacco advertising, premium programs and sponsoring of sporting and other events.

The measure also provides for larger health warnings on cigarette packs.

Many sidewalk stands now sell cigarettes loose. 
Some Costa Ricans cannot afford to purchase a full pack of cigarettes. Others buy cigarettes one at a time as a way to cut down on smoking. The proposed law prohibits this practice and forbids selling cigarettes that are packages less than 20 to the pack. It also outlaws vending machine sales as a way to avoid purchases by minors.

The proposal stops short of outlawing tobacco but it sets up administrative hurdles for importation and sales. For example, the content of cigarettes must be verified by a laboratory.

The measure would appear to outlaw smoking in all public places including restaurants and bars even if they had a special smoking area. It also would seem to outlaw smoking rooms maintained by a few upscale cigar vendors.

The proposal is subject to change in committee and on the legislative floor if it gets that far. In any event, Costa Rica has promised to pass something similar to comply with the international treaty.

The summary included with the bill outlines the health costs of smoking in Costa Rica. Because the country has national health care, the bulk of the costs are born by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, which would share in the proposed tax.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 15, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 95

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swine flu statistics
Nine confirmed flu cases
may increase by five more

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has just nine confirmed cases of swine flu and five more cases that are considered probably, according to the health ministry.

In addition, some 123 cases are under study. But it is clear that the hundreds of cases that the ministry experts reviewed since April 23 were other diseases.

The nine confirmed cases include a man in poor health who died. The ministry reported that 735 cases had been discarded as possible swine flu.

Three of the probably cases are individuals who had been in contact with members of the Canta Mundi choral group from Boston, Massachusetts. 

The World Health Organization reports it has received nearly 6,500 officially confirmed cases of swine influenza — including 65 deaths — from 33 countries but that the disease has not yet become a pandemic.

The World Health Organization says it needs to see clear evidence of sustained community transmission of the swine flu virus from person-to-person in at least two regions of the world before it raises its alert to the phase six pandemic level.

And that, says Keiji Fukuda, the organizations assistant director general, has not yet happened in any region outside North America. He says all of the infections, which have occurred in other parts of the world have stemmed from people who had been traveling in North America.

Fukuda notes a pandemic has nothing to do with the severity of the disease, but rather with its geographic spread. He says it is difficult to know how the disease will evolve. So far, he says it has been relatively mild.
Arias takes heat from Cubans
over recognizing Castros

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A consortium of anti-Castro Cuban groups has criticized President Óscar Arias Sánchez for establishing diplomatic ties to the island nation last March 18.

The organization met in a San José hotel after plans to put on a news conference and forum at the Asamblea Legislativa were changed by the legislative leadership. The group blamed pressure from Cuba for the problem.

The delegation to Costa Rica was from the Assembly of the Resistance, a coalition of some 50 organizations that urge no cooperation with the Castro regime.

The coalition released a statement in which it quoted Costa Rican former president Luis Alberto Monge saying the Arias administration had betrayed the values of liberty and democracy.

The group was joined by legislator José Manuel Echandi in its press conference. He tried to set up the events in the legislature, but the leadership relegated the event to a lesser venue.

The forum was titled “Toward Democracy in Cuba: A Commitment to Freedom of Expression and Human Rights.”

Speakers at the forum were to include Cuban activist Bertha Antúnez Pernet, the sister of former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez, usually known as “Antúnez;” Blanca González, a member of the Ladies in White and the mother of  political prisoner Normando Hernández González who was imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003, and Commander Húber Matos, among others.

Workers on renewed highway
to hand out mock tolls

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Toll booth workers on the completed section of the Autopista del Sol will be handing out tickets today to motorists in a simulation of collecting money.

The Consejo Nacional de Concesiones said the concession holder for the highway is trying to estimate the delays that motorists will face when tolls are collected for real.

The tickets will have no monetary value, and the test will not take into consideration those motorists who will drive through the toll stations with electronic devices on sale at a local bank that automatically deducts the toll. Toll booths are at Escazú and Ciudad Colón.

The toll is 310 colons for each leg of a San José-Santa Ana-San José trip. That's about $1.10 round trip.

Meanwhile, a legislative deputy says that the environmental ministry is hiding data on the construction of the roadway.
The lawmaker, Mario Quirós, Lara, reported that March 2 he sent a letter seeking information to the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental of the ministry. He wanted to know about supervision and the reports that were being returned to the ministry.

He ended up filing a Sala IV constitutional court appeal May 8 when the information was not provided, he said. They are hiding information, Quirós said, and when that happens it usually means things are not going good.

Battle over telecom cash
continues with agency

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The strange saga of the opening of the telecommunications market in Costa Rica continues.

Thursday the Contraloría de la República repeated its position that the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad pay a fee for supervision to the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones.

The Superintendencia has said it will close down if it does not get money. That probably would suit the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad because the opening of the telephone and Internet markets would not continue and its monopoly would be preserved. Still the executive branch has said that it would provide interim financing for the agency.

For its part, the electrical institute said that it would reply today to the statement by the Contraloría. This is the second warning in a week from that agency.

As the only telecommunication customer, the Superintendencia is depending on the payment as its sole source of income. The Contraloría set the charge at 463,970,000 colons, about $870,000 for the last third of 2008 and the first third of 2009.

If the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad decides to take the matter to court, the opening of the telecom markets could be delayed.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 15, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 95

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Heritage structures will be the subjects of a new art contest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There are 344 buildings in Costa Rica that are considered the nation's architectural heritage.

Some have been selected for special government loans for restoration. Others are painstakingly maintained by private owners. Others are municipal- or state-owned.

Some are just walls, like the 17th century Ruinas de Ujarrás that once was a church.

These structures will get their chance to shine again in a painting contest sponsored by the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes. The ministry announced the contest Thursday.

Said the ministry:

The facade of a building comes to be its face. If the structure also is a heritage structure, it is presumed that the face will speak of an era, of the type of construction and its significance for the people nearby. It is this that the artists who sign up for the contest will capture.
The ministry also runs the Certamen Salvemos Nuestro Patrimonio, which every year awards restoration grants to owners of historic buildings. The Centro de Patrimonio is involved in this contest, too.

The historic structures are all around. For example on the grounds of the Liceo de Costa Rica in San José is the Casa Don Mauro from the beginnings of the 20th century. This was the home for the school's director.

In Limón is the two-story building that used to house the offices of the first Baptist Church in the country. It is called the La Casa Misionera and displays the unique Caribbean construction style.

The Ruinas de Ujarrás are mainly walls now and a tourist site. Work done over the last two years was designed to stabilize the walls against possible earthquakes.
El Fortin, Heredia
Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud
y Deportes /Rodolfo Gutiérrez Cerdas
El Fortín is a national monument in Heredia

The interesting El Fortín is owned by the Municipalidad de Heredia. It became a national monument in 1974.

The ministry runs other contests, including one on regional food and drink and one on legends.

The painting contest will have two categories, one for accomplished artists and one for artists just beginning their career.

Here's a quick tuna and pasta  fix for those dining alone
This time when Paul returned to Costa Rica he brought a book he had just finished reading. He first wrote to me after reading a column I wrote about eggs.  He found the book I had mentioned, and when he came to Costa Rica he brought me a new edition of “The Good Egg.” This time he brought “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.”  I have it on loan.
Edited by Jenni-Ferrari-Adler, it is about cooking and dining alone. Most of the contributors are writers (who by definition spend a lot of time alone.)  I have a chapter in my own book, “Butterfly in the City,” about the subject, but I am inspired to write a column about it – partly because so many people find cooking for one onerous, and I love it.

I follow the adage breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and sup like a pauper.  Usually my evening meal is a piece of buttered toast.  Breakfast is my favorite meal, and a poached egg on toast my favorite breakfast – preferably a la benedict.

Dinner (my midday meal) is a great time to try out something new that I may want to serve to guests. Actually, eating what I have prepared is often anti-climatic because, being a tough critic of good food, as well as an experimenter, some of my combinations don’t make it beyond a few disdainful bites.  And sometimes, when it turns out really well, I don’t write down the recipe and forget it.

Besides eggs and other basics, I always keep on hand some cans of Sardimar tuna (there are a number of interesting varieties), a loaf of Tulipan pan integral, some capellini pasta, a can of cubetti di tomates and some Knorr’s Sabroso de Pollo Completo. 

One of my stand-by recipes, with smoked tuna, is so easy that even my friend Bonnie, who hates to cook, makes it, and she wouldn’t cook at all if she didn’t have to feed Arnold.  I have adapted it from the original version I saw in an airline magazine years ago.

As for dining out alone, I have been doing that for years. I often take a book with me and only occasionally eavesdrop on my fellow diners (not an easy thing to do in Costa Rica, anyway).  I started when I was caught up with the idea of sitting in a sidewalk café writing in my notebook.  Now, with the computer, I can barely write anymore, so I read what others have written.  Keeping a book open while eating is not easy and I tried for a long time to devise a page holder, then discovered it already existed – the large
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

curved hair comb/clamp that women with long hair wear.

It has become obvious to me that I suffer from both attention deficit and multitasking syndromes.  I sometimes can’t go from point A to point B without stopping at point A-minus.  So when I go into the kitchen to cook, I may start my dinner, and then decide to make something else, like coffeecake, while I’m there.  This often means that when my dinner is ready I am still in the middle of my baking, which I have interrupted to cook something else.
One of the nice things about dining out -- alone or with others – is being able to focus and then getting up from the table and leaving – no clean up.  Cooking for myself always leaves me alone in the kitchen with a pile of dirty dishes.

                Smoked tuna pasta


2 cans Sardimar tuna ahumada (smoked) in olive oil;
4 thin slices of a large onion.
2 small tomatoes sliced;
¼ cup pitted black olives.
¼ cup chopped basil,
2 tablespoons fresh minced garlic,
1/4 lb. capellini pasta,
chopped parsley and
2 tablespoons drained and rinsed capers.

In heavy skillet over medium-low heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil from canned tuna Add onion slices, cook 5 minutes, stirring. Add tomatoes, olives, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for five more minutes. Add drained tuna.  Heat thoroughly.  If you don’t feel there is enough flavor or liquid in the sauce, mix in a bit of Knorr’s Pollo Sabroso I mentioned, and a little water.  Spoon the cooked capellini into sauce with pasta spoon (don’t worry about the bit of water) and toss.  Garnish with capers and parsley.  Enjoy!

This may be enough for two.  But reheated in a skillet with a little butter and adding a beaten egg or two (like a fritatta) makes another delicious meal for one.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 15, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 95

Firearm sales continue to increase in the United States
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Gun sales are on the rise across the United States and many dealers are having trouble keeping guns and ammunition in stock.  Sales of guns moved sharply upward last November, the same month voters chose a new president.

At a gun show outside Washington D.C., Joyce Anderson, a gun owner said "I enjoy it. I found a hobby that I enjoy."

According to statistics, Ms. Anderson is not alone. FBI figures show federal background checks, which are required to buy a gun, are up over one quarter in the first four months of this year.

Annette Elliot has been promoting gun shows for almost 30 years. Her shows are a  mix of antique firearms and modern weapons.

"Our main clients are collectors and hunters," said Ms. Eliot. "We have a lot of vets, they come to the shows, veterans of wars."

Dealers at this show say their sales are up 60 percent since late last year. At the location in Virginia, background checks spiked up more than 50 percent the month Barack Obama was elected. Ms. Elliot said many gun buyers fear the new president plans to ban gun sales.

"We are definitely getting back ordered now on guns," she said. "The back orders started all the way in November and the crowds started showing up in October when they saw the writing on the wall and thought Obama was going to get in."

The National Rifle Association ran a TV ad during the presidential campaign that said:

"Now I learned that Barack Obama supports a huge new tax on my guns and ammo. And voted to ban virtually all deer hunting ammunition. Where is this guy from?"
Critics point to the NRA, the biggest gun ownership lobby, for leading many voters to conclude then-candidate Obama wanted to restrict gun ownership.

"No politician is going to take away my guns and ammo," said an NRA ad.

Organizations like and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence say the ad is misleading and inaccurate. Paul Helmke is with the Brady campaign.

"Obviously the people that received those ads believe the message," said Helmke. "They are fearful. They are fearful that they cannot stock their arsenals anymore and they are running out and buying more guns."

The National Rifle association declined to comment

Gun dealer Randy Clark who sells rare firearms, says his sales have jumped 40 to 50 percent recently.

"People feel probably like they should get their guns now," said Clark. "They feel like there is legislation coming that is not favorable to gun collectors. And I sell primarily to collectors. "

The downturn in the economy and fear of crime contributes to the rise in gun sales.

"We had a family member that was broken into that was probably two miles away from us," Willie Beverly said. "And so that scared my wife and she was like, we have got to do something now."

Annette Elliot is not shy about appealing to fear among gun owners. She put a line in one of her newspaper ad's that reads "Come and get them while you still can." 

"If I could do a one liner like that in my advertising and cause these crowds to come out, I would do it all the time," she said.

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users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.


A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

Boat smuggling Haitians
sinks killing at least nine

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Coast Guard officials say they are still searching for survivors after a boat carrying Haitian migrants overturned and sank off the coast of Florida.

Authorities say the migrants had been floating in the water for 10 hours before they were spotted Wednesday. Only some of them were wearing life jackets.

Sixteen people were pulled out of the water alive, while officials say they found nine others dead — six women, two men and a baby girl. The officials say they do not know how many people were on the boat, though they estimate about 30.

The boat sank early Wednesday about 25 kilometers (about 15.5 miles) from land, off Boynton Beach. The Coast Guard says it appeared to be part of a smuggling operation trying to illegally enter the United States from the Bahamas.

It was not clear what caused the boat to overturn.

Italy makes illegal entry
a criminal offense

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Italy is cracking down on illegal immigration and under an agreement with Libya has begun sending boatloads of migrants back to Africa. Italy's lower house of parliament has approved a new security bill that redefines illegal immigration as a criminal offense.

During a ceremony in the Italian port town of Gaeta, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni gave Libya the first three of six patrol boats as part of an agreement to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

Italy has long pressed Libya to better patrol its coasts to prevent boats carrying African immigrants from leaving its shores in search of a better life in Europe.

Last week, Italy started sending boatloads of migrants it intercepted in international waters back to Libya without first screening them for asylum claims. Libyan Ambassador to Italy Hafid Gaddur said his country could process the requests from asylum seekers who might otherwise have presented the requests in Italy.

The U.N. refugee agency has criticized the new policy, saying it is against international law and criticizing Libya's alleged lack of facilities.

But Interior Minister Maroni said Italy needs international backing. He said the European Union must step in and help member states that bear the brunt of illegal immigration in the Mediterranean.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 15, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 95

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More bird species are added
to critically endangered list

By the International Union for Conservation
of Nature news service

The latest evaluation of the world’s birds reveals that more species than ever are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

BirdLife International, which conducted the research for the Red List, found 1,227 species (12 percent) are classified as globally threatened with extinction.  The organization now lists 192 species of bird as critically endangered, the highest threat category, a total of two more than in the 2008 update.

“It is extremely worrying that the number of critically endangered birds on the IUCN Red List continues to increase, despite successful conservation initiatives around the world,” says Simon Stuart, chairman of organization's Species Survival Commission.

A recently discovered species from Colombia, the gorgeted puffleg (Eriocnemis isabellae), appears for the first time on the Red List, classified as critically endangered. The puffleg, a flamboyantly coloured hummingbird, only has 1,200 hectares (2,965 acres) of habitat remaining in the cloud forests of the Pinche mountain range in southwest Colombia and 8 percent of this is being damaged every year to grow coca.

The sidamo lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis), from the Liben Plain of Ethiopia, has been moved from endangered to critically endangered and is in danger of becoming mainland Africa’s first bird extinction due to changes in land use. And coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, one of the Galapagos finches, the Medium Tree-finch (Camarhynchus pauper) also becomes critically endangered, partly as a result of an introduced parasitic fly.

It’s not only rare birds that are becoming rarer. Common birds are becoming less common. In eastern North America, the chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica) is fast disappearing from the skies. Following continent-wide declines of nearly 30 percent in the last decade alone, this common species has been moved from least concern to near threatened.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 15, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 95

Pigs with the right genes sought
for the best tasting meat

By the University of the West of England Press Office

How can pigs be produced that provide healthy and yet good tasting meat?

Meat eating quality and healthiness are closely related to the amount and type of fat. During the last decade there has been extensive selection towards leaner genotypes which has resulted in reduction of not only undesirable subcutaneous fat, but also in a dramatic decrease in desirable intramuscular fat (commonly known as “marbling” fat).

Intramuscular fat has the key input in meat tenderness and juiciness and a low level of intramuscular fat is associated with dry and unpalatable pork. The challenge which the pig producing industry is facing now is how to increase intramuscular fat without increasing subcutaneous fat?

A project which has recently started at the Institute of Biosensing Technology in collaboration with the Centre for Research in Biomedicine at the University of the West of England (UWE) aims to identify the genes controlling subcutaneous and intramuscular fat deposition. The end-aim of this work is to provide data which could form a basis for developing a genetic test for intramuscular fat and which could assist pig breeders in genetic selection.

 The project is undertaken by Duncan Marriott, a doctoral student with a amster's degree in meat science and five years experience as a research technician at the University of Bristol's School of Clinical Veterinary Science.

“Pigs need to be leaner to produce healthy meat but to carry sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain good eating quality," Marriott explaind. "The project will be conducted on a number of commercial pig breeds, which differ in intramuscular fat content. My challenge is to identify the genes controlling both the intramuscular and subcutaneous fat content in different breeds.”

pejibaye halved
A.M. Costa Rica photo      
The first step is to half the palm nuts

Editor's favorite soup is easy
and very much Costa Rican

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Here's the lowdown on the editor's favorite soup. One serving is about a zillion calories, so Weight Watchers can tune out now.

The beauty of pejibaye soup is that it is easy to make, tastes great and is uniquely Costa Rican. The fruit have been grown here since long before Columbus.

Pejibayes are those palm nuts found in the vegetable sauna at the grocery. They range from orange to green and resemble large, bobbing acorns. When they are hot, they are easier to peel.

Purdue University in Indiana says that one average pejibaye fruit contains 1,096 calories. They are the perfect junk food: low in protein, high in fat.

Of course they're high in fat, they are the product of a palm tree. One palm tree can produce more than 140 pounds of nuts in a year. So they are far from endangered.

The biggest challenge in making pejibaye soup is in forcing yourself not to eat the peeled halves. They make a nice hor d'oeuvre topped with mayonnaise. Another challenge might be in getting someone else to peel and halve the fruit. There is a pit that must be removed. (Hey, Honey, can you give me a hand for a minute . . . . ?)

The soup is a snap. Drip a little oil in a saucepan and make tender chopped onions, garlic and maybe even jalapeños. Then drop in about a dozen pejibaye halves . Or two dozen. It really makes no difference because you can cut the soup with milk or cream to make it the consistency you desire.

Add a cup or two of water and begin breaking up the pejibaye. Or you could run the whole mixture through a blender. Add milk or cream to reach the consistency of soup. Serve hot and season to taste.

A little experimentation will show that the pejibaye mixture is perfect for a sauce over traditional foods. And they say fermented pejibaye will knock your socks off.

green mangos
A.M. Costa Rica photo     
A quick snack of green mango

Time for a sour green fruit
that's loaded with vitamin C

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Among the more underrated offerings of the Costa Rican produce markets is the green mango. Most expats know about ripe mangos and have enjoyed the drippy, juicy fruit with its unique flavor. They may also have used it in blended drinks or as a flavor for ice cream or soda.

Less respected is the green mango. This can be found prepared in the little baggies offered by street vendors. Included in the bag with the strips of mango is a bit of lemon and salt. Nice vendors also will add special ingredients, like chili, upon request.

This is street finger food. The long mango strips are bitter and an acquired taste. And that's about all the average Tico sees of green mangos.

The inhabitants of India and some Asian countries have a 4,000 to 5,000 year head start on using the fruit. Chutney,  the condiment identified with the British Empire and India, has a mango base.

Green mangos can hold their own in any taste test, and the addition of sea salt, chili, chilero or black pepper can cater to the desires of the consumer.

A real treat is a green mango salad. There are an infinite number of recipes. The basic salad contains either grated or strips of mango. From there on in, the choices are many. One version uses baked coconut and various nuts, bean sprouts and basil.

Those who want to add fire to the sour treat can create a mango-jalapeño salad, heavy on lime or lemon and pepper.

The fruit is so accommodating that a chef can hardly go wrong. The salad can become a main course with the addition of chicken or shrimp.

The mango also contains all sorts of healthful compounds, including vitamin C and fiber.

The only downside is the large seed in the middle that sometimes can be a challenge. Freestone versions of the fruit exist, but they are foreign to Costa Rica.

Chinese bottles
A.M. Costa Rica/Arron O'Dell
There's no need to read the bottle. In fact, most of us cannot, despite loosely enforced Costa Rican laws to the contrary that call for labels in Spanish. It's just time for experimentation!

Take the Chinese liquor plunge
and drink that mystery elixir

By Arron O'Dell
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

China is a country known for the Great Wall, temples, big cities, big culture, a billion people and their seeming love to eat anything.  If it grows out of the ground, walks, crawls, slithers, swims, flies or does any combination, the people of China have found a way to kill it, cook it, eat it and enjoy it.  However, the liquor traditions of China seldom come up in conversation.

There are more Chinese than you can shake a stick at around the globe and not one beer that is popular around the world.  This is the sort of thing not to be taken lightly. There must be a good reason for it.   Most Chinese joints here don't even sell an Asian beer and, if they do, it's almost always Thai or Japanese.  You will never here a Chinese expat say something like "Yeah, this Pilsen  is okay but you should try this beer I use to drink back home." 

What the Chinese did bring with them was liquor, high octane, burn-on-the-way-down, glorious liquor.  You haven't seen the stuff at Hipermás, any of the big mercados or your local super, because it is not there.  You cannot find it in any of the places you frequent for your standard shopping needs. 

The only way to track down Chinese liquor is to search out the small shops around town with the Chinese characters on the front.  These shops are here. You can find them.  When you fall into one of these places you hit gold because of the strange and exotic smells.  A good shop will have two or three shelves of bottles in a variety of shapes sizes with red and gold labels and writing that means nothing unless you read Mandarin.
My friend and I have found the best way to pick the best one is by style.  The first bottle we took home was chosen this way and still remains a favorite.  It was a short and fat bottle shaped like an oversize pineapple hand grenade with a colorful label.  When my friend saw it, he said something like 'I've got to have that bottle. It looks cool!'   He was that excited about this new elixir we had found. 

With bottle in hand we quickly made our way to the closest place to home that sold beer and yanked several six packs off the shelf and darted home at a near run.  With two open cans and empty shot glasses in front of us we stared admiring the bottle for a moment.  Then with stupid giddy expressions on our faces we poured. 

After the straight shot, we felt compelled to try it every way we could come up with until there was no more. We sipped it, drank it on ice, with soda, chased it, used it as a chaser for beer.  This tasting was was done very scientifically. 

It was very similar to Jägermeister without the bite on the front, and for 2,000 colons it was a superb deal.  Somewhere around around the bottom of the bottle it occurred to us it might be nice to have a name to put to this wonderful concoction.   We studied every character that  The People's Republic of China felt necessary to put on the ornate paper label on that fine, cheap bottle, and all of it was in some form of Chinese.  

When we inquired of the proprietor of the local Chinese restaurant, he told us that it was  an “export-only” liquor from mainland China. How fortunate for us that they chose to export this fine elixir!

chile relleno
Chile relleno envuelto en huevo: Pepper stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat rolled up in an egg omelette.
scallon omlette
Torta de Huevo con cebollin:
scallion omelette.
Canelones de carne envueltos en huevo. Cannelloni stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat rolled up in an egg omellete
yucca balls
Enyucada de carne: This is a yucca ball stuffed with meat and then fried until crunchy.
Yes, there is good typical food
on the Costa Rican menu

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When visitors to Costa Rica turn up their nose at the concept of Tico food, its because they have not looked hard enough.

Those who come to San José can find a wide assortment of great typical food at a place like the Central Market or Mercado Central.

At one time this was where most food transactions took place. The building itself is an historic site. The structure is on the Avenida Central pedestrian mall not far west of the Banco de Costa Rica. Tourists and locals alike will find that gallitos, a typical Tico canape or snack, is available here at the several sodas or inside lunch counters.

Around the eating spots, daily commerce takes place. The smell of leather goods, flowers and all kinds of foods and plants fill the air.

Inside, the gallito you can get a chile relleno (a filled pepper), an almuerzito de repollo (cabbage), tortas de huevo con cebollin (a scallion omelette) a barbudos (string bean omelette), a canellone ticos rellenos de carne (pasta stuffed with meat) or an enyucada with beef as well as cheese. The last is meat or cheese wrapped in yucca and deep fried.

There also are empanadas, pastry stuffed with meat, chicken, beans, potatoes with meat and/or cheese, all good food anytime of the day.

The word soda has a unique Costa Rica usage for a luncheon spot or snack bar.  The stands are small with some inside tables surrounded by a counter with stools. As you eat, you can see the food being prepared. The Mercado Central is operated by the municipality, so proper food preparation can be expected.

One well-known place is the Soda San Bosco at the western part of the Mercado Central. It is run by Luis Garcia Campos and his family. They have had the location for at least 30 years. Even though the place is small, it is very popular with locals. Garcia said the reason for the popularity is the freshness of the food, the friendly and quick service and the prices. 

You can drink the juice of different kinds of fruits for 350 colons (62 U.S. cents),  a coffee for 400 colons (71 cents), a gallito of chile relleno, canelloni or barbudos just for 600 colons ($1.06), the gallo de salchichon (sausage) with salad and tortillas for 500 colons (89 cents) as well the similarly priced empanadas, enyucadas and torta de huevo.

Soda San bosco and Luis Garcia Campos
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas  
Luis Garcia Campos at his Soda San Bosco

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