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A.M. Costa Rica: 
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Jo Stuart
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, Vol. 14, No. 195
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Many misconceptions abound over gluten-free food, study shows
By the University of Florida news staff

While necessary for some, many people eat gluten-free diets because they believe they’ll gain certain health benefits, but these beliefs are not all supported by research, a University of Florida nutrition expert says.

Those with celiac disease, or about 1 percent of the U.S. population, must follow a gluten-free diet because it’s the only treatment for their condition, said Karla Shelnutt, a University of Florida  assistant professor. But gluten-free diets can lack essential nutrients if a person does not eat a balanced diet and or take a multivitamin supplement.

Unlike their conventional counterparts, refined gluten-free foods, for the most part, are not enriched or fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.

“If I’m a college student, and I want to lose weight, and I read on the Internet that a gluten-free diet is the way to go, I may start avoiding products that contain essential nutrients such as those found in cereal grains fortified with folic acid,” Ms. Shelnutt said. “The problem is you have a lot of healthy women who choose a gluten-free diet because they believe it is healthier for them and can help them lose weight and give them healthier skin.”

The $10.5-billion gluten-free food and beverage industry has grown 44 percent from 2011 to 13 as the rate of celiac disease diagnoses increases along with awareness of gluten-free foods, according to Mintel, a market research company. Mintel estimates sales will top $15 billion in 2016.

One of Ms. Shelnutt’s doctoral students, Caroline Dunn, wanted to know if gluten-free labeling has any impact on how consumers perceive the foods’ taste and nutrition.

In a one-day experiment on the university campus in Gainesville in February, 97 people ate cookies and chips, all gluten-free. Half were labeled gluten-free. The other half labeled conventional.

Participants then rated each food on a nine-point scale for how much they liked the flavor and texture. They also filled out a questionnaire, said Ms. Shelnutt.

About a third of the participants said they believed gluten-free foods to be healthier than those labeled conventional, a figure Ms. Shelnutt
Gluten
University of Florida/Tyler L. Jones
Supermarket shelves are full of gluten-free products.


said she thought would be much lower. While avoiding gluten-containing foods can reduce carbohydrate intake, thus helping some lose weight, many health experts say a gluten-free diet is no healthier than a conventional diet except for those with celiac disease.

Although such a small sample cannot be generalized to the public, Ms. Shelnutt said the experiment gives researchers insight into how the public views gluten-free foods.

For example, 57 percent of participants believed gluten-free diets can be used to alleviate medical conditions, and 32 percent said doctors prescribe them for weight loss. Thirty-one percent said they believed gluten-free diets improve overall health, 35 percent said they believed them to improve digestive health and 32 percent said they felt that eating them would improve their diet.

Gluten, a protein, is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale, a cross between wheat and rye. A gluten-free diet is prescribed for those with celiac disease, a condition that can damage the lining of the small intestine.

The experiment’s results are published in the current edition of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
— July 30, 2014


Cartago
                        Cartago
Heredia Limon
Heredia and Limón
cocktails
Traditional cocktails           
Alajuela and Heredia
       Alajuela and Heredia
San Jose
San José
Click on a cover to download the book. The Guanacaste and Puntarenas booklet is HERE!

Traditional foods continue to get a push for commercialization
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism institute says that some 1,000 chefs, bartenders and others in the commercial food industry have been trained in creating traditional dishes and drinks. More than 200 general managers also have been introduced to the concept.

This is a program of the Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje.

The idea is to put a traditional spin on restaurant fare so that they reflect the culture. Many claim Costa Rica has no exciting dishes, but the Centro de Patrimonio Cultural has been proving this statement incorrect with a series of regional contests over the last four years. Local cooks are invited to submit traditional dishes, desserts or drinks.

The result has been six cookbooks that have been developed into a course for chefs, cooks and bartenders. Five of the books are focused on regional foods. A sixth book outlined traditional drinks. Not all of them are alcoholic, but in others guaro, the sugar cane liquor, dominates. 

Many of the drinks consist of fruits and vegetables that have gone through the blender. Even the non-alcohol drinks appear to be open to a shot of guaro.
presentation
Instituto Costarricense de Turismo photo
Presentation is key as long as diners do not eat the banana leaf!


The booklets, which include an outline of a course of instructing as well as recipes, are available online.

—June 30.2014


There's something fishy about the traditonal Lenten meals here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is not a good time to be a fish. Expats can see them in cans stacked 10 high in the nation's supermarkets.

There is no law that says Catholics have to eat tuna or sardines during the religious period before Easter, Lent. But the culture says they do.

Consequently merchandisers of canned fish products consider this the high season. The demand is so good that the economics ministry has found in past years that store operators jack up the prices.

Even some city buses are promoting fish in the form of a tuna topping to pasta depicted on the back panel.

Alimentos por Salud S.A. in Robledal de Puntarenas cans a lot of fish products under the Sardimar label. Sardines in particular come in many forms: in tomato sauce, in spicy tomato sauce, in vegetable oil and in olive oil. The little 150-gram Sardimar cans show their content with different colors.

All is not well with the Pacific sardines. They have shown a dramatic decline, in part because of colder waters and perhaps due to overfishing.  So a lot of the sardines on sale in Costa Rica come from Morocco. Prices range from about 800 colons for the local Sardimar can up to 1,300 colons or about $3.85 for an imported flat can that has a drained weight of 125 grams with a fish content of a little over three ounces.

In most parts of the world, Catholics over 14 and members of some other Christian religions practice fasting and abstinence from meat during some of the 44 days before Easter, which is commemorated as Resurrection Sunday.

Fish is the logical choice in place of meat, but sardines seem to have become synonymous with Lent. In Spain there are strange ceremonies with uncertain origins, such as the burial of the sardine at the beginning of Lent or the burning of the sardine. Even those who practice these  rituals are uncertain of the origins. But they make great tourist attractions.
sardines
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Some of the local brands of sardines

Good Catholics also are supposed to eat fewer meals at certain times during Lent as an expression of penance and reflection on sin. So the high-protein fish, hot or cold, is a logical choice.

The Internet is full of recipes for Lent and Holy Week, Semana Santa.

Costa Ricans, of course, are not restricted to canned fish. The supermarkets are full of the fresh variety, and a trip to San Jose's Mercado Central is an education in the local species from shark to red snapper to octopus and squid.

Yet fresh fish is a little pricey. And the little cans are convenient.

To ask why Costa Ricans are so involved with sardines and tuna at this time of year really is a cultural question, like why turkey for Americans at Thanksgiving?  The dish probably is what Grandma used to make.

— March 27, 2014


Our readers describe their top picks for dining out
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After four articles reporting on some of Costa Rica's fine restaurants, readers were invited to make nominations. We mentioned some of their favorites, but there are more details. This is what they said:

Nuevo Arenal

We in Nuevo Arenal have many good restaurants. Here is a review.

On the main road around Lake Arenal  just west of Nuevo Arenal is a the Lucky Bug Art Gallery, restaurant and Bed and Breakfast. It is worth many a visit. It is open for breakfast and lunch and sometimes for dinner too. The setting is casual and entertaining since one can roam the gallery while waiting for one's meal to be prepared. The menu slants toward the German since the owner was originally from Germany but came to Costa Rica via the U.S.A. Her English is perfect as well as Spanish and naturally German. The breakfasts are full plates of perfectly cooked eggs or other breakfast items. They are beautiful, almost too pretty to eat.

The lunch/dinner menu ranges from cooked local items to sandwiches and the best hot dog ever. Monica makes her own sauerkraut for the ruben sandwich. The eggplant parmesan is a variant on the very cheesy gooey variety one sees in most eateries. It is light and very flavorful, and I usually take half home for the next day. The schnitzel is ever popular. Please share a dessert as they too are unusual and delicious.

The coffee naturally is really good and should be lingered over while enjoying the view of the pond by the B&B. This  is not an inexpensive place to eat but is definitely worth it. Monica will ship any of her artworks should you fall in love while browsing the shop.

Sarah Benson
Nuevo Arenal


Sabana  Oeste

I am an Italian and therefore an Italian food lover and have tried most Italian restaurants around town.

In the category of authentic Italian (uses many true imported Italian products ) causal dining at more than reasonable pricing for always piping hot dishes made at the moment pasta (No precooked or semi cook foods or pasta here) in my view none can beat this restaurant, Piccolino Costa Rica. I somewhat hate to divulge somewhat wanting selfishly keep it my secret. It is situated near the new stadium.
 
No question your readers will be pleasantly surprised
 
Nick Iacovelli
La Uruca

Alajuela


Since we are regular restaurant patrons  (can you say four times a week) and live in La Garita, we find ourselves going to Alajuela frequently to eat at Coffee Dreams Café Restaurante where the menu is varied and consistently good coupled with a friendly and attentive staff.  The choices range from typical (with my personal favorite being gallo pinto at any time of day) to quiche, nachos, sandwiches and hamburgs.

Coffee Dreams is closed on Sunday, so we have no question on where we'll eat: Jalapeño!  If anyone has lived here for even a short time, then they must know about Jalapeños!  Can't be beat Mexican fare and wonderful chefs and waitpersons.  We find it to be top notch!

After eating at one of these two places and a visit with Larry at Goodlight Books and the best ever iced coffee, we often stroll to the Juan Santamaria Cafe for the tastiest of desserts!

If we are in San José, the cafe at the Teatro Nacional is a fantastic place for a pre-performance snack and drink!
Those are just a few of our favorites. We don't eat red meat, and these places fill the bill nicely! 
Ann Boyd
La Garita
 P.S. Ragu in Alajuela has the best pizza!



More on Jalapeños

Of my several favorite restaurants in Costa Rica I would have to rank as my most favorite Jalapeños Central, in downtown Alajuela.  This Tex-Mex place is operated by Norman Florez, and it has just had its 10th anniversary in operation.  The food is tasty and quickly prepared to order and is moderately priced.  In addition to the Tex-Mex fare, there is some killer buffalo chicken on the menu plus some wonderful desserts.  Norman will happily prepare vegetarian versions of various of his menu items.

Jalapeños Central is easy to find, being about one block east and 2 1/2 blocks north of Alajuela's Parque Central or just 50 meters south of the Casa Correos.  They are open seven days a week starting at 11:30 a.m.  Parking is available along the street or  there is secured parking immediately west of the post office. If coming from San José on TUASA or Station Wagon, do not take the express. The local will drop you off on Calle Ancha half a block from the Hóspital Antiguo and from the east end of it Jalapeños is only 2 1/2 blocks south, past Parque Palmares. Reservations are not required but seating is limited to only 32 positions so it frequently does fill up.  Watch for their green sign with red lettering hanging above the restaurant on the east side of the street.  Telephone is 2430-4027, in case you get lost.
Paul Mitchell
Alajuela Centro 
and Tampa, Florida


Jacó

Lemon Zest in Jacó. Family-owned, most consistent quality food restaurant I have ever eaten at. Lobster, fish and steaks.

Henry Cannon


citrus
Ojochal

My home is on the Costa Ballena at Ventanas next to Ojochal. How you guys could overlook Citrus in Ojochal and Exotica in Ojochal is beyond me. The Sabor de Ojochal has been a huge hit and reported in the A.M. Costa Rica. You guys need to feature our wonderful restaurants!
Jay Friedman, Jr.
Ventanas
More Ojochal

Azul in the El Castillo Hotel has fantastic food!  Ojochal is becoming more like a culinary destination and have many restaurants to choose from.  I personally can't get enough of the Mediterranean menu at Azul!  They also have the best sunset I've ever seen (and happy hour cocktails while you watch it!).  I haven't had a single thing on the menu that wasn't absolutely wonderful.  From the homemade noodles for their chicken parmesan, to the chicken soulvaki, to the hummus, it's all phenomenal!  I love that there aren't many tables, and the view is gorgeous!  Also instead of dessert, try a piña colada made with their home made ice cream. Io die for!!!!

Taylor Dee
Oklahoma


Grecia

My favorite place to dine in Costa Rica is the Galeria Steakhouse. It is located next to the fire station in Grecia. I have been enjoying their fine food and excellent service for several years. They have an excellent menu. Their tuna steak is as good as it gets anywhere.

I usually dine at least once a week at Galeria. I have never been disappointed in a single meal or their service. I have traveled much of the world, and I have to say this is my favorite.

Ryan Johnson
San Francisco de San Isidro, de Grecia



Playas del Coco

Restaurante  La Farola: Run by a Spanish family who serve dishes authentic to their native area of León in northwest Spain.  Mama cooks, and the rest of the family serves and takes care of everything else.  The gazpacho is out of this world, the Russian salad is unique and very tasty (sort of a potato salad with tuna), and we loved our main courses.  Unusual for Coco, it is a very elegant small restaurant, and they could not be more welcoming.
Alan J. Shusterman
Baltimore, Maryland



Quepos

We have a group here called the ROMEO Group (Retired Old Men eating Out), and we review a restaurant monthly The Quepos/Manuel Antonio area has many good restaurants, and one of our favorites is Raphael’s Terraza, located near the top of Manuel Antonio hill overlooking the Pacific and the local rock islands. The view is outstanding, the food is excellent, and Raphael assures good service, often waiting on table himself.

Bob Nurmand
Quepos

Colibri

Puerto Carrillo

I'd like to add an absolutely fabulous place to eat.  It is in Puerto Carrillo (near Samara) and is called El Colibri.  The place has six cabinas, but it is the restaurant that you need to try.

It is an Argentinian barbeque (asado).  The food is absolutely amazing which, judging by the fact the place is always full, is obviously a shared opinion.  I have not met one person yet who didn't enjoy every bite.

The steaks are tender and barbecued just to your specifications.  The chimichurra is fantastic, the salads are delicious, and everything is as fresh as can be.  There are specials depending on the catch of the day or what is available locally.  Such as pork ribs (to die for), shrimp and tuna.  We were at Carrillo beach one day and saw a fisherman bring in a beautiful tuna.  That night, we had it for dinner at El Colibri.

The owners are a wonderful couple. Fernando does all the barbecuing and his wife, Roxanna. serves and is the restaurant manager.  About 12 to 14 tables with more added if more people come in.  You can even sit by the pool and eat there if that is your choice.  Or, if you have one of their cabinas, you can eat on your own terrace. 

I highly recommend El Colibri.  We have been going there for over 15 years!  We live in the San José area but it is a beach destination for us because it is so good.  

Nel Cameron
Escazú

Mantras

Barrio Escalante

My favorite restaurant is Mantras, a true vegetarian gourmet establishment located in Barrio Escalante 200 meters east of Farolito and 25 south. A very friendly husband-and-wife team run the restaurant. Pam is the chef and has mastered a wide range of dishes from all over the world. Aldo, her husband, is the manager and host who always greets his guests with a friendly smile. To go over the entire menu would be too lengthy, but here is a recent sample of a daily special for the lunch crowd:

Organic chilies filled with lentils, spinach, fresh herbs, vegetables and rice in a tomato sauce with parmesan cheese accompanied with a green salad.

Whole wheat pita filled with couscous,, tomato, nuts, blueberries and a soy fish in a curry sauce and a green salad.

Canalones filled with mushrooms and mozzarella in a spicy Italian sauce accompanied with a green salad.

Lunch prices for the day’s features are 3,850 colons including tax. A fresh drink is included with all meals, but for an additional 1,200 to 1,500 colons they have very special great tasting, healthy drinks, with the higher priced ones almost being a meal in themselves. People who have never eaten vegetarian food before have commented that they never thought vegetarian food could taste so good, and this is what keeps people coming back again and again. Additionally, the staff is very friendly and warm, and Pam and Aldo are bilingual and some of the wait staff speak English too. Mantras is open Monday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Warren Kinsman
San José

— Aug. 29, 2013


On the road, north or east, there are great places to eat
By Ann Antkiw
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A topic of conversation often arises about where to take visitors on an interesting day trip, or when on route to a specific destination, where to find a stopoff for a good meal or a tasty snack. Residents also have their favorites for an away day out of town that includes the following restaurants:

One often mentioned is Restaurant Colbert (2482-2776), which sits outside the village of Vara Blanca in isolation on the top of a windy hill, often covered with swirling mist. After a visit to Poas Volcano or La Paz Waterfall Gardens, there’s no better place to stop and enjoy the warmth of the brick fireplace and the hospitality of owner/chef Joel Suirer. The delicious smell of cooking and his freshly baked, crusty bread permeates the dining room and sets the taste buds tingling while you ponder the menu with its choice of French specialties, using some of his Mother’s cherished recipes. Mouthwatering offerings include rabbit, quail, baby goat and other unusual and inventive culinary delights. Colbert is not cheap, but you pay for what you get. Open Friday through Tuesday noon to 8 p.m. Closed Wednesday and Thursday.

Loveat (2447-9331): You can’t miss it! There are billboard signs for miles along the road before you reach this much talked about restaurant, which is part of the Lands in Love Hotel and Resort. The picturesque road between San Ramón and La Fortuna winds through small towns, villages and the misty cloud forest; then 32 kilometers from San Ramón it descends to Loveat. Lands in Love is a great place to spend the day if you want to fly like Tarzan, take the canopy tour or get a kick out of a zip line adventure.

After all this excitement you will no doubt, be starving and head for the restaurant. However, in passing this is a must stop where you can satisfy your hunger pangs for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a quick snack on what is claimed to be some of the best vegetarian food in this country. Owned by a group of dedicated, talented Israelis, the restaurant also offers vegan and gluten-free choices, plus will cater to special diet requirements. Dishes from all over the world are on the menu, but the Israeli cuisine and wonderful hummus and falafel, plus the yummy cheesecake and deserts are not to be missed. Open daily 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Nobody came up with a favorite in Arenal. Many of the hotels and resorts have their own restaurants and the ubiquitous steak houses, pizza joints and sodas in town cater mostly to tourists and backpackers. Prices vary considerable from cheap eats to expensive dining.

Leaving Arenal behind and driving along the road that runs by the side of the lake offers an alternate, bumpy but scenic route to Monteverde. Between Nuevo Arenal and Tilarán you will find Mystica Lodge & Retreat (2692-1001)  that stands on the top of a hill overlooking Lake Arenal and the picture-perfect Arenal Volcano. Mystica Lodge’s restaurant is open for breakfast, but only for guests. Nevertheless, from noon to 9 p.m., visitors are very welcome for lunch and dinner. The charming rustic dining room has indoor and outdoor verandah seating offering panoramic views of the lake and surrounding countryside. At night the open fireplace is lit adding to the warm and cozy ambience, while at the other end of the room the unique, tile cottage, actually a wood burning oven, bakes the most delicious thin crust pizzas. Despite these being Mystica’s tour de force the restaurant offers other traditional Italian family recipes and is well worth a visit, whether you are staying in the area or just passing-by.

Perched high in the Tilarán mountain range amidst the swirling mists of the cloud forest, Monteverde and the nearby village of Santa Elena have become one of the country’s most cherished tourist destinations. The multicultural population offers lodgings and restaurants to suit all pocketbooks and when it comes to favorites there are many to choose from, but the same names keep cropping up.

Starting in downtown Santa Elena, Morpho’s (2645-7373) with its hand-painted décor inside and out of nature, wildlife and brilliant blue morpho butterflies, is one of the most popular places with locals and tourists alike. It has an excellent selection of tasty Tico standbys and international and vegetarian meals. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. If  business is hopping, the bar will stay open later and snacks are available.

Next to the supermarket Trio (2645-5274) offers a unique cuisine infused with exotic flavors. Try the burgers served with arugula and figs, plus the mouth-watering desserts. On a nice day, the small outside balcony with a view overlooking the valley is a delightful place to sit. Open daily 11.30 to 9.30 p.m.

The road from Santa Elena to the Monterverde Reserve is lined with hotels and restaurants. Sophia (2645-7017) in Cerro Plano is often touted as one of the best, but expensive in town. Known for their exotic cocktails and Nuevo Latino fusion cuisine, the staff offers a very different kind of menu to tempt the palate. Large windows overlook the lush green landscape and candlelight dining adds to the romantic ambience of this charming cloud forest restaurant. Open daily 11.30 to 9.30 p.m.

Chimera (2645-6081) also in Cerro Plano belongs to the same
owner as Sophia and offers a selection of inventive Nuevo Latino infused tapas, plus different exotic cocktails. Open daily 11.30 to 9.30 p.m. 

On the road to the Butterfly Farm Restaurante de Lucía (2645-5337) is a long standing favorite with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Known for their succulent steaks you can choose your own cut and they will cook it to order. Excellent fresh fish and chicken dishes are available and plates for non-meat eaters. There is a good selection of Chilean wines. Open daily noon to 9 p.m.

Further up the road two Italian restaurants compete in popularity. Johnny’s Pizzería (2645-5066) is an age old favorite for traditional Italian food and thin crust wood-burning oven pizzas. The seating on the outdoor covered verandah is a pleasant place to sit on a nice day. Open daily 11 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.

Tramonti (2645-6120): The Italian owners offer some tempting specialties from the old country such as antipasti, pasta, a good selection of Italian wines and wood-burning oven pizzas; including the much sought-after seafood one. Open daily 11.30 to 9.30 p.m.

Across from the Artists’ Cooperative CASEM, Stella’s (2645-5560)   is one of Monteverde’s longest running establishments known for its delicious baked goodies, homemade bread, wonderful soups and quiche. Locals drop-by for breakfast and hikers pick-up take-out munchies to sustain them while they explore the Cloud Forest Reserve and return for lunch on the charming patio, ideal for bird-watching. Open daily 6.30 a.m., to 5 p.m. 

Leaving the misty mountains behind and heading to the Caribbean coast you will find a melting pot of cultural diversity, which is a world unto itself. A reggae beat permeates the small, funky, laid-back community of Cahuita and a variety of small restaurants can be found along the dirt roads, nestled in the jungle, or overlooking the thundering surf. Further down the coast Puerto Viejo is more developed, but the Caribbean vibes remain the same. It attracts many nationalities and expats have set-up businesses in town or by the glorious, palm-fringed beaches of Cocoles, Chiquita and Punta Uva that stretch south along the coastline road where it ends in Manzanillo.

Kelly’s Creek (2755-0007) was the one restaurant that stood out in popularity in Cahuita. The charming owners, Andrés and Marie-Claud, original from Madrid have been running a tight ship for over 15 years. Located at the entrance to Cahuita National Park. this all-wooden hotel and restaurant is situated by a creek abundant with wildlife where Roberto the alligator and his family live and enjoy the restaurant’s morning offerings of chicken legs. The menu is basically Spanish cuisine and the specialty is classic paella, which should be ordered in the morning for dinner that night. Kelly Creek’s restaurant is open to non-guests for breakfast 6.30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and dinner 6.30 to 9 p.m.

Puerto Viejo has all sorts of eateries to entice you, which cover an array of choices from cheap and cheerful to a selection that fall in a more pricey range. Sodas serving typical home cooked Caribbean specialties, plus vegetarian, European baked goodies, Thai, pizza and gourmet Italian are all there to satisfy your whim. Despite the choice people still have their favorites and a few are repeatedly mentioned. Ms. Sam (2750-0181) is a Puerto Viejo household name for reasonably priced Caribbean specialties. Pan Pay Café (2750-0081) offers freshly baked bread and croissants and is a favorite for breakfast. Chili Rojo (2750-0108)  is popular for Thai and Asian fusion, plus the always crowded Café Viejo (2750-0817) for tasty pasta, pizza and night life.

The Black Beach dirt road winds along the coastline, and at the end, 1.5 km. from town Hotel Banana Azul (2750-2035)  welcomes drop-in guests to join those staying at the hotel to enjoy their excellent, hearty breakfast, lunch at the Azul Beach Club, and their fixed price three-course dinner, which changes daily. Apart from meat, chicken and the catch of the day, the menu also caters to vegetarian, gluten-free and ovo-lacto diets. Friday is fajita fiesta night and Sunday a Caribbean night. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast 7.30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Lunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner 6 p.m. to 8.30. 

The Pecora Negra (2750-0490) south of Puerto Viejo in Playa Cocoles is an all-time favorite on the Caribbean coast for pricey, but outstanding, gourmet, Italian cuisine. The small, thatched roof, open air restaurant’s exuberant owner/ chef Ilario Giannoni’s menu offers a small selection of traditional Italian dishes. However, his regular clientele, of which there’re many, wait with bated breath for his fantastic nightly specials, which he prepares in his open kitchen with great aplomb according to his whims. Open 5.30 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended.

Maxi’s (2759-9073): this second-floor open-air restaurant overlooking the ocean has been an all time favorite for years. People would drive the pot-holed, dirt road that ends in Manzanillo long before it was paved, just to eat at Maxi’s. Lobster when in season, mouth-watering fresh fish and Caribbean platters are the order of the day. Open daily noon to 9.p.m.
— Aug. 27, 2013


Both Pacific coasts have a number of restaurants of note, too
By Ann Antkiw
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Where to eat and where not to eat? That is the question. Finding good restaurants, whether at the beach, on the side of a mountain or in the rainforest can make or break a vacation, weekend getaway or Sunday outing.

Both residents and visitors alike have their favorites, and, as always, when it comes to food, glorious food, opinions differ enormously. Throughout the country there are many excellent restaurants, beach bars and sodas offering local and international cuisine to suit every pocketbook, appetite and craving.

In northern Guanacaste with its beautiful beaches and rolling savannah landscape the choice is endless. From Liberia, Guanacaste’s capital, heading towards the coast on the main road a mile south of the Daniel Oduber International Airport the Café Europa and German Bakery (2668-1081) is not to be missed. This German-owned family bakery’s wonderful assortment of freshly baked bread is irresistible. Open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. visitors can stock up on bread and goodies to take to the beach or enjoy breakfast on the shady patio. Delicious German specialties are available for lunch and throughout the day.

On the coast heading from North to South Playa Hermosa’s calm and peaceful bay is home to the acclaimed Ginger (2672-0041). located on the main road that runs through town. Both locals and visitors clamber up the stairs to this unique tree-house restaurant that specializes in creative, fusion style tapas made with fresh tropical ingredients and seafood. Ginger offers an extensive wine and cocktail list and patrons flock there on Fridays for Martini Night. Open 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.

The next port of call is Playa Flamingo where a couple of favorites are mentioned, such as Marie’s (2654-4136), a long-standing institution in this beach town and one of the original and best places to eat. They have now moved to new, swanky premises, but the menu continues to offer all the old favorites, fresh fish, plus international and Costa Rican standbys that have been Marie’s tradition over the years. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily 6:30 to 11 p.m.

It seems that Coco Loco (2654-6242)  continues to grow in popularity and no doubt, that’s to do with its location right on Flamingo’s white sand beach, as well as delicious, reasonably priced fare, plus live, sunset Reggae evenings 5 to 8 p.m., on Fridays. Open every day 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Tamarindo appears to be the eating mecca on this part of the coastline. Nevertheless, a few favorites really stand-out. Dragonfly Bar & Grill (2653-1506), located in an open-air wooden rancho, the funky décor and wonderful, creative Latino-Asian, fusion cuisine guarantees a memorable dining experience in a romantic, tropical setting.

Tamarindo foodies just love Seasons by Shlomy (8368-6983). Chef Shlomy, a graduate of  “Le Cordon Blue” in Paris plies his culinary talents using the abundance of fresh, local seafood and creates an amazing variety of Mediterranean and fusion cuisine. Al fresco dining in Hotel Arcos Iris’s small, quiet, poolside restaurant is always popular and reservations are recommended. Open Monday to Saturday 6-10 p.m.

Other favorites include Pangas Beach Club (2653-0024) at the north end of Tamarindo’s beach where visitors can enjoy the beach club amenities by day, a sunset cocktail or a candlelit dinner by night. The eclectic menu offers a choice ranging from rib eye steaks, lobster, catch of the day and healthy snacks. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday brunch commences at 9 a.m. and for updates about happy hour happenings and live music events check the Facebook page.

Leaving the ever-popular North Pacific coast behind, the intrepid travelers who face the rough, often unpaved roads of the Nicoya Peninsula’s Pacific coast will find some of the most praiseworthy restaurants in the country. In Nosara the Café de Paris (2682-1036) started out as a simple bakery but has blossomed into a hotel and restaurant serving hearty breakfasts, lunch and afternoon snacks. French, typical Costa Rican and vegetarian choices, plus delicious bread and pastries are their drawing card. Open daily 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On the outskirts of town the always popular La Dolce Vita (2682-0107) is small and simple, but owner Roberto makes it a local favorite with his traditional Italian fare and wood-oven pizza. Open daily 6 to 9 p.m. Please note that he will close all of September and October.

The south eastern coastline of the Nicoya Peninsula with its stretch of beachfront road is now booming and Santa Teresa, Playa del Carmen, Mal Pais and Montezuma have become chosen destinations for tourist and residents looking for a laid-back lifestyle. However, these beach communities offer culinary delights as good as you will find throughout the country.

Brisas Del Mar (2649-0941) is located in the Buenos Aires Hotel in Santa Teresa. Perched on the hilltop with a breathtaking view, it offers an excellent menu with a variety of local seafood and Continental cuisine. Although the location has changed, British chef Jon Dewhurst and his wife, Barbara, have a restaurant still considered one of the best in the area. Open daily for breakfast and brunch 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and 5 to 10 p.m., when reservations for dinner are recommended.

Mary’s (2640-0153), an age-old landmark near the end of the road in Mal Pais, was once the general store and provided the local kids with cerviche and snacks. Today, it’s a budding family business serving the catch of the day purchased from the local fishermen, plus delicious brick oven pizzas and other items prepared with ingredients from an organic farm. A popular hangout to shoot a game of pool, Mary’s is open from 5 to 10 p.m., closed Wednesday.

On the southwestern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, the small,
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charming, funky beach town of Montezuma has a variety of excellent restaurants. When talking about favorites the following three are always mentioned.

Playa de los Artistas (2642-0920), This beachfront restaurant with a pricey menu that changes daily, serves wonderful, Mediterranean inspired choices and the freshest of fresh seafood. Customers can enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner in the rustic dining area or sitting on cushions at the low tables by the ocean. Open Monday to Saturday 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations recommended.

El Sano Banano (2642-0638)  and Restaurant Ylang Ylang (2642-0636). Owners Lenny and Patricia Iacona arrived in Montezuma when it was an isolated fishing village. Today they have two of the most popular businesses in town. On the main street El Sano Banano with its front and back patios serves healthy, fresh, organic food with an emphasis on vegetarian offerings, wonderful salads and delicious smoothies. Movies that change nightly are shown at 7.30 p.m., and the restaurant is open every day from 7 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. At the Ylang Ylang Beach Resort a 15-minute walk along the sand, its stunning ocean front restaurant specializes in vegetarian, vegan, raw and gluten free foods, plus fresh seafood and other choices, which are prepared with a Mediterranean flair. Candlelight dining under a beach front palapa or seated at an elegantly set table on the sand is a unique experience. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Please note that the resort and restaurant Ylang Ylang are closed throughout September and October, but El Sano Banano remains open.

On the Central Pacific coast Jacó dominates the tourist scene. However, there is one restaurant that is so popular that fans will drive the hour and a half from San José to satisfy their cravings for sushi. Located in Jaco’s main street, on the second floor of C.C. IL Galeone, it’s claimed that Tsunami Sushi (2643-3678) is one of the best, but expensive Japanese restaurants to be found in the area. Offered are specials and two for one nights. 

A happy clientele chill out in the modern, stylish décor while they enjoy the excellent sushi, sashimi, an amazing variety of creative rolls, plus a selection of Japanese dishes. Open Saturday to Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Fridays, 5 to midnight.

Lemon Zest (2643-2591) is located on the second floor of El Jardin Plaza on Jaco’s main street. Renowned chef Richard Lemon and Nellie, his son, have gained a reputation for their inventive, international cuisine. Meats, poultry, fish and other menu choices are enhanced with a combination of flavors using local products, plus the fine wines from the wine cellar add to the enjoyment of a perfect dinner. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.

Manuel Antonio is one of the country’s smallest and most visited national parks. Despite the area’s booming popularity and numerous luxury hotels and restaurants, there is a wide range of eateries that won’t break the budget. Locals and visitors seem to agree that their favorites mentioned below deserve rave reviews.

Top of the list without a doubt, is Ronny’s Place (2777-5120) off the beaten track, surrounded by jungle, the restaurant’s rancho stands in the middle of a 90-acre farm. The view is mind-blowing with spectacular sunset vistas that stretch across two bays. Ocean fresh seafood, red snapper and lobster are house specialties, but the large burgers are a popular item, plus the sangria is touted as the best in Costa Rica. Open daily noon to 10 p.m.

Agua Azul (2777-5280) has a scenic location on the top floor of Villas el Parque with an ocean view and reasonable prices. Chef Rob and Paige’s hospitality adds to the enjoyment of the traditional and inventive menu. For lunch there’s a delicious choice of munchies, salads and hearty fare including huge burgers. Diners can start the evening with a special sunset cocktail while they choose from the dinner specialties on the menu, which include tempting seafood concoctions and the highly recommended Panko crusted tuna. Open 11a.m., to 10 p.m. Closed Wednesdays.

El Avión (2777-3378) is one of the Costa Verde Hotel’s three restaurants and a favorite in town. Built around a C-123 Fairchild plane, it’s a fun family restaurant during the day and a lively pub at night. The bar is in the cockpit and the balcony restaurant has a wonderful ocean view. A huge, reasonably priced menu offers a great variety of choices ranging from seafood to U.S. standbys and oriental platters. Open daily, low season: 1-10 p.m., high season: 12 noon to 11 p.m. 

Last but not least, El Wagon (4000-1540 Ext:103) offers casual, relaxed dining in a patio setting with the most astounding mosaic tiled, still life floor depicting birds, butterflies and exotic animals. The kids really love this! The menu says “Act British, Think Yiddish, Eat Hebrew National,” and they actually do serve all beef Jewish hot dogs. Among many other fairly priced options chef Sebastiano’s scrumptious wood fired pizzas won “The Best Pizza in Manuel Antonio 2013 Award. Open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
— Aug. 13, 2013


Number of quality eating places have mushroomed in west
By Ann Antkiw
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The western suburb of Escazú has become a cosmopolitan boomtown, while further west nestled in the Valley of the Sun; Santa Ana is no longer a sleepy country town but a mind-boggling kaleidoscope of urban expansion. Prosperity abounds throughout this area of the Central Valley as shopping plazas, trendy boutiques, bars and a plethora of restaurants spring up overnight. Whether you have a yen for international cuisine, searching for a light snack or an elegant dinner, the choice is beyond belief.

Fast food fanatics can satisfy their hunger pangs and cravings at International chains to be found everywhere. The golden arches of McDonald’s spring up like mushrooms, while close by on street corners and in big and small malls KFC, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and many more compete with local chains, such as Rosti Pollo, Baglemen’s, Tapia and Spoons.

Keeping one’s eyes open and listening to discussions about old favorites, and new kids on the block can result in adventurous and memorable dining experiences. Cuisine from many different countries is available; some reasonably priced, others a shock to the pocketbook.

Starting the day with a U.S.-style breakfast or brunch at Café de los Artistas (2288-5082), you can enjoy your eggs benedict and sip your coffee on the quiet patio, which is just a block away from the noisy, busy thoroughfare of San Rafael de Escazú. Just down the road at El Cruce tucked behind Pop’s, the much loved, small Italian, moderately priced restaurant Sale e Pepe (2289-5750) is still cooking delicious pasta and pizzas in true Italian, family tradition. Across from Multicentro Paco another long-standing, popular breakfast spot is the French bistro and bakery Chez Christophe (2228-2512) has a mouth-watering choice of baked goods, and fabulous croissants are served for breakfast and throughout the day.

The aromas and flavors of Italy beckon from Multicentro Paco on the old road to Santa Ana. A great favorite of many Italian food connoisseurs is the small trattoria style Bella’ Italia (2588-2833). Reasonably priced Italian classics, delicious handmade pastas, a selection of Mediterranean favorites and a good wine list make this restaurant an excellent choice for lunch or dinner. Next door Inka Grill (2201-5922) is one of the many franchise locations known for its diversity of tasty, traditional Peruvian cuisine. Also in Multicentro Paco the recently opened Shannon’s Steakhouse (2588-1157) offers a conventional steakhouse menu with a variety of cuts to delight carnivores. Other appetizing choices are available for non meat eaters.

Just west, Chinese food addicts can satisfy their cravings at the long established Restaurante Lotus (2228-8105) with Cantonese, dim sum, hot and spicy Szechung and Hunan dishes, plus their tour de force Peking duck, which must to be ordered in advance.

Above Multicentro Paco, high on the hillside with an amazing view across the Central Valley stretching to the Gulf of Nicoya; Le Monastère (2228-8515) used to be a monastery and today is a popular, but expensive choice for a romantic dinner or special occasion. It’s a magical place embellished by the interior décor, marble statues, antiques and the accompaniment of a magnificent grand piano. Classic French and international cuisine is enhanced by an impressive wine list and waiters clad in monks’ robes provide excellent service. Downstairs, a medieval-style tavern, La Cava Bar offers bocas, grills and dancing to live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

In the mountains above Escazú, the country cousin Mirador Tiquicia (2289-5839)  also has a breathtaking view. It’s a popular, rustic restaurant and bar serving typical, tasty Costa Rican dishes that won’t break the bank.

In Golden Plaza on the road to Multiplaza, Pescatore (2289-8010)  is a seafood extravaganza and pricey little gem that has received many raves from happy diners. The innovative owner/chef Regis Molina fuses the flavors of Peruvian and Mediterranean cuisine that astounds the taste buds and it’s an excellent choice for lunch or dinner.

From Multicentro Paco on the road to Guachipelin, Henry’s Beach Café & Grill (2289-6250) is a popular hangout. They offer a U.S.-style menu, burgers and pit BBQ ribs, plus chicken. You can also munch on a large selection of bar food as you chill out, swig down a beer and watch the wide screen TV.

Also on the road to Guachipelin, tucked in the tiny Formosa Mall, you’ll find the much praised, award winning Italian restaurant, Di Bartolo (2228-2800)  Chef and owner Carlo Di Bartolo offers an extensive, pricey menu, but what emerges from his kitchen including the homemade pasta, specialty meats and wood oven pizzas are superb, and well worth the price.

Further north on the Guachipelin road in C.C. Multipark, Saisaki (2215-0280) keeps lovers of Japanese cuisine happy, plus they also serve a selection of Korean and Filipino dishes.

When one thinks of seafood at its best Product C (2288-5570) www.product-c.com comes to mind. This tiny, popular seafood venue just past the Red Cross in Santa Ana has closed, but will soon re-open across the road. At its other location in trendy Avenida Escazú, lovers of seafood can indulge themselves on fresh shucked oysters, the catch of the day, plus many other ocean fresh and smoked fish offerings. An added bonus is they are serving Craft Brewing Co.’s draft beer on tap.

Also in Avenida Escazú the L’Ile de France (2289-7533) continues its 30-year tradition of classic French cuisine and all the old favorites are still on the menu. However, chef Jean Claude has introduced some new fusion trends that blend in with the contemporary setting.

On the other side of the highway, Plaza Itskatzu offers a diversity of international cuisine to stimulate the appetite. Chancay (2289-6964) is an upscale Peruvian restaurant with traditional offerings including Chifa dishes. This Peruvian version of Chinese food introduced by the large Chinese immigrant population is well worth a try, although on the pricey side. Las Tapas de Manuel (2288-5700)  will give you a taste of Spain. The large selection of tapas Spanish style bocas, are served both hot and cold and are a great accompaniment to a jug of Sangria. Live Flamenco music at weekends adds to the Spanish atmosphere.

Outback Steakhouse (2288-0511) will whisk you to Australia where you can choose from Walkabout soup, Alice Spring chicken, or a mixed grill barbie. U.S.D.A. steaks and seafood come in huge portions, just like the Aussies eat.

 For a lighter meal, Samurai (2288-0202) is a Sushi heaven, and also offers other Japanese favorites, attractively presented at reasonable prices.

The choice of restaurants in and around Escazú and Guachipelin is totally mind-boggling, therefore one has to look, try-out and find the most enjoyable dining experience, which is suitable for a quick snack, family outing, or that special occasion and relevant for your budget.
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Santa Ana and Environs

Heading west on the old road to Santa Ana you won’t arrive in India, but the Taj Mahal (2228-0980) is the closest you will get. Indian eateries are few and far between in this country, and in 2002 the Taj Mahal was the first to fill the void. Naan and other delicacies are cooked in a Tandoori clay oven, which adds to the authenticity of the northern Indian cuisine. Curries can be ordered mild, medium or very hot depending on your palate. Patio seating is recommended, but wherever you sit, Taj Mahal offers a truly Indian experience for lunch, dinner or a romantic evening.

Heading down the winding road towards Santa Ana you will pass the Hotel Alta (2282-4160), home to La Luz, a restaurant that meets all the requisites for a noteworthy celebration, or extravagant dinner. The interior décor is stunning and the panoramic view across the valley breathtaking. The innovative fusion cuisine that blends Continental, Californian and Pacific Rim, with the addition of fresh Costa Rican ingredients, is a gastronomical experience not to be missed.

Fans of Maxi’s in Manzanillo will be delighted to hear that Ricky has opened a second Maxi’s (2282-8619) on the road to San Rafael de Santa Ana. Authentic Caribbean dishes including wonderful rondon and rice’n beans accompanied by reggae music in the background are served indoors, or on the patio overlooking the garden of this relaxed, friendly, family-run establishment that won’t beak the bank.

In the center of town: Bacchus (2282-5441) is located in a beautifully restored adobe house dating back to 1870. Diners can choose to sit in one of the elegantly furnished rooms, or enjoy an al fresco meal on the patio. Renowned for its top-notch Italian cuisine with a myriad of traditional and innovative dishes to choose from, Bacchus continues to be a favorite choice for a romantic dinner or Sunday lunch.

Also in the center of town carnivores will salivate at Doris Metropolitan (2282-2221), a steakhouse offering a truly gastronomic experience and extensive wine list. The aged beef comes in every imaginable cut and cooked to perfection. The home-baked bread is wonderful, plus the chicken, fish, pasta and salads are all delicious. This restaurant is not cheap, but the ambience, quality and service make it well worth the price.

In downtown Santa Ana you’ll find sodas, restaurants and bars where you can eat and drink with the locals. However, if you would rather hang-out with the expats try The Old West (2282-9210) on the one-way street out of town, 100 meters before the Red Cross. This friendly bar is a good bet with reasonable prices. Cold beer, tasty satisfying grub and bar food, plus the burgers, which are always a hit. Cow Town (2203-0530) on the one-way street heading into town150 meters past the Red Cross, offers traditional Texan chow including chicken fried steak, chili and other tasty home-style choices, all at affordable prices.

Just north of the Santa Ana Red Cross: the Bufalo Grill and Market (2282-4112) beckons meat lovers to try their buffalo steaks, burgers, sausages and cheese. This pleasant, small, family-run establishment gives customers their first opportunity of sampling a healthier, leaner meat, and the burgers are a top favorite. If you wish to buy their products, you can do so at the restaurant’s small market counter. 

Next door Lo Spago (2582-2127) is another great, little Italian restaurant following in the tradition of its owner Marco De Nando. He’s also the owner of Da Marco (2282-4103) in Piedades de Santa Ana, an old time favorite that has been around for many years. Both are charming, cozy Italian restaurants offering a large variety of homemade pastas, interesting traditional cuisine and an excellent wine cellar. Lo Spago has a wonderful variety of oven baked pizza, and Da Marco’s, location in Piedades offers comfy indoor seating, while dining on the verandah, adds to the pleasant, rural atmosphere of this his first endeavor. 

A short distance north on the Lindora Road the Taco Bar (2282-7863) www.tacobar.info is a friendly, family restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. The funky décor includes swing seats, which really appeal to the kids. There’s a large variety of tacos, and the yummy fish tacos, especially the fresh tuna, are a great favorite. The all-you-can-eat salad bar, wonderful smoothies and $3 breakfasts, add to the popularity of this friendly, family-style eatery.

PHO Vietnamese Restaurant & Café (2203-6969) located in Boulevard Lindora was the first authentic, all-Vietnamese eatery and is named after PHO a traditional broth, laden with meat, noodles, fresh veggies and spices, which is eaten daily throughout Vietnam. This little family-run restaurant also offers other delicious, reasonably priced, traditional meals including fried spring rolls, curries and noodle dishes.

You can satisfy your sushi cravings at Matsuri (2203-6868) in C. C Vistana Este. Upscale, cozy ambiance, excellent quality sashimi and a large variety of sushi will keep lovers of Japanese cuisine very happy.

Last but not least, on the road to Ciudad Colón the lovely boutique hotel Corteza Amarilla Lodge (2203-7503) with its stunning décor resembles an art and antique museum .Their Essentia restaurant comprises three dining areas, plus a beautiful open-air covered courtyard overlooking a lush tropical garden. The menu offers an eclectic variety of fusion cuisine, which blends together the flavors and textures of Asia, Europe and Latin America. Fine dining in this romantic setting is a memorable experience, whatever the occasion may be.


There are some first-class restaurants in San Jose's downtown
EDITOR'S NOTE: A.M. Costa Rica begins today a regional survey of restaurants with the first episode focusing on the nation's capital.

By Ann Antkiw
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Twenty-years-ago San José was a barren wasteland when it came to restaurants offering fine dining and International cuisine.

There were a few scattered around town, but because of their scarcity often reserved for that special occasion. Inside the Hotel Bergerac in Los Yoses, Jeane Claude Fromont, the much revered chef of the L’Ile de France (now in Escazú, 2289-7533), would concoct French haute cuisine to satisfy the palate of any gourmet.

A short distance up the road, Le Chandelier’s (2225-3980) chef Claude Dubuis’ traditional French cuisine was considered by many patrons to be the best in the country. Located in a splendid old mansion, the restaurant remains popular today for corporate events and romantic candlelight dinners. The small, intimate La Bastille (2255-4994) on Paseo Colon has been around for more than five decades and is still serving excellent, classic, French cuisine and now the Swiss Owner/chef has added to the menu some specialties from his country. 

There were a few Italian eateries around town including San José’s longest standing restaurant the Balcón de Europa, which opened in 1909. Chef Franco Piatti offered home-style cuisine from central Italy in a friendly, family atmosphere. The restaurant on Calle 9 follows in that tradition.

Fast food outlets were few and far between, and the city’s mainstays were mom & pop sodas and the counters in the Mercado Central, which was founded in 1880. These inexpensive, squeaky clean, family-run eateries offered satisfying meals for a few colons, and, even today, one can sate one’s hunger for ¢2,000 to 2500 ($4-5). The lunchtime order of the day is the casado, that means “married” and is the perfect marriage of typical fare; a combination of white rice, black beans, fried ripe plantain, picadillo, a finely chopped mixture of cooked vegetables, a small shredded cabbage salad and a choice of meat, chicken or fish. Patrons also get a fresh fruit drink and a small portion of flan or plain cake.

Times have certainly changed, and today chefs from all over the world, including excellent trained Costa Ricans, ply their trade in restaurants and hotels throughout the country. Downtown San José has an eclectic choice of restaurants, which offer international cuisine for every type of occasion and pocketbook.

In the heart of the city located in front of the Teatro Nacional, the Gran Hotel Costa Rica opened its doors in 1930 and has been declared an architectural, historic landmark. The Terrace Restaurant 1930 (2221-4011) overlooks the Plaza de la Cultura and is a renowned meeting place. It’s a wonderful spot for people watching as you enjoy breakfast, sip on a drink, partake in a light meal, or an al fresco dinner.

The hotel just changed hands, so there may be some news to report soon..

The national theater dates back to 1897 and the Café Britt Coffee Shop (2221-1329) offers a tempting array of coffees, pastries and light fare. It still maintains a neoclassical atmosphere reminiscent of a chic French café with high ceilings and windows, marble floors and tables, plus rotating art shows featuring local artists. It’s also a great meeting place before a performance or any time during the day.

In total contrast to the above, Restaurante Nuestra Tierra (2258-6500) south of the Plaza de la Democracia on Avenida 2, serves Costa Rican fare in a rustic ambience with wooden chairs and tables, plus a décor that creates the atmosphere of a humble campesino kitchen in bygone days. Open 24/7 the food is typical and tasty.

A short walk from San José’s new Chinatown the ever popular Tin Jo (2221-7605) offers a wonderful selection of Asian foods from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Japan and China, plus an excellent selection of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free choices. In one of the restaurant’s many rooms, “candlelight Wednesday nights” with tables set for two offers a wonderful way to celebrate a special romantic occasion.

Next door, Don Wang (2223-5925) is a favorite with dim sum lovers who flock there for a Sunday morning feast. They also offer a good choice of Cantonese cooking and some spicy Szechwan fare.

For carnivores, La Esquina de Buenos Aires (2223-1909) in the heart of downtown is a small Argentinean steakhouse with an authentic atmosphere and grilled meaty specialties
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from the old country. Tongue, tripe, sweetbreads and blood sausage are an added addition to the different cuts of steak. Never fear they do serve very good homemade pasta for non-meat eaters.

In a renovated mansion in the heart of the city, the Del Mar (2257-7800) offers a large selection of international and local cuisine that will satisfy cravings and hunger pains 24/7. After a night on the town, or in the Hotel Del Rey casino, you can munch on one of their excellent hamburgers or tuck into breakfast, which is always available for early birds and late risers.

The historic neighborhood of Barrio Amón lies just northeast of downtown within easy walking distance of the city center. Coffee barons’ homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been restored and now house some of San José’s best boutique hotels, trendy restaurants and bars. The very popular Café Mundo (2222-6190) with its patio seating, verandah and various rooms, maintains its charm and popularity with families, tourists, the lunchtime and late night crowds. The menu offers a huge variety of choices, but the pizzas and pastas are a great favorite. Also in Barrio Amón, Restaurante Kalu (2221-2081) with its covered patio and delightful ambience serves salads, sandwiches and main courses with flare and imagination. The desserts are to die for, and well worth a visit for them alone.

Heading west from downtown towards the Parque la Sabana and the district bordering Rohrmoser and Pavas, there are a few gems not to be missed. On a quiet residential street a short a walk from Paseo Colon, El Grano De Oro (2255-3322) is a first class and pricey choice, but worth every penny. This restored Victorian home dates back to1910 and offers fine dining in a lush inner courtyard, surrounded by old world elegance. Traditional European cuisine is highlighted with local, tropical ingredients resulting in some unique flavors to tempt the taste buds. The signature dessert El Grano de Oro Pie is a decadent finale to any meal.

Park Café (2290-6324) just a block away from the north side of La Sabana is a gastronomic haven offering gourmands of Costa Rica world class cuisine created by chef Richard Neat. His sensational masterpieces garnered his restaurant in London 2 Michelin stars, in Cannes 1-star, and in Marrakech, Conde Naste’s inclusion in the World’s Best 65 restaurants. Seating for 25 diners is in an enchanting garden among an eclectic display of antiques from Asia and the British Isles. Lovers of fine cuisine rave about Neat’s exquisite, stunningly presented, fusion inspired culinary delights. At this writing, the cafe appears to be closed temporarily, accoridng to its Web site.

Another Sabana Norte treasure for lovers of Italian cuisine is the casual, but elegant little L’Olivo (2232-9440) located in the Apartotel Cristina. The excellent homemade pasta and other regional Italian specialties, plus an admirable selection of wines, make this charming, friendly restaurant a great favorite with residents and tourists alike.

Aficionados of Middle Eastern food need to make a date to sample the truly authentic, Lebanese menu offered at Sash (2232-1010) in Pavas. The décor adds to the enjoyment of the outstanding traditional dishes including the Lebanese mesa vegetarian, which is exceptional. Typical Middle Eastern lounging areas with low tables and subdued lighting are intimate and perfect for a romantic occasion. There is also a more formal dining area where belly dancers perform for groups and parties. This great little restaurant with friendly, helpful service is an excellent choice for any occasion.
— July 16, 2013


Southern zone invited to show traditional cookery
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What are the traditional dishes along the south Pacific coast. That is a question food historians will seek to answer Saturday as residents of that area are invited to demonstrate their unique food products.

This is another of the contests set up by the  Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural at the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud. Residents of the cantons of Golfito, Osa and Corredores can compete in three categories: main dish, breads and desserts and traditional drinks.

The contest will be in the Centro de Estudios y Capacitación Cooperativa, which faces the Parque de las Esferas in Palmar Sur. Considering that this area hosts some of the country's great archaeological sites, the traditions go back way before Columbus. Descendants of those who made the giant stone spheres still live in the area.

The Centro has been taking signups for the event, but those who wish to present a dish or drink can still contact organizers at  2786-6098.

Participating is worthwhile because the prize for the four best main dishes is 500,000 colons each, more than $1,000.

There are three prizes for the best bread or desserts. That amount is 450,000 colons each, more than $900. The top two drink winners will get 225,000 colons each, some $455.

As with other regional food contests, the Centro will be putting the recipes into a booklet for distribution later. Chefs and cooks must supply the recipe along with the dish or drink. The Centro asks that the traditional use of the dish or drink be included if it is typical

of a specific social occasion. This is the 13th such event. Plates or drinks can be delivered between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
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Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud photos                  
Judges are seeking traditional presentations
like these from prior events.

  Recipe books from prior contests are available at the nation's 57  public libraries and many private bookstores.

The southern Pacific has been distant from the Central Valley until recent years when better roads were installed.  In addition there was an immigration of Italians to parts of that area. So the possibilities for unique foods are great.
—June 26, 2013


U.N. food agency kicks off campaign to boost nutrition
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Global hunger, poor nutrition and obesity are costing the world trillions of dollars in health costs and lost productivity, according to a new report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The report says fighting hunger is not enough. Tackling the more complex problem of malnutrition calls for action across the entire food system, from farm to fork, it said.

About 870 million people worldwide are hungry, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. But malnutrition is about more than just hunger.

“Two billion people are deficient in essential vitamins and minerals," said Kostas Stamoulis. "One child in four under the age of five is stunted. And 1.4 billion people are overweight.” He is with the  Food and Agriculture Organization.

The report says the combined effects of all these forms of malnutrition cut the world’s income by an estimated 5 percent per year, or about $3.5 trillion.

While about 40 countries have reached the goal of reducing hunger by half, there is a long way to go to improve nutrition.

Stamoulis says that is because good nutrition has not been the top priority.

“There has been more effort and more success in providing people with the quantity of food that would allow them to overcome what we call the undernourishment problem," he said. "But we need a little bit more coordination and better focus on malnutrition.”

The focus on nutrition is a new approach for the Food and Agriculture Organization. The effort needs to involve players throughout the entire food system, from farmers and food processors to consumers and government agencies, according to the agency's deputy director-general, Daniel Gustafson.

“Everyone has to have nutrition goals and nutrition outcomes in mind throughout the food chain, and throughout all our
 work," he said. "And that is, in fact, a significant change.”

That work includes promoting diverse diets, boosting the production of nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, and cutting waste, which claims nearly a third of the food produced worldwide.

Stamoulis praised modern food processing, packaging and retailing for its efficiency, making meals available and affordable in ever-increasing areas. But he cautioned that ready access to unhealthy meals is also contributing to obesity.

Ultimately, Stamoulis says, consumers are the key to making healthy food systems work.

“You can process food properly, you can produce it properly, you can have the possibility to supply diverse diets," he said. "But if they are not consumed, the impact that we expect will be low.”

The International Monetary Fund says recession-ridden France needs to increase the pace of its economic reforms or risk falling further behind its European neighbors.
 
The IMF predicted Tuesday that the French economy, the euro currency bloc's second biggest after Germany, would regain strength in the second half of this year. But the IMF said that for all of 2013 it expects the country's economic fortunes to fall two-tenths of one percent before advancing eight-tenths of a percentage point next year.
 
The Washington-based agency said France's competitiveness gap with its European trading partners is growing.
 
The IMF said French companies have a faltering rate of productivity growth, low profit margins and declining exports. It said higher wages have hurt company profits, which in turn have hurt the country's competitiveness in international trading.
 
The 17-nation eurozone is mired in an 18-month recession, its longest since adoption of the euro in 1999. Europe has sent billions of dollars in bailouts to five countries to help them avoid bankruptcy.
— June 5. 2013






Coconut water is the tropical pick-me-up, and everyone should try it. Once, according to our reporter, who characterizes the popular drink as an acquired taste. This stand is just off the beach in Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast.
cocnut
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson

Iconic coconut water is at least worth a second exploratory taste
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For tourists, the tropics are synonymous with warm weather and fresh fruit drinks under umbrellas by the beach.  In Costa Rica, there is no shortage of these things.  Meals known as casados are served with a natural juice, and persons push carts with pipa fria through all terrains.

My first encounter with coconut water came during a trip to the Las Isletas off from Granada, Nicaragua.  They are a cluster of 365 small islands in the midst of Lake Nicaragua.  These land masses formerly were chunks of volcano Mombacho that were shed when the volcano erupted thousands of years ago.

Now these islands are inhabited by both wealthy persons with mansions and locals who fish for a living.  Part of my tour was to stop at the house of a local family.  Upon docking our boat, children rose from their hammocks with smiles and brought us all a fresh coconut.

New to the tropics, I had never seen a young coconut and was a bit shocked that the fruit I was presented with was hard and green and not brown and furry.  Coconut water comes from the young fruit.

The process for getting into the fruit was exciting.  After giving us a “don't try this at home, you will lose a finger" speech, our guide took a large, sharp machete and hacked away at the top, until a round hole appeared.  Here he placed a straw that served as a gateway to the clear liquid inside.

With high expectations, I took a gulp.  The taste that met my tongue was somewhat sweet, somewhat tangy and strong and peculiar.  I have since heard someone describe the taste as dirty sewer water.  I don't think I would go that far, but the flavor did cause my face to frown and my stomach to turn.

I seemed to be the only one who didn't enjoy the drink, as others called it refreshing.  For me, I would have rather had regular water.  Yet, it was still entertaining to watch a person hack into the fruit.  Commonly, when persons finished drinking the water, someone will chop the coconut in half then meticulously slice off a small concave piece of the side shell.  
chop chop
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Opening a coconut requires a steady hand

This piece serves as a scoop for the white meat inside. The meat can then be eaten as is, or in the Caribbean it is made as a base for rice and beans.  Unlike gallo pinto, the dish is cooked in coconut milk, a liquid that can be made from blending the coconut meat with water.

In a mature coconut, this meat can be made into an oil- something I buy frequently from the Saturday feria as a moisturizer for my hair.

Here in Costa Rica I see coconuts all around.  A shop not far from my residence sells them for 250 colons or 50 cents.  Vendors have them on carts at national events in the city as well as on the sand at the beach for prices that are as high as $2.

Friends here tell me of the wonderful health benefits of coconut water as nature's sports drink that's full of potassium.  They tell me it's even better as a half-and-half mixture of rum and coconut water, called Coco Loco.

All this, plus the image from a Jamaican tourist I met in Manuel Antonio who reminisced of the divine flavor from the fruit she enjoyed as a child, led me to try the juice again.

The flavor this time was not as strong, but still not as great as I wanted it to be.  However, this time, I did finish the whole contents and my stomach flipped a little less.

I guess it's an acquired taste.
— April 18, 2013











Costa Rican tamales come in pairs of two. A bottle of Bavaria Blue is an added treat.

tamal
and beer
A.M. Costa Rica file photo

Costa Rica does not have a monopoly on the tamal
An A.M. Costa Rica archive article

As the end-of-the-year holidays approach, different countries begin to prepare their comida tipica, and for Central America the popular dish is the tamal.

It is usually served as the main course for Christmas. A tamal is made out of masa from maize, stuffed with a piece of meat and wrapped in a leaf. In the United States, the better known tamale is the Mexican one, made with very thick masa or dough and wrapped in corn husk. In Central America, there is a slight difference in tamales with the Mexican ones. Tamales here usually are cooked in a plantain or banana leaf wrapping.

There is no universal tamal among the seven countries in Central America. Each one has its own version of the traditional dish. The differences coincide with the size, the ingredients, the preparation and, of course, the taste.

According to Flor de Monroy, master Costa Rican and Guatemalan cook, the hardest tamales to make are from Guatemala. The Costa Rican native also said that Guatemalan tamales are much tastier than the ones from her country. There are not any known Guatemalan restaurants in Costa Rica, so a spokesperson for the Guatemalan Embassy recommended Ms. De Monroy. She broke down the recipes on how to make the perfect Costa Rican tamal and Guatemalan tamal colorado, so called because of the red sauce ingredient.

Costa Rica

She said the plantain leaf and the masa can be purchased already made at various groceries and markets which make it easy to make a Costa Rican tamal. She said to lay the plantain leaf on a flat surface, grab a handful of masa and flatten it onto the leaf, then add a pinch of cooked rice and a garbanzo bean. Some people add an egg and an olive to the middle of the tamal.

She said when the tamal is formed, the cook folds up the leaf with all the ingredients inside, ties it up tightly with string. Costa Ricans tie up the tamales in a piña, two-in-two, then boil them in a pot of hot water. Mrs. de Monroy said a cook has to make sure the tamales are tied up tightly, otherwise the masa will seep out into the water. The commercial pre-made ones purchased at a grocery have a decorative strand of carrot on top of the tamal.
Commercial production centers on the town of Aserrí where completed tamales are steamed over a wood fire. Later they are reheated by purchasers just before eating, Purists reject the use of microwaves and say that this can dry out the tamal. They use more boiling water.

The Costa Rican tamal usually is accompanied by salsa lizano or another of the commercial, bottled sauces.

Guatemala

Unlike the simplicity of the Costa Rican tamal, the one from the Mayan country includes a lot more vegetables and spices. And the tamal has its own sauce. Guatemalans include the ingredients of pan frances (a local mini French bread) and a recado, the special sauce, to their tamal. But first, once the masa is made or purchased, it has to be soaked with rice, then stirred together. Finally the broth from the meat is added. The broth is not obligatory, but for a stronger taste, the cooked meat juice comes from either chicken or pork.

The recado can't be bought, so it has to be made from scratch. The ingredients needed are cooked or grilled red tomatoes, miltomates (tiny green tomatoes), onion, chile dulce, chile pasa, chiles guaqueres, sesame seeds, pepitoria (a dark red spice), and a stick of cinnamon.  All of these are mixed together in a blender until a red liquid is produced. Then the cook boils it. Some like to let pan frances, a small piece of bread unlike the long North American French loaf, soak in the sauce until it is soggy and then blend it into the sauce for a thicker recado.

Once the masa and the recado are made, the time is ripe to create the tamal. The plantain leaf is placed on a flat surface, a handful of masa is flattened into a thick tortilla, a chunk of meat is placed in the middle of the masa, and the recado is drizzled onto the meat and the masa. Two slivers of red bell peppers are placed parallel along with an olive and a caper on the masa.

Finally, the leaf is folded and tied up with twine, similar to a Christmas present. The single tamal is then boiled in a hot pot of water.

These recipes are by Ms. De Monroy. She is married to a Guatemalan and learned how to cook Chapin or Guatemalan  when she lived in the country for many years.
— First published Nov. 18, 2011



Here's a smashing idea to boost cuisine in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is many things, but it is not the mecca of world food. Tico grub is a bit plain.

But now comes a fast-food hamburger outlet with unique products tailored for Costa Rica.

First there is the Costa Rica Burger, described as hamburg topped with chorizo, grilled Turrialba cheese, refried black beans, fried potato sticks, and Lizano cilantro mayo on a classic egg bun.

Then there are the Pejibaye Frites, described as a side of flash-fried and seasoned peach palm fruit with cilantro mayo, or portabello mushroom fries.  Pejibayes are those orange and green fruit bobbing in the heated water in supermarkets. The pejibaye is a product of a towering tree Bactris gasipaes.
The fruits also make a great soup HERE!

Now the French probably are not eating their hearts out over the new addition to Costa Rican culinary arts, but the new twists on traditional foods is at least a start.

The firm is called Smashburger, and its first Costa Rican outlet opened Saturday in the new Lincoln Plaza in Moravia. The firm said its local partner was Richard Eisenberg of QSR International. The Denver, Colorado,-based firm said that 17 more outlets are planned for Costa Rica. Plans include outlets in other Latin American locations.

The company's name reflects the unusual way a ball of hamburg meat is pushed onto a cooking surface in order, as the company says, to sear and lock in the juices of the burger. The company also tries to create regional menus, like the Costa Rica Burger.
– Dec. 4, 2012



Foray into business results in creating vital gluten-free products
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Twelve years ago Johanna Morris was sitting around her table eating plantain porridge when her father brought up the idea that they should start a business.

When she inquired what kind, he responded “Why not this?” pointing to their meal.  From that moment, she switched her gears to developing a natural product from her childhood to share with all of Costa Rica, she said.

The family business Tropics Nature was born, and Ms. Morris

Ms. Morris
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Johanna Morris displays one of her gluten-free products.
served as the general manager.  They harvested fruits and vegetables native to Costa Rica to make the products.

“We get the bananas and make the flour.  We have industrialized all the processes,” she said.

The first product in the market was green plantain flour.  However, it took one day in the grocery store, for Ms. Morris to realize the value of their work.

“A lady stopped me and said 'You’re the lady that makes this?'  I was shocked and was like 'Yeah.'  Then she said, 'You don’t know how important this is,'” she said.

The lady had celiac disease, a condition where lining of the small intestines is damaged from gluten consumption.  At the time Ms. Morris didn’t know what celiac was.  When she found out, she realized that there were only three companies in the country providing gluten-free products.  She went to work making more options, she said.

“We started to investigate and develop different products,” she said.  “We are like the pioneers of this product right now.”

Now Tropics Nature has a full line that includes pancake mixes, bread, green banana flour, garbanzo bean flour and instant porridges.

Ms. Morris represented one of 10 different women entrepreneurs who came to Banco Nacional Monday to show their ingenuity to former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.  Currently Ms. Bachelet is executive director of a United Nations agency for the equality of women.

“Michelle Bachelet is an important person at defending women’s rights.  The bank chose 10 of us to show our products.  They are looking to support women's businesses,” Ms. Morris said.

Ms. Bachelet commented that her program is very important for the future of Costa Rica.  Women aren’t making equal salaries and don’t have the same opportunities as men.  They climb and climb, work and work, but stay in the same place, she said.

She is working to put laws in place to stop this, but she also said laws aren’t perfect.

The former president also works with themes against women’s violence, prevention and services for victims.


fruits of the country
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
From left these are cas, jocotes and mamón chinos, all available at modest prices in Costa Rica
Some different fruits that can tempt the palate of newcomers
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For fresh fruit lovers, Costa Rica might be considered heaven on earth.

One need not go far to find heaps of fresh bananas, pineapples, papayas, mangos, coconuts and dozens of other fruits that just do not taste the same as those shipped thousands of miles to markets around the world.

However, there are also some fruits that look strange and almost as if they have sprouted hair that looks like a 60s mop-top.

Though lesser known, these fruits are some of the most delicious produced in Costa Rica.

Though they may appear strange, here are some of the tastiest, most convenient, uniquely Costa Rican fruit snacks out on the market.


Mamón chino

By far the most exotic looking fruit available at almost all Costa Rican outlets is the mamón chino.  This fruit is about the size of a golf ball and looks like a deformed sea urchin that has grown red or yellow hair instead of spines.

Technically the fruit and the tropical evergreen tree on which it grows is called a rambutan, and it is native to Malaysia. The chino part of the fruit's Costa Rican name stems from its Asian origin. Its Latin name is Nephelium lappaceum.

When peeled, the fruit has a cloudy-white flesh very similar to the flesh of a grape. Inside is a brown pit that looks like a pecan. Although this pit can be eaten roasted, it is not advisable to eat the pit raw as it is mildly poisonous.

Over the years, the Costa Rican government has encouraged farmers to grow this fruit for various reasons including to prevent farmers growing other crops that can be ravaged by diseases. Although the fruit has yet to gain popularity in the United States, a previous A.M. Costa Rica report said Costa Rica exports 1,800 metric tons to its neighbors. That story is HERE!

The quickest way to get to the fruit through the inedible peel is to simply bite off a piece of the skin and peel it from there. Then one simply pops the crystal-ball colored oval into the mouth, biting gently and sucking to pry flesh that tightly clings to the pit. It takes time, but the sweet, juicy succulent fruit comes off after a few minutes of sucking. This is where the mamón comes from, loosely translating as “sucking.”

In Costa Rica there are two varieties both of a different color. The red is common across all tropical countries, especially Asia, while the yellow one is more unique and especially common in Costa Rica. Both are generally available between July and November. Although prices have gone up, mamones chinos are usually available for 500 colons per half-kilo. About $1 a pound

Earlier this year there were plans to make the fruit into a flavor for ice cream and yogurt. The story is HERE!


Jocote

Another fruit that may seem foreign is the jocote, a small fruit that ranges from green, to yellow or red and is also about the size of a deformed golf ball.

This fruit is from a deciduous tree native to the tropical regions of North and South America. Although it also goes by many names including the Latin Spondias purpurea, its  regional name, jocote, comes from xocotl, the Aztec word for fruit.
vendor seeling
fruit at the Mercado Central.
A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
Vendor weighing fruit at the Mercado Central.


An A.M. Costa Rica report in March said Costa Rica produces 2 million tons of jocote each year, and at that time a new jocote processing plant was under way to use the flavor in a variety of processed foods. That story is HERE!

The region of La Uruca de Aserrí, a prime jocote-producing region in Costa Rica, regularly holds a festival to honor the fruit. Residents make jam or use the fruit in desserts. That story is HERE!

The fruit is eaten when both its skin is green and unripe as well as when it has matured and turned red or yellow. Both have a tart flavor but unripe jocotes are slightly more so. Regardless of color, the skin is edible. It's usually available for 500 colons per half kilo.

The first bite hits the tongue with a wave of sourness that gradually subsides into a semi-sweet flavor with a chalky texture. As one scrapes the soft yellow pulp off of the large pit inside, each bite seems to get progressively sweeter except for the ringing twinge of acidity that lingers on the tongue from the initial bite.

Unlike with the mamón chino, no amount of sucking will get flesh of the jocote off the seed and one must scrape it off with the teeth. More on jocotes can be found HERE!


Cas

Finally another fruit that may seem strange to newcomers is  known as cas in Costa Rica. Very similar to the jocote, it is a  small, greenish yellow, spherical fruit, but inside there is a juicy center with dozens of small, white seeds that are edible if chewed hard enough.

Although the fruit may seem strange, it is actually a type of guava which has become a relatively common find in United States markets or is at least a fruit that Gringos can recognize. This variety is just slightly bigger than the jocote.

In fact, dozens of guava varieties grow in Costa Rica including cas, regular guava, pineapple guava, strawberry guava and others. A more detailed analysis of the different kinds of guava available in Costa Rica is HERE!


Unlike its sweeter relatives, biting into a cas will result in a punch of sour and is only slightly more pleasant than sucking on a lemon. Although the entire fruit can be eaten, peel, seeds and all, it is largely uncommon to eat this fruit by itself.

People here treat cas like people in the United States treat lemons: When life gives Costa Ricans cas, they make cas-aid. Juice made from the fruit is very common at all varieties of Costa Rican restaurants, especially sodas.


Mysteries of shopping for fish less obscure with new guide
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The consumer section of the economics ministry has decreed that fish ought to be sold under their common names. And inspectors will be enforcing that edict as they tour marketplaces.

But Costa Rica has an abundance of fish species, and even the experts sometimes are confused. So Fundación MarViva has come out with a free booklet that  provides identification for the bulk of the edible species. In addition to a description, the booklet provides a photo of the fish and close ups of fillets that come from the fish.

The  Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio also said that the Spanish-language booklet will help shoppers from being tricked at the market. 

There are 26 fish species, ranging from eels to sports fish displayed in the booklet. There also is a summary of the February regulation handed down by the ministry regarding the way fish have to be identified by a label. The ministry said that fish merchants have been using fantasy names to enhance the perception of certain cuts of their product. Shark, for example, has a number of different names in the marketplace.

The 62-page booklet also provides tips on handling fresh and frozen fish and how to identify fresh products.

For each fish species, the booklet tells from where it comes. Various types of shrimp come from either the Gulf of Nicoya or from deeper waters. The description also tells how the fish

tilapia
Fundación MarViva graphic
 Page on tilapia seeks to show the difference between Costa
 Rican fish and an imported fillet (right).


is caught, either by line or by various types of nets. The summary also sometimes describes how merchants will offer the product under other names. Eel, for example, sometimes is called filete especial or filete de corvina especial.

The descriptions also include commonly imported fish, some from fresh water. Latin names also are given.

Copies are available at the ministry Web site, the MarViva Web site or the Web site of the Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandería.

Editors also have posted a copy HERE!.
— Aug. 21, 2012










The bottles are Cruz Blanca, Big Cola, Fanta, Inca Cola, Milory and another version of Big Cola.  The chips in front are plain Pringles to clean the Pallet of taste testers.


colas
on parade
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers

New entry Inca Cola fairs well in evaluation by young experts
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

With the arrival of Inca Cola to the Costa Rican soft drink market, A.M. Costa Rica has compared it to the existing competitors so readers don’t have to. A team of experts subjected the products to careful scrutiny and passed judgment on the four main competitors in the kolita class.

Inca Cola is “the pride of Peru,” preferred by many there to regular colas, like the one in the hourglass bottle, on a nationalistic basis. It isn’t actually a cola in taste, but instead a sweet drink originally flavored with jamaica or hibiscus flowers. It is now available in Supermercados Unidos outlets like Mas X Menos and Walmart, imported in bottled form.

The equivalent locally produced kolita beverages are products sold alongside orange or grape flavored sodas in most any supermarket or neighborhood pulpería.

The Coca Cola product is called Fanta and is sold mostly in bottles. The company which is widely considered the most valuable brand in the world doesn’t need much introduction.

Pepsi for this line is represented by Florida Ice & Farm, the monopoly brewer in Costa Rica. The kolita product is called Milory.

Also from Peru originally is Big Cola, which broke into the Costa Rican market in 2004 despite considerable resistance from the established multinationals, who were eventually accused before Costa Rica’s competition commission of using spurious environmental complaints against the new entrant. Big Cola made its mark with large bottles aimed at the lower socio-economic strata, with minimal amounts of syrup and bottles about as thin as is possible by blow molding PET plastic. These were sold at small neighborhood stores until the company eventually reached all the supermarket chains.

Once established in the market, an additional bottling line allowed Big Cola to add other presentations of different bottle sizes. Representatives of Big Cola claimed they are the reason other companies have changed to 3-liter sizes and also the return of the smurf bottle from Coke, according to news reports. Big Cola’s different sized bottles have different descriptions, with some saying strawberry, some jamaica, and some just red. Jamaica wasn’t located for the study.

An additional market participant is Cruz Blanca, with a carbonated version of the cola syrup that can be purchased to make refrescos. The taste-testers’ grandmother has been known to subject chan, a seed that looks like frogs’ eggs when soaked in water, to this treatment producing a savagely sweet refresco. Cola syrup is also the red fluid that is often put on shaved-ice copos. Cruz Blanca’s pop seems only to be available in Periféricos supermarkets in a small bottle.

The Euromonitor market research company has overall consumption of carbonated soft drinks in Costa Rica at just under $500 million, with Coca Cola at 70 percent, Pepsi at 18 percent, and Big Cola most of the remainder. These figures are from 2010.

Test subjects were a Costa Rican/U.S. duel national male, 12 years old, and another female aged 8. Both have a known
Cola experts
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
The panel of cola experts

penchant for sweets. They tasted each brand and were asked leading questions about its aroma, sweetness and strength, bouquet, and amount of carbonation. The palate was cleansed with plain Pringles between samples. Expectoration was not allowed. The experts considered the appearance in a glass and the presentation of the product itself.

All six samples were chilled overnight. Service was in a small water glass.

Fanta was essentially the benchmark to which others were compared. It scored intermediate in the important factors, being sweet with moderate carbonation and orangey color. 

Milory is stronger and sweeter, mostly due to less carbonation and is less brightly colored also. One tester described the taste as “rotten strawberry.”

Inca was scored high on flavor and carbonation with a much fruitier bouquet, evoking lemon or banana. Inca Cola has a bright yellow color which some might associate with dehydration after a long hike in the Peruvian coastal deserts, as opposed to the red of the other brands. This could have been a cause of bias.

The Cruz Blanca product was considered little more than a watered down version of the syrup with hardly any carbonation. One tester described it as “weird” and both noted a slight salty or bitter taste.

Two different presentations of Big Cola were tried, strawberry and just red. Nobody detected any hint of strawberry in either. Both experts said the red had little taste. Red has some more carbonation while the strawberry has “little, little, little” gas.

Big Cola is the regional partner of the Barcelona football team, with some players on the labels. Uniforms show the old Unicef promotion before the team sold out to a Qatari consortium as part of the conspiracy to have the 2020 World Cup there. The two presentations don’t show the same players however, as red has Villa, Puyols, former coach Pep Guardiola, Messi, and Iniesta, while fresa has Villa, Puyols, Messi, Pedro, and goalkeeper Valdez.

Adults present detected a slightly bitter aftertaste to both Big Cola products but found them barely distinguishable. With Inka the most palatable, adults generally find all of the tested products to taste like bubblegum.
— Originally published June 16, 2012


New chamber will try to promote more mushroom cultivation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country imports 45 tons of mushrooms every month, but the national production is only 3 tons a year. This is something that a new organization of growers is trying to change.

The organization, the Cámara Costarricense de Productores y Exportadores de Hongos, is in the process of developing training programs for those who might be interested in growing mushrooms. So far just 20 families are commercial mushroom producers.

The country appears to be well situated as a mushroom-growing region. Growers are using saw dust, coffee waste and other discarded agricultural materials to grow mushrooms.

Lida Soto Solano is president of the Asociación de Mujeres Agrícolas de Cartago, an organization that has been growing mushrooms for 15 years. She said there are many openings from the most rudimentary effort to the most modern with computer controlled facilities.

She and her organization produce gourmet oyster mushrooms, a delicacy. She said that she fries them for two minutes with butter and garlic and eats them with crackers.

The oyster mushroom also has been credited with lowering cholesterol.

The Universidad de Costa Rica gave a start to mushroom production in 1997. The university still is involved. The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería also is promoting the effort to increase production.
— First published April 24, 2012
oyster mushrooms
Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería photo
Oyster mushrooms are well-known for growing on the side of mature trees. But they can be grown anywhere with the right type of material, such as agricultural waste.


Drink your Costa Rican coffee, it's good for you, scientists say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Coffee is emerging as the miracle product, especially if you are a mouse. The Costa Rica cash crop has been getting plaudits for years from medical researchers.

The most recent report says that the combined effect of caffeine and exercise may protect against skin cancer caused by sun exposure.

The Rutgers University study said that mice at high risk for developing skin cancer showed 62 percent fewer skin tumors when they were fed doses of caffeine, according to the  American Association for Cancer Research, which is ending its annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, today.

“I believe we may extrapolate these findings to humans and anticipate that we would benefit from these combination treatments as well,” said Yao-Ping Lu, the principal researcher at the New Jersey university's pharmacy school.

Last year, researchers at the same university suggested that a sun screen containing caffeine might ward off dangerous rays.

Also last year a report in the The Journal of Physical Chemistry B of the American Chemical Society said that caffeine seems to protect against Alzheimer's and heart disease. The report was based on the consumption of coffee and tea.

The society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reported in 2010 that drinking coffee may cut the risk of Type Two diabetes, at least in mice.

A 2009 Indiana University found that caffeine can reduce exercise-induced asthma.

Other medical studies in 2007 report a reduced risk of liver
coffee and smoking
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Although many coffee drinkers like to smoke, too, scientists say that tobacco heavily outweighs the benefits of caffeine.

 cancer with coffee drinking and that coffee may protect against uterine cancer.

Scientists say that coffee has far more antioxidants  than many vegetables and fruits, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study. Drinking coffee also reduces body weight, according to another study.

In most cases, the studies were conducted of varieties of mice, but scientists believe that the results are applicable to humans. The uterine cancer study was based on a 26-year study of women, but the researchers noted that the coffee drinkers were not randomly selected and randomly assigned to test groups.

Costa Rica exports some 200,000 tons of coffee a year, and the coffee grown here is believed to be higher in caffeine than crops elsewhere. The bean is the country's third largest export.
— April 4, 2012


Green coffee is bitter, but study says it takes off the weight
By the American Chemical Society news staff

Scientists today reported striking new evidence that green, or unroasted, coffee beans can produce a substantial decrease in body weight in a relatively short period of time.

In a study presented at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, Joe Vinson and colleagues described how a group of overweight or obese people who consumed a fraction of an ounce of ground green coffee beans each day lost about 10 percent of their body weight.

“Based on our results, taking multiple capsules of green coffee extract a day — while eating a low-fat, healthful diet and exercising regularly — appears to be a safe, effective, inexpensive way to lose weight,” Vinson said at the society meeting being held in San Diego, California. He is with the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

The study involved 16 overweight or obese people aged 22 to 26 years who took capsules of the extract or capsules containing a placebo, an inactive powder, for a total of 22 weeks. The subjects alternated between a low dose and a higher dose of the extract. The low dose consisted of 700 miligrams of the coffee extract, and the high dose was 1,050 miligrams. It was a so-called cross-over study in which people cycled through the two doses and the placebo, each for six weeks. Such studies have advantages because each person serves as his or her own control, improving the chances of getting an accurate result, researchers said.

All of the participants were monitored for their overall diet and exercise over the study period. “Their calories, carbohydrates, fats and protein intake did not change during the study, nor did their exercise regimen change,” Vinson said.
green coffee
Green coffee dries in the sun on a Costa Rica plantation.

Participants lost an average of 17 pounds during the 22 weeks of the study. It included an average of a 10.5 percent decrease in overall body weight and a 16 percent decrease in body fat. Vinson noted that weight loss might have been significantly faster, except that participants received the placebo and the lower dose of green coffee extract for part of the study period.

Vinson pointed out that previous studies have shown weight loss with green coffee. But this was the first to use higher amounts of the coffee extract and the first to measure the response to various doses. Based on those studies, Vinson believes that green coffee beans’ effects likely are due to a substance called chlorogenic acid that is present in unroasted coffee beans. Chlorogenic acid breaks down when coffee beans are roasted, usually at a temperature of 464 to 482 degrees F. Roasting gives coffee beans their distinctive color, aroma and flavor. Green coffee beans, in contrast, have little aroma and a slightly bitter taste.
— March 28, 2012



Producers seek more commerical uses for the jocote fruit
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
First published March 12, 2012
Jocote growers soon will have a processing plant to make other uses of the fruit.

The jocote (Spondias purpurea) is a small green fruit that frequently is seen in bags at ferias and in the stalls of street vendors. There is a large seed inside, so the usual way to consume them is by nibbling the outside pulp perhaps with some salt and lime juice. The ripe fruit can be processed further into jams, syrup and other food products.

There are more than 350 jocote producers in León Cortes and Aserrí. But the producers worry about the fluctuations in prices and are seeking other uses for the fruit to safeguard their harvest. Costa Rica produces about 2 million kilos of jocote a year.

The new processing plant is in La Uruca de Aserrí. It is being promoted by the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de la Uruca de Aserrí and the Asociación de Productores de Jocote. The 45-million-colon plant was financed by the Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandería and the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social. The dollar amount is $90,000. Inauguration is Friday.
jocotes
File photo
Ripe jocotes are sweeter than green, but both are great.

With commercial production of various bottled food products, the jocote can be an exported.

Sometimes the pulp is mixed with that of the mango and other tropical fruits to produce a syrup. Local producers see the fruit being used in chileras, ceviche and even wine.

There are about 500 hectares (about 1,240 acres) in jocote trees, said the ministry.


Self-denial and penance does not mean a poor diet during Lent
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Originally published March 6, 2012

As Costa Ricans observe the Catholic period of Lent, the diet turns to something other than red meat.

Lent, called Cuaresma in Spanish, is supposed to be a period of penance, fasting, abstinence and reflection. The period also is a time to take full advantage of seafoods and some of the derivatives of the chiverre squash.

This is why the stores are full of displays promoting various types of canned fish products. Cod has become synonymous with Lent, and there are a number of soups and casseroles that use this fish product.

The traditions in Costa Rica have changed over the years. Now many families head to the beach for Semana Santa instead of sitting home to pray on Good Friday with the stove, radio and other distractions turned off.

Although there are many other religious faiths in Costa Rica, the culinary traditions of Lent seem to be nearly universal. Costa Rican Jews, of course, are preparing for Passover, and that is a time rich in tradition with some shared food specialties. After all, those at the Last Supper were Jews.

An observant Catholic is supposed to forsake red meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. That's where the seafoods enter the picture. Theologians have wracked their brains considering the gray areas of abstinence, but no one can go wrong with sardines, tuna, ceviche or shrimp and rice.

The Museo Nacional reports that at one time Costa Ricans abstained from cooking during the entire Semana Santa, the days leading up to Holy Thursday and Good Friday. That was the time before microwaves. But the culinary tradition lingers on with non-perishable foods like palmito, encurtidos and pastries prepared the previous weekend.

The 40-plus days of Lent also call for alms-giving, fasting on certain days and prayer. Self-denial and good works do not exclude a rich soup of cod, called bacalao in Spanish.

Some markets have specials at this time of year to cater to the religious customers. Others jack up the prices. Many types of fish are pricey all the time. A can of cod that drains to about three ounces sells for about 2,700 colons, more than $5. Jumbo shrimp require a second mortgage.

In San José perhaps the best shopping is at the Mercado Central or at small markets south of Avenida 6. There also are the weekend agricultural ferias. The chiverre squash, Cucurbita ficifolia, found only in Central and South America, requires ample preparation and can be found all over the Central Valley. They are brought from farms by the truckload.

There are three different ways to serve it: chiverre with pink sugar, with black sugar cane or con tapa de dulce de caña and finally by using a trapiche or small mill to create a conserve. Recipes are HERE! Tapas de dulce are those circular blocks of brown sugar made from cane.

During this season, Ticos think automatically of  miel de chiverre, coco ayote and arroz con leche.

These family recipes have been transmitted across time. To 
sardines
A.M. Costa Rica photo       
The sardines and cod come in many varieties

chivere
A.M. Costa Rica file photo        
       Miel de chiverre becomes a sweet jam that means
       Semana Santa more than any Costa Rican food.


be faithful to Grandma’s recipe a certain tapa de azucar or a certain bean must be used or the taste will not be the same.

The freshness of the ingredients is really important, and this is why a feria del agricultor is a place to find the basics to prepare the food. The fairs themselves are full of wonderful colors, beautiful products and low prices. Ceviche is chopped, marinated raw fish credited to the ancient Peruvians. It can be seasoned with peppers and herbs from the feria. Encurtidos are pickled pieces of vegetable that are best purchased in a jar at the market.

The Lenten season leads up to Easter Sunday when self-denial is not required and the table can groan under the beef, pork and lamb dishes that make waiting more than 40 days worthwhile.

Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, was Feb. 22, Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Semana Santa, is April 1 this year. Good Friday is April 6, and Easter is April 8.


Former Lindora restaurant operator now serves Indian cuisine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A restaurateur who used to operate an outlet in Lindora, Santa Ana, has opened Taste of India in San Jose's downtown.

The restaurant is on the south side of Avenida Primera between calles 11 and 9.

The operator is Abdul Malik Shamsuddin. The furnishing are modest, but the food is not. The owner is quick to greet customers as they enter the long, narrow former retail store. He will explain the types of dishes, including the several selections of curry. Of course, diners can determine how hot their food should be.

A treat is the vegetable samosa, two for 2,000 colons or about $4. They also come containing chicken. The content is surrounded by a triangular pastry. The tamarindo sauce goes well with both types.

The owner said that he has applied for a beer and wine license and suggested that some of the food would benefit from accompaniment by wine.

Naturally the restaurant serves naan bread, both plain and with garlic and butter. This is a Middle Eastern standard, a baked flatbread. They look like small pizza shells or a pita without
the pockets. The price is just 1,400 colons each or about $3.

The main course can be chicken tikka masala for 6,500 colons or about $13. This is the well-known chicken in a spicy sauce. This curry dish is a standard even in Britain.

The aloo gobi for 5,500 colons is a vegetarian mixture of potatoes, cauliflower and, of course, curry and spices.

The bill for two persons at Taste of India was 28,507 colons, including 5,300 colons for service and taxes. That's about $56 and includes tea, juice, a soda, extra basmati rice and dessert.

The owner came to Costa Rica via Canada, so there is no language problem even for monolingual tourists.  The waitress also is bilingual.

Another development downtown is the demise of the News Cafe, the popular restaurant in the Hotel Presidente. The space in the northwest corner of the hotel on the pedestrian mall has been draped in black plastic because a cell telephone company will be moving in after construction. Unknown to most passersby is that the hotel now has a restaurant inside in the lobby. Gone is the panorama of Costa Rican daily life on the pedestrian mall, but there also is no beggar seeking money from diners.
—Jan. 23, 2012

Hopes of importing beer made with hemp go up in smoke
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Originallly posted Jan. 4. 2012
Anyone who wants to drink hemp beer in Costa Rica will have to brew their own. The Sala Primera, a branch of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, has ruled again that such beer cannot be offered for sale in Costa Rica.

Hemp beer is a specialty brew that is said to have a more creamy head than conventional beer. And hemp and hops, the usual beer ingredient, is said to be close relatives.

Nevertheless, the Sala Primera magistrates rejected an appeal from the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo, which also rejected the importation of the product.

Originally the beer was rejected by the health ministry, the Ministerio de Salud, in 2008. Since then the case was in various courts.

The Sala Primera originally rejected the beer, a Swiss product called Hanfblüte, which was going to be marketed here by a firm named Nikimar S.A.

The Sala Primera originally rejected an appeal in March and then did so again late last year on a rehearing.

The would-be importers argued that the law against drug products was so broad that it covered morphine, which is imported into the country. They also argued that the beer
hemp beer
could not be converted into marijuana. The beer has an alcohol content of 5.2 percent.

Hanfblüte distributers have run into trouble in Europe when they advertised the beer with a marijuana leaf graphic.

Marijuana is readily available in Costa Rica, and the Internet provides recipes for making hemp beer.


Marriage of pork, beans and rice was invented here as chifrijo
By Zach McDonald
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bar food, whether it´s fried, spicy or starchy, is a necessity with beer, friends and sporting events. This cultural fact is not lost in Costa Rica. The bars and restaurants have a litany of dishes to choose from, but one stands out because of its origins in the country.

The chifrijo is a dish that has been around since the early 90s when it started being served in local bars and restaurants in and around San José. Shortly after the genesis of the chifrijo, the dish began to spread through Latin America and was registered by the dish's claimed creator Miguel Angel Araya Cordero, the owner of bars and restaurants.

The term chifrijo was coined by Cordero and comes from the combination of two terms. Chicharrones, or fried pork rinds, and frijoles, which is basically what the dish is at the core.

The combination of pork and beans is combined in a bowl with rice and then topped with diced onions, tomatoes, peppers and cilantro. After corn chips and a spritz of lime are added, the chifrijo is complete.

There are subtle variations on the dish from bar to bar, but the chain of Cordero´s restaurants maintains the original can only be tasted at their locations. The price is from 800 colons ($1.60) to 1,300 colons (about $2.60) depending on the restaurnt and the size of the serving.

To date, the chifrijo is the only culinary invention in Costa Rica to be patented in the Registro de la Propiedad, the bar owner said.                                   — Dec. 13, 2011


Chifrijo
A.M. Costa Rica/Zach McDonald
The chifrijo ready to eat.


One-night art exhibit is using food as the artists' medium
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Alliance Française  is hosting a one-night-only food as art exhibit where the patrons can not only enjoy or critique the piece but also eat it. The exhibition is at the Casa del Cuño in the Antigua Aduana Thursday 7:30 p.m.

The French cultural organization is not charging money but rather a small raw potato for cover charge in celebration of the exhibit “No entiendo ni papa.” This is where gastronomy meets art. Space is limited, available to the first 500 people.

The Bon ArtPetite celebrates its fourth year with the Costa Rican saying “No entiendo ni papa.” This is slang for “I don't understand anything.”

The art collective features six different artist groups, each with
 their own proposal to interpret the theme using food. The artists were chosen through a panel in August. There are six different art teams, in total there are 10 artists participating in the food art creation.

One group proposed to give a modern twist to Costa Rican folklore food, with this they intend to deceive the senses of the spectators. Another exhibitor is using meat as the object. And most artists are using the potato as their object.

The exhibit first began in 2008, inspired by the movement “Eat art” from the 1960s. This is an aspect of art where food is the theme.

The Antiqua Aduana is the refurbished brick former customs house on Calle 23 in east San José.

— Dec. 7, 2011


Food detectives use high tech to spot lesser-quality marzipan
By the American Chemical Society News Service

With the December holidays a peak season for indulging in marzipan, scientists are reporting the development of a new test that can tell the difference between the real thing — a pricey but luscious paste made from ground almonds and sugar — and cheap fakes made from ground soy, peas and other ingredients.

The report appears in the Aemrican Chemical society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Although primarily a European dish, marzipan can be found in Costa Rica. A bakery in Liberia adds the tasty paste to cakes, and others make marizapan in the home with almonds, sugar and a bit of vanilla.

Ilka Haase and colleagues explained in the journal article that marzipan is a popular treat, especially at Christmas and New Year’s, when displays of marzipan sculpted into fruit, Santa and tree shapes pop up in stores. And cakes like marzipan stollen (a rich combo of raisins, nuts and cherries with a marzipan filling) are a holiday tradition.

But the cost of almonds leads some unscrupulous manufacturers to use cheap substitutes like ground-up peach seeds, soybeans or peas.

Current methods for detecting that trickery have drawbacks, allowing counterfeit marzipan to slip onto the market to unsuspecting consumers. To improve the detection of contaminants in marzipan, the researchers became food detectives and adapted a method called the polymerase chain
stollen
American Chemical Society photo
Stollen, a rich combo of raisins, nuts and cherries with a marzipan filling, is a holiday tradition with Germanic roots.

reaction — the same test famed for use in crime scene investigations.

They tested various marzipan concoctions with different amounts of apricot seeds, peach seeds, peas, beans, soy, lupine, chickpeas, cashews and pistachios. Polymerase chain reaction enabled researchers to easily finger the doctored pastes. They could even detect small amounts — as little as 0.1 percent — of an almond substitute. The researchers say that the polymerase chain reaction method could serve as a perfect tool for the routine screening of marzipan pastes for small amounts of contaminants.

Some Costa Ricans do use other types of products to make marzipan, but they do so for the flavor. Pine nuts are used elsewhere.











Costa Rican tamales come in pairs of two. A bottle of Bavaria Blue is an added treat.

tamal
and beer
A.M. Costa Rica/Zach McDonald

Costa Rica does not have a monopoly on the tamal
By Shahrazad Encinias
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Originally published Nov.18
As the end-of-the-year holidays approach, different countries begin to prepare their comida tipica, and for Central America the popular dish is the tamal.

It is usually served as the main course for Christmas. A tamal is made out of masa from maize, stuffed with a piece of meat and wrapped in a leaf. In the United States, the better known tamale is the Mexican one, made with very thick masa or dough and wrapped in corn husk. In Central America, there is a slight difference in tamales with the Mexican ones. Tamales here usually are cooked in a plantain or banana leaf wrapping.

There is no universal tamal among the seven countries in Central America. Each one has its own version of the traditional dish. The differences coincide with the size, the ingredients, the preparation and, of course, the taste.

According to Flor de Monroy, master Costa Rican and Guatemalan cook, the hardest tamales to make are from Guatemala. The Costa Rican native also said that Guatemalan tamales are much tastier than the ones from her country. There are not any known Guatemalan restaurants in Costa Rica, so a spokesperson for the Guatemalan Embassy recommended Ms. De Monroy. She broke down the recipes on how to make the perfect Costa Rican tamal and Guatemalan tamal colorado, so called because of the red sauce ingredient.

Costa Rica

She said the plantain leaf and the masa can be purchased already made at various groceries and markets which make it easy to make a Costa Rican tamal. She said to lay the plantain leaf on a flat surface, grab a handful of masa and flatten it onto the leaf, then add a pinch of cooked rice and a garbanzo bean. Some people add an egg and an olive to the middle of the tamal.

She said when the tamal is formed, the cook folds up the leaf with all the ingredients inside, ties it up tightly with string. Costa Ricans tie up the tamales in a piña, two-in-two, then boil them in a pot of hot water. Mrs. de Monroy said a cook has to make sure the tamales are tied up tightly, otherwise the masa will seep out into the water. The commercial pre-made ones purchased at a grocery have a decorative strand of carrot on top of the tamal.
Commercial production centers on the town of Aserrí where completed tamales are steamed over a wood fire. Later they are reheated by purchasers just before eating, Purists reject the use of microwaves and say that this can dry out the tamal. They use more boiling water.

The Costa Rican tamal usually is accompanied by salsa lizano or another of the commercial, bottled sauces.

Guatemala

Unlike the simplicity of the Costa Rican tamal, the one from the Mayan country includes a lot more vegetables and spices. And the tamal has its own sauce. Guatemalans include the ingredients of pan frances (a local mini French bread) and a recado, the special sauce, to their tamal. But first, once the masa is made or purchased, it has to be soaked with rice, then stirred together. Finally the broth from the meat is added. The broth is not obligatory, but for a stronger taste, the cooked meat juice comes from either chicken or pork.

The recado can't be bought, so it has to be made from scratch. The ingredients needed are cooked or grilled red tomatoes, miltomates (tiny green tomatoes), onion, chile dulce, chile pasa, chiles guaqueres, sesame seeds, pepitoria (a dark red spice), and a stick of cinnamon.  All of these are mixed together in a blender until a red liquid is produced. Then the cook boils it. Some like to let pan frances, a small piece of bread unlike the long North American French loaf, soak in the sauce until it is soggy and then blend it into the sauce for a thicker recado.

Once the masa and the recado are made, the time is ripe to create the tamal. The plantain leaf is placed on a flat surface, a handful of masa is flattened into a thick tortilla, a chunk of meat is placed in the middle of the masa, and the recado is drizzled onto the meat and the masa. Two slivers of red bell peppers are placed parallel along with an olive and a caper on the masa.

Finally, the leaf is folded and tied up with twine, similar to a Christmas present. The single tamal is then boiled in a hot pot of water.

These recipes are by Ms. De Monroy. She is married to a Guatemalan and learned how to cook Chapin or Guatemalan  when she lived in the country for many years.



There is something magical about the union of rice and milk
By the A.M. Costa Rica food staff

Each Costa Rican consumes on average more than 100 pounds of rice each year, according to the country's rice commission, the Corporación Arrocera Nacional. One reason could be yummy arroz con leche.

With arroz con leche, there is no reason to have rice leftovers because the first step is to cook some rice. Some sources suggest cooking the rice with water and milk. Others say the milk can be added later.

Once there is a large pot of cooked rice, the grain begins the transformation from dietary staple to famous dessert. The  Oryza News, which covers the rice market in the United States and the world suggests using short-grain rice as this gives the result a creamier texture.

Oryza News suggests cooking the rice with milk, a cinnamon stick, an orange or lemon peel and a dash of salt at medium heat with frequent stirring. Once the rice is cooked and the mixture is removed from the heat, butter and vanilla are added with sugar to taste.

Other cooks just dump the milk, vanilla, cinnamon, butter 
arroz
con leche
Photo by Oryza News http://oryza.com
The finished product garnished with cinnamon

and even raisins into the cooked rice and sugar to taste. Then they cook the mixture on low heat for 30 to 45 minutes.

Arroz con leche can be served warm or after being chilled in the refrigerator.


Effort launched to define a unique Costa Rican cuisine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The French probably have nothing to worry about yet, but Costa Rica is launching its national plan of healthy and sustainable cuisine.

The effort is a joint one among the Cámara Costarricense de Restaurantes y Afines, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad and the Club de la Gastronomía Epicúrea.

The organizations announced the plan Wednesday as part of the World Tourism Day celebration.

The idea is to create a unique cuisine to strengthen the national identity and perhaps even create new businesses.

Costa Rica basically is defined by gallo pinto, rice and beans. But the announcement suggested that there were a lot of food products here that could create a unique dish, such as risotto with flor de itabo or malanga chips.

The Costa Rican embassy in France promotes the Costa Rican cuisine as based on corn, beans, pejibaye and palmito. The embassy Web page includes a little poem to guaro, the national alcoholic drink.

But the proposal Wednesday is more complex and more creative. The organizations cited the work of Carlos Castrillo, executive chef of the Hotel Ramada Plaza  Herradura. He
put together a full menu based on local products such as the pejibaye palm nut and the níspero or sapodilla fruit.

The proposal is to rescue traditional foods and perhaps protect the flora and fauna of areas in risk of deforestation by suggesting alternate foods.

In fact, the Ministerio de Cultura and Juventud has conducted regional contests seeking the best of the local cuisine. These dishes have been put into booklets. So the research already exists.

The proposal also marks the 30th anniversary of the restaurant chamber. Manuel Burgos, president of the chamber, said that to put such a plan into action would require coordination with educational institutions. He said it was an ambitious, long-term project.

Expats can experiment with products usually found at the local ferias. For example, malanga is a root crop. And flor de itabo is very seasonal. The white flowers of this yucca plant are collected each year, mostly by those in the country, to provide zest for their meals. One use is in scrambled eggs.

But it also can be used in a salad.

Although guaro is well known as a local version of sugar cane alcohol, the country also produces several types of coffee liquor as well as rum. So crepes de flor de itabo flambé would not be out of the question.



Scientists show how New World yeast created lager beer
By the University of Wisconsin-Madison news service

In the 15th century, when Europeans first began moving people and goods across the Atlantic, a microscopic stowaway somehow made its way to the caves and monasteries of Bavaria.

The stowaway, a yeast that may have been transported from a distant shore on a piece of wood or in the stomach of a fruit fly, was destined for great things. In the dank caves and monastery cellars where 15th century brewmeisters stored their product, the newly arrived yeast fused with a distant relative, the domesticated yeast used for millennia to make leavened bread and ferment wine and ale. The resulting hybrid — representing a marriage of species as evolutionarily separated as humans and chickens — would give the world lager, the clear, cold-fermented beer first brewed by 15th century Bavarians and that today is among the most popular — if not the most popular — alcoholic beverage in the world.

And while scientists and brewers have long known that the yeast that gives beer the capacity to ferment at cold temperatures was a hybrid, only one player was known: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast used to make leavened bread and ferment wine and ale. Its partner, which conferred on beer the ability to ferment in the cold, remained a puzzle, as scientists were unable to find it among the 1,000 or so species of yeast known to science.

Now, an international team of researchers believes it has identified the wild yeast that, in the age of sail, apparently traveled more than 7,000 miles to those Bavarian caves to make a fortuitous microbial match that today underpins the $250 billion a year lager beer industry.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Portugal, Argentina and the United States describe the discovery of a wild yeast in the beech forests of Patagonia, the alpine region at the tip of South America, that apparently solves the age-old mystery of the origin of the yeast that made cold-temperature fermentation and lager beer possible.

“People have been hunting for this thing for decades,” explains Chris Todd Hittinger, a University of Wisconsin-Madison genetics professor and a co-author of the new study. “And now we’ve found it. It is clearly the missing species. The only thing we can’t say is if it also exists elsewhere (in the wild) and hasn’t been found.”

Expanding the search to other parts of the world, however, finally paid dividends when collaborator Diego Libkind of the Institute for Biodiversity and Environment Research in Bariloche, Argentina, found in galls that infect beech trees a candidate species whose genetic material seemed to be a close match to the missing half of the lager yeast.

“Beech galls are very rich in simple sugars. It’s a sugar rich habitat that yeast seem to love,” notes Hittinger.

The yeast is so active in the galls, according to Libkind, that they spontaneously ferment. “When overmature, they fall all together to the floor where they often form a thick carpet that has an intense ethanol odor, most probably due to the hard work of our new Saccharomyces eubayanus.”

The new yeast was hustled off to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where a team that included 
yeast trip
University of Wisconsin-Madison/Barry Carlsen    
This is route yeast is believed to have taken

Yeast galls
Institute for Biodiversity and Environment Research,/ Diego Libkind  
Orange-colored galls on a Patagonian tree.

Hittinger, Jim Dover and Mark Johnston sequenced its genome. “It proved to be distinct from every known wild species of yeast, but was 99.5 percent identical to the non-ale yeast portion of the lager genome,” says Hittinger.

The Colorado team also identified genetic mutations in the lager yeast hybrid distinctive from the genome of the wild lager yeast. Those changes — taking place in a brewing environment where evolution can be amped up by the abundance of yeast — accumulated since those first immigrant yeasts melded with their ale cousins 500 years ago and have refined the lager yeast’s ability to metabolize sugar and malt and to produce sulfites, transforming an organism that evolved on beech trees into a lean, mean beer-making machine.

“Our discovery suggests that hybridization instantaneously formed an imperfect proto-lager yeast that was more cold-tolerant than ale yeast and ideal for the cool Bavarian lagering process,” Hittinger said. “After adding some new variation for brewers to exploit, its sugar metabolism probably became more like ale yeast and better at producing beer.”

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