It’s Memorial Day Weekend and I am writing this column from my brother’s house in Costa Rica, where I have been staying for the past four days. I flew in on Thursday and will be returning home the following Monday. And while I am in town, what will I be doing? Chilling out, relaxing, and catching up with my family – which will all done over plenty of eating and drinking everything that Costa Rica (CR) has to offer.
What I love is that my brother is a food person like me. He loves to cook – and eat – so no matter what, it’s going to be good. He uses mostly local ingredients and uses them in tried and true recipes. In CR, they prefer to grow and raise most of their own so the expense of having to fly it in and ship it in is eliminated when possible. And since the climate is tropical –much like that of Florida – lots of beautiful vegetables and fruits grow well and are readily available, as are meats, chicken, and fish.
Getting more specific, beef is plentiful – but different from what we are used to in the states. A rib-eye, for instance, as we know it, is thick and fatty. Here, cuts are thinner, still fatty, still tasty, but different. Ninety percent of the eggs are brown, and while Americans keep them refrigerated, in CR, that is simply not done. They remain at room temp almost all the time.
Sunday morning, I went to my brother’s local farmer’s market, Santa Ana Farmers Market, (anyone who reads my column regularly knows that I am a huge fan of green markets) and loved it. It was just a few short blocks, but there was plenty packed in – fruit and veggies galore including both familiar and less familiar including muchas lechugas (s lots of lettuces such as red leaf, green leaf, romaine, iceberg, and frisee), tomates (tomatoes), onions, garlic, stunning bunches of radishes, some corm on the cob, fresas, sandia, y piñas (strawberries, watermelon, and pineapples), and more indigenous produce including guanabana, fresh hearts of palm, and the like. It got even better when we found the prepared foods – my nephew opted for a manhole-sized fresh arepa. I chose one stuffed con frijoles negros. And it was delicious. We washed it street food is the greatest thing on earth. We would up buying some of everything for dinner – which was skirt steak, rib-eyes, zucchini on the grill, assorted mushrooms, stewed down in butter, and salad. Everything was so fresh and crisp – what a pleasure to eat!
We also made seven avocados worth of guacamole, which we served with yucca and corn chips from the market. Spectacular. I can’t explain the happiness and satisfaction I get, talking with street vendors who cannot understand a word I say, but ultimately, the smiles on both of our faces as we agree upon a price and I walk away with their “wares” says it all.
I tried tuna cebiche here, which is spelled with a “b” not a “v” as we are used to. It’s served more like tartare – with avocado and in cubes. I ate Plancha de mariscos, which is a personal griddle pan filled with pulpo (Octopus), fish, calamari, shrimp, clams, mussels, and more. Still aflame as it reached the table, the result was sheer perfection. Garlicky, lemony, well-cooked and spiced, this dish was simply outstanding. Sharing a similar dish with my brother the next evening, we added steak and chicken to the mixed grill. Excellence. I ate so much during this trip, it was almost scary. Everything seemed to taste different, sometimes better, other times, not as much. Orange juice that comes in a small, cardboard box was the best I’d ever had (seriously); heavy cream from pouches tasted equally great.
With that said, let’s say that we have plenty of great food close by, however, when out of town – check out everything the locals eat. It is the best way to truly experience the country, the culture, and the food. Yum.
(Shari Lynn Rothstein has been writing about food, wine, lifestyles and fashion for more than 20 years, in New York and Florida. She resides in Aventura. Shari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments, questions thoughts.