Food & Good Eating



Sibaeli courtesy photo   

Government wants to increase the number
of families dedicated to producing cocoa

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government presented this Sunday the National Cacao Plan 2018-2028 with which it intends to increase the production of cocoa in the next ten years by focusing on: inputs and services, production, processing, marketing, and consumption.

President Alvarado presented the plan on the estate of María Elizondo and Juan Carlos Sibaja, owners of Chocolates Sibaeli, in Katira de Guatuso* in the province of Alajuela.

"María, Juan Carlos and her family are an example of how hard work, determination, and support of public institutions can be undertaken and go from a difficult economic situation to being on the verge of being cocoa exporters. They tell how the process has been to move Chocolates Sibaeli forward, "said President Alvarado.

The National Cacao Plan was built by the Inter-institutional Cacao Commission, composed of more than twenty institutions and companies associated with cocoa production and sales. This plan will support cocoa-producing families to develop competitive and sustainable businesses at a social, economic and environmental level.

The Sibaja Elizondo is an emblematic case of how a family managed to get out of extreme poverty after starting as entrepreneurs and today being on the verge of becoming an export company of cocoa products.

Mr. Sibaja said that cocoa production was possible with the support of the government and his efforts to convert Chocolates Sibaeli into a successful company that today is their source of income and sustenance.

In 2010, this family began to receive support from the Joint Institute of Social Assistance, first with training processes, then with a subsidy to start their company.

In 2016, a loan was approved with which they were able to buy a cocoa husking machine and an oven.

At present, they sell chocolate products, toasted grain, and tours on the farm where they grow and produce cocoa. And in the next few weeks, they will start exporting their product.

According to Renato Alvarado, Minister of Agriculture, this strategy it is expected to increase the area devoted to cacao from 4,000 to 6,000 hectares an increase from 3,000 to 3,500 producing families nationwide.

This is the three main producing areas of the country that are North Zone, Caribbean Zone, and Zur Zone.

Do you know any cocoa producing family that could be an example of this national program? We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to:

*Link to reach the place.

Published: Monday, April 1, 2019

Traditional Food Fair starts this weekend

By A.M. Costa Rica news staff

More than 200 chefs of typical Costa Rican food from 64 towns of the country will present their work at the 8th edition of the Costa Rican "Gustico" Fair, Friday to Sunday, from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m., at the National Stadium in San José*.

The Costa Rican term,"Gustico," means eating something delicious, a clue to what can be found at the fair.

The fair is organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It is always an opportunity for many families to promote their products, but "this year an important factor in the processes of training and evaluation of the participants was innovation, so those who visit the Fair they will find products and very novel undertakings," said Renato Alvarado, Minister of Agriculture.

The fair is open to the public and there will be 200 stands where artisans will offer their products. In addition to the typical dishes, visitors can enjoy folk music, buy crafts and learn more about tours to rural areas of the country.

According to the organizers, this edition involves innovation in meals with new ingredients such as buffalo meat, edible wrappers made of honey, gourmet cheeses, goat milk products, gluten-free products, organic coffee, vegan ice cream, and handmade chocolates, among others.

The goal of the food fair is to promote the products of small businesses in rural areas

Gustico Fair courtesy photo

The Costa Rican term,"Gustico," means eating something delicious, a clue to what can be found at the fair.

What is your favorite typical Costa Rican food? We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to:

*Link to reach the place.

Published March 29, 2019

New Escazú cafe includes coffee, cream,
cake and gold on the menu

By Conor Golden,
News Editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Coffee often comes with ingredients like sugar and cream to make it an additive, whiskey to make it a café irlandés and now a cafe in Escazú is adding gold to the mix.

Goldy’s Cafeteria is the brainchild of Alonso Jiménez and Geraldine Charpentier. The couple opened their cafe this past Monday at the Centro Empresarial Prisma. “The idea of a cafeteria with edible gold coffee came to us in one of our trips to Asia,” explained Ms. Charpentier. “We saw a restaurant that sold food with edible gold and found it interesting and decided to investigate more about it. Besides the great look of gold in food, we saw it has benefits to one’s health and is used in laboratories and hospitals.”

The healing properties associated with gold are apparently becoming more than just alchemy. Ms. Charpentier pointed to several websites in citing the benefits and debunking the dangers associated with consuming gold material.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has not apparently evaluated the safety or risk of consuming edible gold leaf but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not list gold as being a toxic substance. That is based on the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

This means that, theoretically, a person could consume 24-karat gold without falling ill. A potential danger is that consuming too much could give one a stomachache. At the same time, consuming too much candy, sugar or anything could also cause that as well. The danger could become if impure gold was thrown into the mix. Sometimes gold is mixed with copper, which is toxic in high doses. Silver is ok to consume as it is not considered a toxic substance either.

“From a personal side, my grandmother had rheumatoid arthritis and in my partner´s family there are several cases of cancer,” Ms. Charpentier said. “It seems that gold was used as treatment for both. Knowing that gold is beneficial against these things convinced us even more on using edible gold in our entrepreneur of the cafeteria.”

The two gold drinks offered at Goldy’s are the frappucino or the cappucino for 6,250 colones and 7,250 colones respectively. Both are made with 24-karat edible pure gold shavings, according to the cafeteria menu. Aside from those options, the next expensive thing on the menu is 2,700 colones for a panini with something on the side.

The most expensive drink aside from the gold specialties are one of the cold drinks at 2,600 colones. Hot and cold beverages, wraps, sandwiches and desserts abound in this cafe.
Goldy's Cafeteria
Goldy's Cafeteria Facebook photo        
Goldy's Cafeteria has a cozy space in Escazú's Centro Empresarial Prisma.

Goldy's Cappucino
Goldy's Cafeteria Facebook photo       

The Goldy's Cappucino including 24-karat
 gold flakes with the coffee.

Ms. Charpentier said that a friend of theirs works for an import-export company that gets the gold from Europe.

“We always believe that if you want to have something made with love and excellence, you have to make it yourself,” the cafe’s owner said. “We made the cafeteria all on our own: the furniture, decoration, etc. It was a lot of work, but worth all the effort since we came with a very cozy and warm environment.”

Cooking for linguistics helps preserve native Costa Rican culture

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Over a fire, some sancochos and all in the native languages being taught, researchers from the Universidad de Costa Rica made three new recipe dictionaries for traditional, gourmet Bribri, Malecu and Brorán food.

Using only the local language, the team figured out how to properly cook an iguana, toucan or turtle in addition to preparing plants and making their own kitchen utensils. The three recipes were cooked each year as a means of preserving both it and the language of the native tribes in Costa Rica, according to Carlos Sánchez Avendaño, linguist and project coordinator.

“Dictionaries are a safeguard of cultural knowledge about food, food conservation techniques and preparation techniques,” Sánchez said to the university.

The emphasis was on maximum utilization, the university said in a statement. As an example, the Malecu eat what is called an atol with banana, tamales with the liver and the skin is used for patching up drums. With the toucan, the whole animal is consumed and the feathers used for fire and the beak is a toy given to children.

In plants, the Bribri consume a specific kind of nettle flower despite normally having five different words for varieties of cacao. The Malecu have four different words. This also happens when the Malecu tribe consumes a type of coconut called carúqui cúru and a plant called catúju. Neither have words in Spanish as a comparative, the university said.

However, several traditional foods are no longer consumed, Sánchez said, partly because it costs a lot to get the ingredients, especially some animals. In these cases, Professor Sánchez and his team collected the information through descriptions, the university said.

Researcher Alí García Segura, a member of the Bribri community that was part of the project, stressed the importance of working closely with these peoples. "Of the big problems we have is that universities believe we know everything and that is not true,” García said.

“That makes the community always jealous to tell you something.”

Indigenous kitchen
Universidad de Costa Rica photo  
A more traditional kitchen found by the linguists.

Bribri Olla
Universidad de Costa Rica photo    
Recording a language works up an appetite!

"You cannot even say that you are the wise,” García said. “You come into the community and say rather: 'I want to know, because I do not know anything'. To change that mentality.”

Paulino Najera, a member of the Brorán tribe, said that: "When you forget the basis of health that is food, we are basically forgetting where we come from.”

--June 12, 2017

Chiliguaro drink to be bottled and
coming to a supermarket near you

By Rommel Téllez of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Many Costa Ricans, expats and visitors know well the Chiliguaro; the drink made out of tomato juice, salt, chili pepper and Guaro, a traditional liquor made from sugar cane.

Sold in most bars across the country, it is usually cheap. Two shots can often cost less than $2. It is normally consumed along with other drinks or taken as a shot.

What most people don’t know is that, in just two months, this beverage will hit the local supermarkets in bottled presentations as part of a business endeavor carried out by Mauricio Azofeifa, the owner of the name Chiliguaro.

That’s correct. The name Chiliguaro has been a patented commercial name since 2013, when Azofeifa partnered with his long time friend, Juan Pablo Ayala, to exercise the right of profiting of what they claim is their own invention.

“In 2011, during the traditional horse parade in San José, I was helping out with the drinks at the Bahamas Bar, which I co-owned at the time,” said Azofeifa. “Normally, that’s quite a busy day and Juan Pablo needed my help.”

“Then, a young lady asked us for a Guaro shot along with a little Tabasco, a drink which is popular in other parts in the country,” he added.

“To our suprise, several clients started to ask for the same thing and we made quite a good sale that day.”

Afterwards, Azofeifa and Ayala sought for ways to improve the drink by adding or subtracting several ingredients.

Some weeks later, they came along with their own recipe and the Chiliguaro made its debut on the drink menu.

The new invention went viral and quite soon other bars were offering their own versions of it.
A.M. Costa Rica photo/Mauricio Azofeifa
No shots were taken prior to the story being written.

At the beginning Azofeifa didn’t care but looking at how much people loved it, he later decided to claim the name and patent it.

Some time after, the Fábrica Nacional de Licores offered to buy the patent and start selling the product at a massive scale. At the time, Azofeifa agreed but bureaucratic issues grinded the project to a complete halt.
Since that approach, both partners started developing their own business plan with the help of Semilla organization, a small business advisory group that coached them in their entrepreneurial journey.

“We are in the stages of fine-tuning the recipe and the source of the ingredients. Our Chiliguaro should guarantee the standard taste that people recognize. We are also studying the best conservation methods to keep the drink fresh,” Azofeifa explained.

At some point, the duo dream about selling the drink into international markets, since they are sure that, locally, it will be a success.
--May 25, 2017

Here is something very typical for you to drink. We dare you.

By Conor Golden
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chan is, at once, one of the easiest and hardest drinks to find in Costa Rica for any brave drink tasters. It also could be among the healthiest, natural drinks too.

The drink is supposed to be found or offered at every hole-in-the-wall soda in Costa Rica. The first investigations for the elusive drink turned up nothing. Several different sodas or other comida típica places did not have it. The only recommendations initially were to go on an adventure into the backcountry or try the Mercado Central in San José.

To save the money for another bus trip, a reporter tried the Mercado Central and sure enough, at the Soda Tapia, the ladies working behind the counter had a batch of chan ready for a wary reporter to drink. It did not look appetizing. In fact, it resembled something that looked like some kid’s science experiment rather than a refresquería at the market.

Chan is the name for the seeds in the drink and the plant of the same name. The plant is part of the Lamiaceae, colloquially called the mint, family. It is native to Central America with a chan drink most prominently found in Costa Rica and El Salvador. The seeds are almost identical to chia seeds in the United States and Mexico.

The process to make chan is easy since it only requires the seeds, some water, and then some patience. The seeds are soaked in water for a time and fermented until they hydrate. When that occurs, a slimy, jello-like coating forms around the seeds and it is ready to drink. Although, it is not necessarily drunk so much as slurped.

The flavor has the fleeting aftertaste of green tea and the whole thing is mixed in with crushed ice. The texture will feel different, a cross between jello and ice. Once the drinker is past that initial reaction, it seems similar to an iced tea shake. Some people may add sugar or lemon.

For 1,000 colons at Soda Tapia, the drink is cheap and can be found in some grocery stores among the herb selection. Chan is an acquired taste and probably not recommended for those with weak stomachs or who have been consuming a lot of

A.M. Costa Rica/Conor Golden
The typical drink is the right kind of seedy.

alcohol just prior to ordering. Even so, the drink is alleged to have health benefits.

According to information from the National Institutes of Health, the chan plant, or Hyptis suaveolens, is used as a traditional remedy for treating inflammation and infection of the stomach along with preventing stomach ulcers.

In another study released by the health institute, chan also provides a good supply of almost all the essential amino acids for different age groups. It also is a good source of magnesium. The drink may not sit well in some people’s stomachs, but it seems to do the body good to drink now and again.
-- Jan. 19, 2017

The Christmas treat

So what does a new arrival think of a Costa Rican  tamal?

By Conor Golden
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tamal still reigns as one of the archetypical dishes found in most of Latin America.

In Costa Rica, tamales can be found on the dinner tables and in the kitchens of Tico homes and restaurants especially during the holiday season. The tamales here are found wrapped in banana leaves and made with all manner of ingredients, but the core of the tamal will consist of a piece of seasoned meat rolled in a cornmeal dough called masa.

At the Soda Cristóbal at the Mercado Central in San José, the mission for a new arrival was to locate a tamal and describe its taste.

The order comes to the table and looks completely unappetizing at first glance.

The paste is yellowed and mushy like baby food and a small piece of meat forms the center with a carrot also encrusted within. There is also seen a piece of cilantro to give it that soapy-like flavor that people either love or hate in their food. Moreover, the banana leaf that it is presented on top of is a deep green. Is the leaf also supposed to be eaten?

The first try hits with an interesting mix of flavor. The masa has a hint of corn, but there is also a lingering taste of potato.

The steam begins to rise as soon as the fork and knife separate it.

Now it is time to try the meat. The tender piece of boiled pork goes well with a nice batter of masa and rice. The carrot also adds a nice nutritious touch. The only regret is that both pieces are small, but the tamal itself is of a modest size. It’s time to order another one to get the description of the flavor right.

The second one is of a similar size, but maybe the cook decided to
tamal and juice
A.M. Costa Rica/Conor Golden                            
                  The traditional place to eat tamales is in the
                Mercado Central in San José, accompanied
                by a juice drink or a milkshake.

  add a little more rice to this tamal. The rice makes it slightly crunchier than the baby-food like masa paste, but it is not overcooked or hardened to a solid-rock taste. The diversity of ingredients matches the diversity of the dish’s texture.

The combination of the ingredients creates a unique and delicious taste all its own and definitively Costa Rican. Tamals are not exclusive to this country. They have a history going back to the pre-Columbian era with the Aztec and Mayan empires in Central America. From Mexico in the north to Argentina in the south, tamales span different continents and come from different recipes. At 1,100 colons each, the tamal is a cultural necessity for any foreign traveler coming to Costa Rica and wanting to receive the complete experience.
--Dec. 20, 2016

Butchers receive training is the news rules governing safety of meats

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 80 butchers were trained on the proper labeling of raw meat, according to the Ministerio de Economía, Industria, y Comercio.

The quality control department of the ministry along with the Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal aided these meat store employees in order to give a better understanding and information about the recent reform in the regulation, said the ministry. 

This reform was the publication of a new sanitation inspection

guide that detailed the labeling obligations for pre-packaged and other types of raw meat.  The ministry said it used this opportunity to explain the proper practices necessary for maintaining safe and hygienic quality meats.

The health service for animals will join efforts to spread these presentations around other parts of the country throughout the coming year.

Officials said that the butchers were grateful for the activity as it provided enlightening information and extending that on to their consumers, they told officials.
-- Dec. 15, 2016

A little Colombian pastry treat can become a bit addictive

By Conor Golden
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The right combination of sweet and a tinge of salty makes for a perfect balance in a popular delicacy. The treat could be good with that cup of coffee or tea throughout the day and evening.

The almojábana, a common pastry treat found in Costa Rica, is actually a traditional Colombian cheese bread baked to a soft, pillow-like texture. The flavor can often flirt between sweet and a tiny hint of salty in the aftertaste.

The delicacy is available throughout any number of bakeries with Colombian origins here in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has a high number of Colombian immigrants according to their country’s census. They represent the second highest group of foreigners living in the country behind neighbor Nicaragua.

This particular delicacy is not a common one to be found baking in Costa Rican ovens.

The almojábana is mainly obtained from local Colombian bakery of which there are many to choose from in San José alone.

To make the almojábana, you will need: A cheese called queso fresco, butter, precooked white corn flour, eggs, baking

A.M. Costa Rica staff      
Almojábanas: Bet you can't eat just one!

powder, corn starch, and milk, according to Web site. Due to the ingredients’ reliance on white corn flour, the almojábana is also gluten-free, according to the site’s recipe writer.

Some recipes also call for an addition of sugar as well as salt, with the latter ingredient depending on how salty the cheese is. According to information from the Web site, one almojabana has around 164 calories in it with a high concentration of saturated fat. This nutritional content represents roughly 62.5 percent of the total fat content within a single piece.
--Dec. 1, 2016

Twin raids validate concerns about adulterated bottles of alcohol

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats suspicions about diluted alcohol were confirmed Thursday when tax police raided two bottling factories. One was in Turrucares de Alajuela and the other was in Curridabat.

The raids followed the confiscation of a tractor trailer late last week in Peñas Blancas. The truck contained 150 barrels of ethanol and was the fourth such confiscation of the year.

Ethanol, which can be fermented from corn or other vegetable products is what gives an alcoholic drink its kick.

Agents of the Policía de Control Fiscal found boxes of plastic bottles of the type that are called pachitas when filled with guaro and placed for sale in the supermarket.

Ethanol is cheap, particularly when smuggled into the country, and tasteless, so normally it can be flavored to stimulate an alcoholic beverage or it can simply be used to dilute more expensive liquids. Some coloring and drops of iodine can provide the color and flavor of scotch, U.S. bootleggers found during Prohibition.

Ministerio de Seguridad Pública photo
Boxes of empty plastic bottles were confiscated

The Ministerio de Salud participated in the raids.

The bottling factories did not appear to be producing name-brand products, but A.M. Costa Rica has concluded that even leading outlets have been victims of adulterated alcoholic products.
--Oct. 28, 2016

Food researchers say they cut salt but not flavor

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anyone who worries about health knows that salt should be limited. But salt is a preservative as well as a flavor enhancer in food.

For most individuals salt is the same as sodium, which makes up about 40 percent of table salt.

Researchers at the Universidad de Costa Rica are tackling some of these salt questions, and the country even has a national plan for reducing sodium in the diet. Residents need to. Costa Ricans on average consume about 7.1 grams of sodium a day, twice the average of residents of the United States.

Health officials want to bring the average down to about 3 grams of sodium a day. That is still higher than the 2.4-gram target suggested by the American Heart Association. The association is involved because sodium tends to retain water. Excess water puts a strain on the heart, and this increases blood pressure. High blood pressure can make bad things happen to the heart and body, including stroke, the Heart Association notes.

Another fact is that most of the salt that modern humans consume does not come from the salt shaker, as the Heart Association notes. The sodium already is in the food.

Elba Cubero Castillo and Yorleny Araya Quesada at the Universidad de Costa Rica’s  Escuela de Tecnología de Alimentos, in research reported Tuesday they found that food producers could cut the salt in their hot dogs, sausages and similar products without altering the flavor.

They did this with experiments in which the salt content of various products were cut 20 percent without being detected by those eating the meats, called here embutidos. The researchers reported
Universidad de Costa Rica                           
A selection of what are called embutidos.

  that sausages low of fat and marketed as light contain an average of 2.05 percent salt. They said they could reduce that to 1.53 percent without affecting the perceived flavor.  Similar reductions were made with chorizo salchichón and similar.

There is a lot of salt in processed meats, like ham and cold cuts, too, they noted. The downside is that plenty of sodium products are put in meats as preservatives, and reducing the amount may affect the shelf life and healthfulness of the products. So the university’s Facultad de Microbiología staff is studying that question.

The researchers noted that the Cámara Costarricense de Embutidores y Procesadores de Carne has promised to cut sodium in its members’ products by 15 percent, but probably with a longer time frame.

The researchers also noted that studies of supermarket meats are complex because a lot of the meat is not just meat. Retail products include all types of extenders, including vegetable protein, that add texture and color to the food. Researcher said they still need to find out if these various extenders add more sodium to the finished product, so the studies continue.

--Oct. 19, 2016

Government moves to support the price
 of onions by buying 90,000 kilos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government says it will purchase 90,000 kilos of onions from small producers to support the prices.

Onions have taken a seasonal dive with retail prices at farm markets around 450 colons (about 83 U.S. cents)  a kilo. The price is expected to drop even more.

The government will be paying 750 colons (about $1.38) a kilo under the plan announced Tuesday. Prices earlier this year were about double that.

President Luis Guillermo Solís met with producers and the Corporación Hortícola Nacional in Cartago Tuesday. The Consejo Nacional de Producción will buy the onions. The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería supports the plan.

The government also said that it would work to establish an onion drying facility north of Cartago Centro.

Producers also are planning to create a special seal or trademark to put on onions to show that they are from Costa Rica. Foreign imports, although costing about 800 colons a kilo here, have been affecting the local market. In fact, the Corporación Hortícola Nacional has come out in opposition to Costa Rica joining the Pacific Alliance trade pact.

Although a lot of the country’s onions are grown in the Cartago area, production does not seem to have been affected much by the eruptions of the Turrialba volcano. Other types of agriculture have.

The Corporación Hortícola Nacional was created by the legislature 20 years ago and took over the functions of the then-potato
A.M. Costa Rica file photo                                
These will cost a bit more now.

promotion organization. The corporation benefits from a tax on cement and a line in the government’s budget, as well as money from producers.

The government also said Tuesday that onion producers will benefit from a promotional campaign set up with money from the Banca para el Desarrollo through the corporation.

Onions are a staple in most Costa Rican homes. Surveys have show that nearly every home has a supply of onions.

Santa Ana is generally considered the national onion capital, and that area has several promotional activities, including fairs, each year.

The Consejo Nacional de Producción will warehouse the onion purchases and try to sell quantities when the price improves.

The government agency also controls the price of white corn, beans and rice and restricts imports to maintain established levels of prices for the products.
--Sept. 14, 2016

Capital has no shortage of Argentine fare for every pocketbook

By D.M. Flynn, Jr.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Fans of choripanes, churrasco, vacio and chorizo can find those famous succulent cuts of the Pampas at a number of places in San José. Here are a few of those places:

Aquí Es!
Avenida 2/Calle 38
Across the street from Parque Benemeritos
Monday through Thursday: 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Also on Facebook

A good option on the west side of town in the Paseo Colon/La Sabana area.  Aquí Es! is a cozy place with a full offering of Argentine-styled meats, empanadas, desserts, and pastas.  This place is consistently good with a decent wine list, nice atmosphere, and terrific service. Only evening hours are Friday and Saturday.  Street parking.

La Esquina de Buenos Aires
Calle 11 at Avenida 4
Behind La Soledad Church
Monday through Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday:  11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
On Facebook

Open since 2004, La Esquina is one of San José’s most renowned fine dining establishments and a go-to place in the downtown area. Featuring an extensive menu of wines as well as the requisite meat dishes including a churrasco finished off at the table.  Offerings also include pastas, salads, empanadas, and desserts with a full bar and knowledgeable bartenders. La Esquina is usually crowded with an eclectic array of customers including expats, local intelligentsia, politicians, and chepe society. Service is excellent, perhaps the best in town.  Reservations are recommended. Parking available in a lot or on the street.

Tierra Sur Restó
250 meters west of Plaza Mayor
Plaza de la Amistad shopping center
Rohrmoser Boulevard in Rohrmoser
Monday to Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.
Closed weekends
On Facebook

This cozy place on the west side of San José on the tree-lined boulevard in Rohrmoser and near the U.S. Embassy has a modest but adequate menu of Argentine empanadas, steaks, chorizo, pastas, salads, and desserts.  Malbec lovers will find an ample number of choices moderately priced.  Service is good.  The place is small so reservations for larger parties are recommended.  Parking in the shopping center lot.

Tierra Gaucha
25 meters north of the Rostipollos
Sabana Norte
Monday to Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

If you can’t make it to downtown, Tierra Gaucha may be the next best thing after La Esquina de Buenos Aires. Located in a pleasant neighborhood close to other restaurants and an easy walk from the Crown Plaza Coribici, Tierra Gaucha features large steaks, churrasco, pastas, etc. along with an excellent list of malbecs and other wines. They can handle larger groups. Weekends are crowded and reservations are recommended. Street parking.

La Parrillita Delicias Argentinas
In the Plaza Mayor food court
No web or Facebook listings

This new place serves Argentine fast food. Quick stop for choripan, milanesas al caballo, empanadas, etc. Most for under 5,000 colons. Parking in the Plaza Mayor covered or uncovered lots.

From time to time A.M. Costa Rica will publish informational articles on various restaurants in the country. These are writer-generated news stories and not paid placements. But suggestions are welcome.

La Gauchada
175 meters south of Channel 7
La Sabana area
Monday to Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
No web or Facebook listings

Think soda rather than restaurant, this tiny place has been well known since the 1980s for their excellent fried Argentine empanadas. La Gauchada is a favorite of expat Argentines, local television personalities, and business people who work on the west side of La Sabana park. Most people order to take out and eat in their home, office, or across the street in the park. Street parking.

Tenedor Argentino
Avenida 2a, south side of the Teatro Nacional
Monday to Friday: 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Whether you’re going to the Teatro Nacional or one of the dozens of small theaters in the area around the national theatre, you might want to take advantage of Tenedor Argentino’s best feature which is its location on Avenida Segunda. Upstairs seating on the balcony offers a tremendous view of the national theatre, the busy avenue and the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. Although the restaurant has steaks and full entrees, most diners delve into the appetizers including the empanadas.  An ample wine selection makes it a perfect stop before a show.  Street parking.

Donde Carlos
100 meters south of Plaza Vivo
100 meters north of Fátima church
Los Yoses
Monday and Tuesday: noon until 3 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday: 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Friday: noon to 3 p.m. and 6:30 to 11 p.m.
Saturday: noon to 11 p.m.
Sunday: noon to 7 p.m.

Established in 2003 on the east side of San José in Los Yoses, Donde Carlos is a favorite haunt of San José’s business community out for an elegant expense account style lunch or dinner.  The place exudes exclusivity and lacks the atmosphere of La Esquina or Aqui Es.  Still, the menu has something for everyone in the genre of Argentine cuisine for those who don’t want to make the trek downtown.  Wines abound as well. Service and food are good, but not always consistent. Parking.

Editor’s Note: Author Flynn is a fan of Costa Rica and of good restaurants.
--April 22, 2016

Nicoya h
oney producers  are getting
 an improved processing facility

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Beekeepers on the Nicoya peninsula are getting a state of the art honey processing facility, due in part to an investment of some 111 million colons ($210,000) by the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

The beekeepers themselves through their organization, the Asociación de Apicultores de Jicaral, are putting up 400 million colons or about $756,000.

The location, Jicaral, is on the east coast of the Nicoya peninsula overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya.
Initially the honey processing plant will service 32 small producers who have 4,300 colonies of bees. The plant will be able to handle the honey production of up to 20,000 colonies, said Casa Presidencial in a release.

Government officials are taking a tour of the area through today.

The processing plant will allow the honey to meet various international standards for hygiene, said officials. They also noted that the bees do double duty. In addition to collecting honey they are important pollinators for the local agricultural products.
— April 1, 2016

U.S. caloric intake based on ultra-processed
 foods, according to study

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new study finds that more than half the calories consumed in the average American diet comes from ultra-processed foods, a factor that can contribute to more obesity and other health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

A study, published by the online journal BMJ Open, analyzed the diets of more than 9,300 children, teens and adults.

It found that ultra-processed foods made up near 60 percent of all calories consumed and nearly 90 percent is caloric intake from added sugars.

Ultra-processed foods contain several semi-processed ingredients such as oils, flours, sugars, sweeteners and salt.

Some of the most popular of these foods would include sugary
drinks like soda and other ready made foods like frozen pizza, hamburgers, chips, cakes and candy.

Last year, a joint study by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization found that the increased consumption of ultra-processed food was a major driver of growing rates of overweight and obesity.

It said they were doubly harmful and quasi addictive as they are engineered to have long shelf lives and to create cravings that can completely overpower people's innate appetite-control mechanisms and their rational desire to stop eating.

World Health recommends a sugar intake of no more than 25 grams of sugar per day. Experts say decreasing the consumption of ultra-processed food could be an effective way of reducing the excessive intake of added sugar in the U.S.
— March 11, 2016

12 years of traditional Costa Rican contest recipes are put online

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those regional food contests have produced enough traditional Costa Rican recipes for the Internet publication of seven cooking books.

The Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural set up the contests from 2001 to 2013. One of the requirements for participants was to provide the recipe.

Now the "Cocina Tradicional Costarricense" comes in seven sections with dishes that probably never have been heard of by expats, such as gallina arreglada, chicheme, buñuelos, torta de novios, chancletas de chayote and mazamorra.

And access is free, although an updated Flash reader is needed. The regions represented are Guanacaste y Región Central de Puntarenas, Heredia y Limón, Cartago,  Alajuela y Heredia, San José, Limón and the Zona Norte.

Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural photo
This is picadillo de arracache, a dish that goes far back into pre-history. Arracacha (Arracacia xanthorriza) is a starchy root that originated in the Andes.
— Jan. 19, 2016

Biophysicist pioneers a new use for
 the coffee bean: Healthy flour

By the Brandeis University news staff

Brandeis biophysicist Dan Perlman has come up with a new invention, the parbaked coffee bean.

According to Perlman, this method of roasting green coffee beans enhances the health benefits of coffee. Perlman is developing the flour milled from parbaked beans both as a food ingredient and a nutritional supplement. It’s a world of difference from the traditional coffee bean, Perlman says.

Research has shown that drinking coffee is healthful. A recent Harvard study found that people who drank three to five cups a day had a 15 percent lower chance of prematurely dying than non-drinkers.

Nobody knows for certain what causes coffee to be salutary, but one leading explanation involves a natural chemical compound called chlorogenic acid. An antioxidant, the acid is thought to be beneficial in modulating sugar metabolism, controlling blood pressure and possibly treating heart disease and cancer.

Unfortunately, when coffee is roasted the traditional way, typically above 400 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes, the chlorogenic acid content drops dramatically. One study found the decrease ranged from 50 to nearly 100 percent.

Perlman wondered what would happen if the coffee bean was baked for less time and at a lower temperature. This took some trial and error until he got it right. In the end, he determined that parbaking the beans at 300 degrees at approximately 10 minutes worked best. The concentration of acid in the bean, around 10 percent of the bean’s weight, barely dropped.

The parbaked coffee bean can’t be used to make coffee. It isn’t roasted long enough to develop flavor. Instead Perlman cryogenically mills the bean in an ultra-cold and chemically inert liquid nitrogen atmosphere to protect the bean's beneficial constituents from oxidation. At the end of the process, a wheat-colored flour is produced. Its taste is nutty, pleasant and mild.
coffee flour
Brandeis University photo
This is the result of milling parbaked coffee beans

Perlman sees his coffee flour being blended with regular flours for baking, used in breakfast cereals and snack bars and added to soups, juices and nutritional drinks. To compensate for the acid lost during traditional coffee roasting, it would be possible to blend parbaked beans with regularly roasted ones.

There are green coffee bean extract-based nutritional supplements already on the market. They have been touted as a way to lose weight and fight obesity, but there is scant research to support these claims.

The scientific evidence that illustrates chlorogenic acid’s benefits for other conditions is much stronger. Perlman also says parbaking is far less expensive than the extraction methods used to produce the green coffee bean extract supplements currently on the market.

Brandeis University has patented Perlman's process.
— Jan. 8, 2016

Quality of honey represents a puzzle
 and possible threat for shoppers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Many shoppers are unaware of the dangers that lurk in a bottle labeled honey.

Honey pretty much is a synonym for wholesome. After all, bees are little hard workers who have no genetic disposition for cheating.

But some honey producers do. In fact, some of the honey on store shelves is really cheaper corn syrup, other sweeteners or a mix. And there might be dangerous pesticides or antibiotics, too.

A shopper would have to be a graduate chemist to figure out what really is in the bottle or plastic bear. Food Safety News did an elaborate study in 2011 and reported that "more than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t exactly what the bees produce."

The publication reported online that there is another problem. Some producers use elaborate filtering techniques to remove the pollen in the honey. Without pollen no one can determine the origin of the honey.

China and India have been producing tons of low-grade honey for years, and much of it ends up in the North American market. Despite prohibitions, distributors there have found ways to evade import controls. Some U.S. states are beginning to develop quality controls.

The Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio here has done a study of  honey that is available in Costa Rica. The results will be presented today. The ministry promises to alert consumers to sneaky practices.

All honey is filtered to remove foreign matter, including wax and other unwanted matter. But usually this type of filtering does not remove pollen, the signature of where the bees

National Honey Board photo

collected the honey and from what plant.

In addition, pollen is a valuable constituent that is an antioxidant and anti-allergenic.

Food Safety News said in its report that honey sold at farmer's markets and small stores generally have not been adulterated. Honey at most chain stores not only was suspicious, but the companies would not discuss the origins
— Nov. 5, 2015

Teff, the Ethiopian staple grain, is making inroads in the West

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Wayne Carlson became a convert to Ethiopia's staple grain while doing public health work in Africa in the mid-1970s. Teff flour is the key ingredient for injera, Ethiopia's signature, spongy flatbread. It has a mild, nutty or earthy taste.

In the late 1970s, Carlson returned to the U.S., married and settled in southwest Idaho. Then he hatched the idea to introduce teff grass to North America in his home state.

"Geologically, it is very similar to Ethiopia," he explained. "Ethiopia is placed on the East African Rift Valley, which is very much like the Snake River Plain."

Neither Wayne nor his wife, Elisabeth, is a farmer, nor do they want to be. So they persuaded actual farmers in Idaho, and in the neighboring states of Oregon and Nevada, to grow teff on contract for them. They mill the grain into flour, but until last year there wasn't a single Ethiopian restaurant or bakery in all of Idaho to sell it to.

Undeterred, the Carlsons found customers.

"The way we started was Wayne went through the Washington, D.C., telephone book and looked for the names that were Ethiopian," Elisabeth said.

And that's how the business slowly grew for several decades, serving the far-flung Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrant community in the U.S..

The Teff  Co. has outgrown four different mills. The first was a little stone grinder in the Carlsons' basement. They currently occupy a remodeled brewery complex in Nampa, Idaho. The teff flour coming off the packing line could well land in an upscale natural food store or commercial bakery.

According to an industry trade group, sales of alternatives to modern wheat, amaranthe, quinoa and millet, along with teff, are growing at double-digit rates each year.

Teff production in the U.S. exploded over the past decade, said Oregon State University research agronomist Rich Roseberg, going from 1,200 hectares in 2003 to more than 40,000 nationally by 2010. He noted that the majority of the teff acreage in Washington state, Oregon and in the Eastern U.S. is grown for livestock forage.

"Horses in particular seem to prefer it to other grass hay," he said.

Voice of America/Tom Banse
Teff Co. co-founder Wayne Carlson shows the tiny grains of teff before cleaning. There are 2,500 to 3,000 grains per gram.

In Idaho, though, more of the teff production is grain for human food. Roseberg said Carlson was ahead of his time. 

"Mr. Carlson for a long time was the only one interested in it. He recognized the value of teff, at least for teff grain, long before any of the rest of us did," he said.

Teff contains lots of nutritious calcium, iron, protein and fiber. It requires one-third to one-half  less water than alfalfa, as well as substantially less fertilizer than wheat or other small grains.

The University of Nevada-Reno is leading a project to breed improved varieties of teff. The aim is to make it more productive and drought tolerant in anticipation of harsher growing conditions.

A marketing flier for The Teff Co. says, "Move over, quinoa, there's a new grain in town."

The new grain, of course, is really an ancient one, but Wayne Carlson is not fond of the term ancient grains to describe the category.

"Teff was never really a relic. It was never bypassed by history," he said. "Teff has always been the mainstay crop for millions and millions of people. It's just that they were geographically isolated in northeast Africa. So all we've done is said to the rest of the world, 'Hey, look, there's this really good stuff there. Why don't you incorporate it in your diet?'"
— Nov. 2, 2015

A Tico Thanksgiving is an economical treat

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats complain about high, extortive prices, but then they head to the supermarket for the ritual turkey for Thanksgiving.

The big birds, which may have been frozen and refrozen several times on their journey can go for $50.

Frugal expats can turn to a Costa Rican-style Thanksgiving and start a tradition of their own.

The main course can be pork roast. That helps the local producers and saves colons at the cash register.

A good start would be a hearty pejibaye soup as describedHERE! Thanksgiving is not a day to count calories!

Those 12-inch red snappers, called pargo here, make a good fish course if steamed and served with a bit of white sauce perhaps flavored with horseradish, rábano picante.

Follow that with a palmito salad with a vinegar dressing.

Then it is time for the pork roast, perhaps with a lemon sauce, although some might prefer traditional pork gravy. Lemon lovers might add slices when roasting the pork. Or make it an orange sauce.

A simple vegetable mix, perhaps julianne carrot and string beans or onions in white sauce, provide the nutritional balance.

Then there are the local sweet potatoes that boil well with their jackets on.  Or
they can be made into chips by dropping slices into hot oil.
Pork roast
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Pork roast is not dry like a turkey breast.

No meal would be complete without Cartago white potatoes mashed, pure de papas, laced with butter. And the baked ayote.

By this time the telephone is ringing with an emergency call from the Weight Watcher help line. Let it ring.

Dessert can be a simple dish of La Pop's ice cream, among the best in the planet. Perhaps with a side of  passion fruit, granadilla.

Enterprising cooks can add sunflower seeds, cashews, macadamia nuts or even coffee beans to create unique variations. And there are many variations with pineapple, avocado, coconut, tropical guavas and other local products.

If the Pilgrims were pushed south by favorable winds, this is what they would have had for the first Thanksgiving. And they would have been better off avoiding the Massachusetts winter.

Responsible cooks will avoid shrimp because of the damage drag nets do to the coastal reefs until the government resolves the issue.
— Oct. 20, 2015

A butcher prepared the special Greiner strain meat for packaging and sale. The inset shows the detailed label that the transparent packages bear. The cattleman notes that dry-aged beef has a darker color due to the elimination of moisture.

Loray Greiner photo

Expat cattleman takes another step to produce super prime signature beef

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An expat cattleman has taken a major step in his effort to create a signature beef line for Costa Rica.

The cattleman has combined successfully tropical cows with the legendary Japanese Wagyū strain from which comes the renowned Kobe beef. And now he is using an expensive dry-aging process that is familiar to only high-end restauranteurs and specialty butchers elsewhere.

Dry-aged or wet-aged, hardly anyone is able to find the Kobe beef outside of Japan.

The cattleman, Loray Greiner and his wife, Susanne, announced over the weekend that they have succeeded after a four-year effort.

Greiner's plans were the subject of a news article two years ago when he said that he sees his mission to be developing a Costa Rican cattle industry known for exceptionally high quality and unique pieces of meat. He said he wants to help Tico cattle ranchers to regain their dignity.

"Wagyū, sometimes called Kobe beef, is prized for its tenderness," he said over the weekend in an email.  "And the ratio of good fat, mono-unsaturated. to bad fat, saturated, is the healthiest of all cattle breeds."

He pointed out that his cows spend every day of their lives on his pastures with no hormones or antibiotics. "The pastures they were raised in were nourished with organic fertilizers from Earth University, and no herbicides were used to control weeds," he said.  "In short, these animals were bred, born, and raised with the highest level of care and attention while enjoying the cleanest, most-natural environment we could provide."

Greiner is following in the footsteps of his late father, Fred, who spent years trying to develop just the right pasture mix.

The meat carries the name Hacienda Sur artisan beef after a ranch at Parrita. The label is not typical in that it carries the ID number of the cow, its birth date and the date of packaging. The label also notes that the animal was half Waygū, and a quarter heat-tolerant Red Angus and Brahman.

Greiner did not stop with the extensive genetic efforts with the cows. He also chose to build his own dry-aging facility. That process is identified with bringing out remarkable depth of flavor.

"We chose to dry age because you get a superior product in both texture and flavor similar to the benefits you get from aging cheese in a cave or wine in a cellar," he said.  "For starters, the aging allows enzymes to tenderize the meat with time.  The process also removes moisture from the meat.  It's like taking a broth and reducing it down to a demi-glace sauce.  You're driving the moisture out, so you're intensifying the flavors."

Conventional beef is subjected to wet-aging. The meat is wrapped in a plastic bag for a few days. That way the meat does not lose moisture and weight. With dry aging there is more moisture loss, sometimes up to 20 percent, and the flavor is concentrated over the 45 days.

Loray Greiner photo
These are examples of the special beef strain.

Greiner's view is backed up by extensive online reports.

He also noted that dry-aged meat becomes darker, and those who are unfamiliar with the luxury meat might think it is bad.

He said he had been told that some producers of wet-aged beef even put coloring on their meat to keep it a bright red. Dry-aged beef is dark.

"Well, I'm not going to put food coloring on this beef," he said.  "But I do think I need to inform people that dry-aged beef does look different from what you buy in the grocery store."

That difference comes from an elaborate dry-aging facility that the cattleman has custom made. And the process is equally elaborate.

Aging has to be done just above the freezing point. Greiner even had to have constructed what amounts to an airlock to maintain the interior temperature.

"We're pretty proud of our dry-aging room, which is solar powered, has what are almost certainly the tightest tolerances in Central America, features data logging and wireless alarms, as well as two cutting-edge, high-tech sanitation systems," he said.

The room maintains the temperature with a variation of just a single degree and  4 percent for moisture.

The system blows bacteria-killing ozone and hydroxyl periodically to eliminate mold. Other dry-aging facilities allow a layer of mold to grow on the exterior of meat cuts in the same way that certain premium hams develop a mold crust.

Greiner said that two of the three big industrial refrigeration companies he contacted declined to participate because they said they could not meet the specifications.

The meat needs extra care in the kitchen, too. "If it is over cooked, it will quickly become dry and tough," he said.  I would not recommend cooking more than medium rare.  A good sear on both sides with a generous sprinkling of coarse salt, and a great glass of wine is all you need."

His next challenge is marketing. He is trying to set up a delivery route through Escazú. The meat is not inexpensive.  Prices range from 8,000 colons (about $15) a kilo for ground beef to 20,000 colons ($39) a kilo for top cuts.
— Aug. 17, 2015

One of the interesting sights at the Saturday morning market in Santo Domingo, Heredia, is the egg vendors, who sell their eggs in plastic bags and weigh them by the kilo, reports reader Jim Twomey. They drive those trucks full of eggs very, very carefully when going to the market. And the eggs are not refrigerated, much to the consternation of the Gringo buyers, he said.

A.M. Costa Rica/Jim Twomey

Story behind those unrefrigerated supermarket
 eggs is complex indeed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What U.S. expat  has not been surprised by flats and cartons of eggs sitting out on the supermarket shelf.

They immediately wonder why the eggs are not refrigerated like back home. It turns out that Costa Rica may be doing right by the eggs and the consumer.

"Eggshells have a natural protective coating on them that helps prevents microbes from entering eggs," says the University of Florida. "For this reason, washing eggs isn’t consistently recommended by all sources."

In fact, in only a few countries, including the United States and Australia, do producers and distributors wash eggs.

Those expats with laying hens probably also should know that washing eggs has to be done in a special way to prevent dangerous bacteria from seeping into the shells.

Among some of the instructions from the experts is discarding any free range eggs found outside the nesting boxes because there is no certainty when they have been laid. In addition, agricultural sources, including the University of Florida, urge collecting eggs twice a day in hot climates.

Egg safety is a major academic topic because there are cases of salmonella every year. Australia reports nearly 12,000 cases each year, according to one report.

The same Australian source reported that an experiment showed that egg penetration by Salmonella typhimurium was significantly higher in washed eggs when compared to unwashed eggs.

The University of Florida has an extensive tip sheet on the home handling of eggs by those who produce their own. One tip is to wash eggs in water about 20 degrees F warmer than the eggs to prevent it from contracting and pulling bacteria inside.

— June 15, 2015

Tico food
Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud photos
An assortment of traditional Costa Rican foods from gallos de picadillos, olla de carne and chicken.
Arts festival will be a place to enjoy country's traditional foods, too
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Festival Internacional de las Artes is known for its shows, music, dancing, comedy and other crowd pleasers.

But this year as the cultural event moves into the suburban areas, there also is an emphasis on food. Organizers said that typical Costa Rican dishes will be served. These include  chinchiví, a sugar drink; chicha, a corn drink;  chicharrones, a pork dish; tamales; gallos de picadillos, a chorizo tortilla; tortillas aliñadas, a cheese dish, and gallina enjarrada. The last is a chicken filled with an egg and potato stuffing and cooked wrapped in a banana leaf.

The bulk of the festival events are being held in Acosta, Alajuelita, Aserrí and Desamparados this year. And the local chefs are preparing the food.

For example, the Lions Club in Aserrí will be the vendors there.

The festival is from next Thursday to May 3 and organized by the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud.

Festival officials have provided training for those who will be handling food so they can do so in a professional manner.

As with many countries, the traditional dish is not the same in different areas. That  is true with the traditional Costa Rican foods, even though they may have the same name.

So festival officials are promoting regional variations.

They said they also hope that small businesses will take advantage of the opportunity and that some businesses may endure after the festival has gone.
— April 17, 2015

Healthier Mediterranean diet found to be better for environment, too
By the Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas
news staff
The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are well-known. As well as being healthier, a recent article concludes that the menu traditionally eaten in Spain leaves less of a carbon footprint than that of the U.S. or the United Kingdom.

A new study involving the University Hospital Complex of Huelva, Jaume I University of Castellón and the University of Huelva analyses the carbon footprint of daily menus served in Spain, based on a roughly Mediterranean diet, and compares them to those eaten in English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom and the U.S.

“Climate change is an international priority that must be tackled from all angles, one being the family environment and consideration of our daily diet,” explained Rosario Vidal, lead author of the study and researcher in the Mechanical Engineering and Construction Department at the Valencian institution.

Data was gathered at the Juan Ramón Jiménez Hospital in Huelva, which analyzed a total of 448 lunches and 448 dinners throughout the four seasons of the year to satisfy calorific needs of 2,000 calories.

Nevertheless, the figures can be widely extrapolated for the team of researchers. “These menus could have equally been served in any school, restaurant or Spanish household. The recipes analyzed include typical dishes such as Andalusian gazpacho soup, vegetable pisto manchego, paella or the stew-like puchero,” adds Ms. Vidal.

During the study a database was created with the carbon footprint of the foods grown, fished or produced (mainly in Spain) and the carbon footprint for each dish and menu was calculated simply by multiplying the raw amount required for its preparation.
Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas/Javier Lastra
The recipes analyzed include typical dishes such as this Andalusian gazpacho.

The average daily carbon footprint obtained was 5.08 kg of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), much less than the average for the US (estimated at between 8.5 kg and 8.8 kg of CO2e) or the United Kingdom (estimated at 7.4 kg of CO2e); all for the same calorific intake.

The carbon footprint was also obtained for 17 other therapeutic diets such as soft, liquid or low/high-protein diets.

“The differences between the average value of the Mediterranean diet and that of English-speaking countries is due to much less beef being eaten in Spain (a food item with a larger carbon footprint) and more vegetables and fruit being eaten, which have a lower carbon footprints,” states the expert. “Therefore, it is not only healthier, but our diet is also more ecological”.

A carbon footprint expresses the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent measured in kilos of carbon dioxide equivalent.

— March 27, 2015

Improving the national menu could have a favorable impact on tourism
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats sometimes complain about what they see as a limited menu in Costa Rica. Rice and beans do play a big role in the diet of many Ticos. But there are options.

For example there is the Caribbean culture where rondón, the traditional soup, takes many forms. And there is the patty, the Jamaican meat pastry.

Like most countries, the menu is highly regionalized. The culture ministry has embarked on a number of annual contests to have locals bring out their regional dishes. The result has been a series of booklets preserving the recipes of the regional dishes.

Then there is a formal effort to tickle the local palates.

The Plan Nacional de Gastronomía Sostenible y Saludable has as one goal the creation of new food products both for exportation and for local consumption.

Costa Rica is in the big time next week when chefs Luis Guillermo Castro and Lizbeth Rodríguez Benavides and Alejandro Madrigal, director of the restaurant chamber, go to Galacia, Spain, to show off Costa Rican cuisine. Costa Rica is the invited country for the annual Feria Xantar 2015 in Ourense.

Madrigal also is the national coordinator of the Plan Nacional de la Gastronomía as well as the executive director of the Cámara Costarricense de Restaurantes e Afins.

The food fair runs from Wednesday through the weekend and attracts thousands. Other presenters will be from Galicia and nearby Portugal
A.M. Costa Rica archives
The casado is a popular lunch meal

The fair already is promoting on its Web site Costa Rican favorites like the casado, the marriage of rice, beans, meat and platanos that is a typical lunch.

Fair goers also are promised sopa negra, mondongo, the patty and even rondón.

For the restaurant chamber and other Costa Rican officials this development of a unique Costa Rican cuisine also is a way to draw tourists.

Local chefs have been experimenting for years using perhaps a thousand plant species that can be incorporated into cooking. The chamber, the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, the Instituto Costarricnse de Turismo and a host of other government agencies are involved.
— Feb. 26, 2015

Here is a really good reason to wash vegetables and finger fruits
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Expats accustomed to not having to think much about parasites in Costa Rica, in contrast to other places where amoebas lurk in every ice cube, shouldn’t forget about Angiostrongylus costaricensis.

This is a nematode and actually has rats as its main host, with snails and slugs as an intermediate vector where early-stage larvae develop. Humans can contract an infection through eating inadequately cooked snails in cultures where those are consumed, but here accidental ingestion of a small slug or slug slime in poorly washed greens is the likeliest cause. Hydroponic lettuce is reputedly safer as the salt used and lack of soil makes for an environment hostile for the mollusks. Anything that has been on the ground where there are snails or slugs is potentially a risk.

The nance is one such food item since it is normally picked up off the ground after ripening. This is a yellow fruit a little smaller than an olive which is prevalent in Costa Rican cooking as preserves and wine. To eat raw it should be washed carefully with soap.

This nematode species wasn’t even described to science until 1971 by two biologists from the University of Costa Rica, Pedro Morera and Rodolfo Céspedes. The unfortunate scientific moniker A. costaricensis, refers to the fact that the original specimens were recovered from the intestinal linings of several children in this country. Since then, it has been established to be present in most of tropical America.

Similarly, the Asian Angiostrongylus cantonensis is better known as it is a cause of eosinophilic meningitis, a rather serious nervous system disorder. The local version here is much more benign with immune response eventually dealing with the invasion.  The most serious manifestation is usually the establishment of an adult nematode in the intestinal lining when it then can require surgery to remove. 

Initial symptoms are normally abdominal pain which can lead to misdiagnosis as appendicitis or some other problem of the liver and digestive system. There is a blood test for Angiostrongylus  which
A.M. Costa Rica archives
A dish of nances and jocotes, both finger food.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control photos
These appear to be Angiostrongylus cantonensis, cousins of the Costa Rican species.

allows for firm confirmation of the invasion. Given high tolerance and eventual autoimmune response, unless there are problems with the intestines due to the 15-millimeter (about six tenths of an inch) adults which can require surgery, no action is normally taken.
— Nov. 24, 2014

Festival Gastronómico y del Cebiche
Various innovations of cerviche and other seafood dishes are promised
Quepos will be the site for a festival of ceviche next month
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Quepos will be the site of the Festival Gastronómico y del Cebiche Nov. 15 and 16. This is the first edition of the festival featuring raw fish basted in lemon juice.

Cebiche or ceviche is a traditional Latin American dish that probably originated in Perú long before the Spanish arrival. The lemon juice or other citrus juices transform the fish as if it were being cooked.
Costa Rican chefs prefer the juice of the  limón criollo.

They will have a chance to display their talent because as part of the festival there is a contest with the emphasis on innovation. Ceviche usually is mixed with certain chiles and  cilantro, The side dish can be yuca or potato.

The event is a the  Marina Pez Vela in Quepos. The Quepos Film Fest is talking place at the same time.
— Oct. 15, 2014

Another effort seeks to promote the unique cuisine of Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even food is not out of the reach of the central government. The Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio announced Wednesday what it calls the  Plan Nacional de Gastronomía Sostenible y Saludable. The ministry did so at a meeting of the  Cámara Costarricense de Restaurantes y Afines.

The ministry said that it was seeking a Costa Rican gastronomy based on national products and to rescue cooking traditions, Also sought was promoting community development and protecting the environment.

The ministry said that other agencies and private organizations were supporting the initiative.  One of them is the  Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud, which already runs contest to promote traditional dishes and to collect the recipes.

The ministry also sees this as strengthening small and medium enterprises. There are some 90 food producers already listed with the ministry's small business program, including restaurants, drink manufacturers, mobile food providers and food producers.

The ministry initiative also includes setting standards for the food industry and a multitude of other specifics. Some seem hard to swallow, such as reducing cost and increasing productivity and profitability. And finally to increase the quality of life in the country.

So what should be a traditional Costa Rican dinner?

Not all these ideas are traditional, but they do include local foods.
There are some beneficial aspects, too.

Lion fish, an invasive species, are cleaning out other sea creatures in the Caribbean. The best way to catch them is with spears, as is done at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Putting them on the commercial menu would create another industry and help  clean up the ocean.
lion fishLion fish

A really traditional food here is the paca (Cuniculus paca) also
known as a tepezcuintle. This forest rodent was a main course long before Columbus. They now are farm-reared, but many individuals still have an aversion to a main course of rodent. So beef, also a traditional food, was selected instead.

The dinner would start with  creamed peach palm soup (pejibayes) served with cassava or yuca flour buns.
This would be accompanied by a guaro martini, shaken not stirred!
An appetizer of pickled veggies called escabeche also would be served.

A simple salad  consists of lettuce and tomatoes with an optional sugar cane and vinegar dressing.

The fish course will be that Puerto Viejo lion fish in a coconut butter sauce laced with Santa Ana onions..

The main course provides a choice of either farm-reared tilapia drenched in salsa or a traditional grilled beef, Some might argue that beef is not a sustainable food. And some folks
No need for vermouth
are pushing lion fish burgers to help eliminate the invasive species. But you can't beat beef.

Chayote. Cartago potatoes and perhaps rice with a side of beans
cafe rica
Cafe Rica
comes with the main course.

Beverages include atole de avena, the oatmeal and milk drink, or  tapa de dulce, a mixture made from raw sugar.

There is local local beer and maybe another belt of a guaro martini. Leave the car keys with the host.

The selected dessert is chorreadas flambé in the style of a crêpe suzette, except with the traditional base of the Costa Rican corn
pancake. A 100-proof Costa Rican rum  would provide the flames, and the fruit and sugar are local.

Cafe Rica, the coffee liquor, comes with a separate serving of expresso.
Would if be politically incorrect to offer Puriscal cigars in the drawing room?

If anything, Costa Rican cooks under estimate what is available.  What about bananas or platanos. Avocados, perhaps? Although the best ones seem to come from California.

A strange fact is that Costa Rica produces little wine, and some that is offered as a national product comes from imported powder. Jocote producers are reported to have developed an alcoholic drink similar to wine using the little green fruits.

Any other suggestions?
— Oct. 9, 2014

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
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

Heredia Limon
Heredia and Limón
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.
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.
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


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


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

Henry Cannon


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.
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


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


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


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


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,

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) 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) 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

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.
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.
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.

              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.


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!


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!


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

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.

              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.
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 
A.M. Costa Rica photo       
The sardines and cod come in many varieties

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

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
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.

              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.


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 
              con leche
Photo by Oryza News
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.”