Costa Rica Food: The Traditional “Casado” and More Typical Dishes & Recipes

Written by MJ Blanco
June 7, 2016

Your Costa Rica vacations are here. You arrive with your luggage full of expectations and wondering to make the most of your time during the days you will be in the country. You are ready to start your trip but suddenly…you realize you are hungry. Then what?

Probably, you may need to know that Costa Rican culinary is really exquisite and very varied. In each one of the dishes you will find a very complete combination of the best ingredients, just to satisfy the most exigent tastes. A truly delight for your senses. We assure you that once you try Costa Rican food you will fall in love with our gastronomic culture. Here you can experience the influence of three main cultures: the indigenous, the African, and the Spanish. 

But, what is it about?

As we mentioned before, Costa Rican dishes are very diverse, and according to different regions the typical dish may vary a little bit. But, we can say that the very traditional lunch of all the ticos is a complete meal named “casado”. This dish consists in, basically, rice, beans, meat –it could be fish, chicken or meat in any of its presentations-, and green or pasta salad.

The casado comes in different presentations. This dish also presented with some variations served as side orders, some of them are fried plantains, French fries, avocado, tortilla with cheese, eggs, corn, or a sort of vegetable stew, called picadillo, which can be prepared using potatoes –or other tubers-, onions, peppers, and other flavors.

This typical dish has a very particular name in our cultural context, the word casado means “married man” or, it can also signifies “hunted man”; sometimes, people can easily make jokes about the name of this dish talking about marriage. Probably, someone can come and tease you about it. Later we will talk about the origin of this singular name.

For decades, the casado has been a fundamental dish in the diet of Costa Ricans and it is responsible for energizing the men and women who built this country. There is no special secret in the recipe, but there are a lot of benefits in its balanced composition.

At this moment, you are possibly thinking about why this delicious combination of ingredients is the main Costa Rican traditional dish. We will offer you an answer briefly, just pay attention and then run for your tasteful casado… You can make your own combinations and create the dish the way you want it! Look at this few reasons:

  • The Costa Rican casado remains a similar dish present in different countries, considered a basic lunch, and is composed of ingredients readily available. It is for this reason that the dish usually has a more affordable price.
  • Additionally, another factor contributing to the popularity of the casado is the feeling of satiety that it leaves. So, if you are looking for a fulfilling and economic option for your lunch or dinner you must consider trying one of these!
  • From a nutritional point of view it also has much in its favor: due to its composition this dish can be very balanced and suitable for people’s diet. Protein, veggies, and carbs are all very well served when ordering a casado. All you need to eat to ensure you the energy and nutrition you will need for your vacations in Costa Rica!
  • The casado is a perfect way to supply a complete meal for a lot of people without spending a fortune. That’s why the big families in the past times started serving this as a way to feed properly their children, using the ingredients they had on hand.

A little bit of history…

The casado was consolidated in the early 60’s, when the number of people who joined the workforce in the different institutions of the capital city of San José were looking for homemade food, as the one they enjoyed in their homes.

The origin of its name has several versions. As explained by Marjorie Ross, an expert on Culinary Anthropology, there are many stories that can explain the name and that are dated back to the second half of the last century.

The first version is about a soda –local restaurant- in downtown San José where the workers began to urge the lady in charge of the kitchen to serve them more food in their plates; in the same way as she probably used to serve to her husband in her house.

One of the other explanations has to do with the increase of the commercial activity in the capital city of that time. Due to this growing expansion, the local restaurants started offering a bigger plate, one with a good size and very complete, just to make feel workers as if they were in their own houses. Continuing with this idea, you need to know that all the food is served in the same plate, because it is the way the ticos eat in our houses.

Well, now you know a lot more about the food in Costa Rica, but there are many other typical dishes that you need to know while spending your time here. As said before, our food is influenced by different cultures… that’s why its flavors are a complete mix of colors, textures, scents, and creativity of the ones who prepare the dishes.

Costa Rican Typical Breakfast

Waking up in paradise is an unparalleled experience, not only for the awakening of your senses with the sounds of the forests or beaches while the sun rises up, but also for the first meal of the day: breakfast.

The ticos breakfast is a very fulfilling dish, a bunch of energy to start your morning in the perfect conditions. If you look closer to the typical breakfast and the casado you will find that these two meals are very similar in its composition.

Traditionally, our breakfast is composed by eggs, bread –as white bread, toasts, pastries, etc.-, and cheese –mainly our white cheese named Turrialba-; corn tortillas, sour cream, fried plantains, sausage or another kind of meat can be added too… and last but not least, the Gallo Pinto.

Gallo Pinto? Wait, what?

Yes, Gallo Pinto. If this is the first time you hear this expression that names our star ingredient for the breakfasts you surely are now wondering about what is it about.

Let us tell you: literally, gallo pinto means colored rooster. Why? We don’t know that with precision,but some studies suggest that the dish –a mix of rice and beans- takes its name due to the similar aspect of rooster’s stained feathers compared to the aspect of the beans mixed with the rice in the plate.

This dish is also eaten in different Latin American countries, with different versions of it; but it is the mostly recognized for being the typical breakfast in Costa Rica. The people here use to eat gallo pinto regardless of the moment of the day. It is a perfect meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The pinto –how it is commonly named too- is prepared with onions, peppers, coriander, and garlic in a pot with any kind of oil. This dish is a great source of carbs and protein. You must try it while staying here!

There is a “secret ingredient” that will compliment your breakfast. One which is very tasteful, a little bit spicy and really unforgettable... the Salsa Lizano –or Lizano sauce-. This dressing is very popular among the ticos and it is considered an important part of the traditional cuisine in Costa Rica. Mostly of the sodas, restaurants or homemade meals add this sauce to the dishes to give them a best flavor and to make them more typical.

The Lizano sauce is a liquid mix of spices and vegetables, very similar to the Worcestershire sauce but with local and creole ingredients. Its texture is soft and it is brown, with a flavor between acid and sweet and with a strong smell of spices. The recipe was developed by the Lizano family, from Alajuela in 1920. This sauce is used during the preparation of different dishes, or as a dressing for veggies, fruits or other complete meals.

Here you have the recipe of this Costa Rica famous food, just in case you wanted to prepare your own version of the gallo pinto:

Gallo Pinto Recipe


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked rice, preferably, day-old and refrigerated
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 cups cooked black beans in 3/4 cup reserved cooking liquid
  • 1/4 cup Salsa Lizano


  1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sauté chopped bell pepper and onions until peppers are soft and onions are translucent. Approximately about 6-8 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for 1 minute, until it turns fragrant.
  2. Add the black beans, reserved cooking liquid, and Salsa Lizano, stirring to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and a little bit of the liquid is evaporated. Gently stir in cooked rice and cook until heated through and most of the liquid is absorbed, but not dry, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in chopped cilantro. Season to taste with additional Salsa Lizano.

Chifrijo Traditional Dish

Now you know a little bit more about the typical food in Costa Rica. But we didn’t end it yet.  Let us introduce you a very delicious dish that can either be served as a snack or as full meal for lunch or dinner: our famous Chifrijo.

Before explaining details about it you need to know about its curious name. The word chifrijo is a portmanteau –a blend of two words or morphemes into one new word- for chicharrones (fried pork rinds/skin) and frijoles (black or red beans), two of its main ingredients.

The Chifrijo is prepared with rice, beans, pork –preferably, but other kinds of meats will work too-, chopped tomato, tortilla chips, and avocado. The recipes may vary according to the place you go, but the foundation will always be the same. For locals, this is a perfect choice to accompany a beer or to enjoy it in parties and celebrations.

According to the popular versions of chifrijo’s history, the recipe has been around since the early nineties when it started being served in local bars and restaurants around the San José region. Nowadays, it is commonly found in the street venders, markets, fairs and carnivals and fast food locals.

Chifrijo Recipe

Wondering how to prepare this delicacy? Take note of the recipe:

This serves about 10 people.

You will need:

  • 2 lbs of red tender beans – it takes about 12 hours (overnight) to soak the beans in water until tender.
  • Rice at your preference.
  • 1 lb of fried pork, or meat cubes or strips, and/or shellfish.
  • ½ lb of fried pork rinds (optional)
  • ½ gallon of water
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • oregano, thyme, salt and pepper to taste

First of all, cook the beans with water, onion, garlic, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper until smooth. Then, prepare the “pico de gallo” joining the following ingredients, and then refrigerate:

  • 2 lbs diced tomato
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • ½ cup diced sweet chile
  • ½ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • ½ cup lemon or lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Finally, serve in a bowl the rice, the cooked beans, add the meat, seafood or chopped rinds (optional) of your choice, and then the pico de gallo to taste. If desired, place whatever garnishment you wish. It is normally served with chopped jalapeno chile, thinly sliced iceberg lettuce and avocado slices.

What else can you eat in Costa Rica?

You tasted the casado, then the gallo pinto, and the Chifrijo. Now you need to try the Olla de Carne. This soup is basically a meat and vegetables soup. It is a much consumed one in the country, you can taste it in many sodas and restaurants either in San Jose downtown or in the rural regions of Costa Rica.

The olla de carne consists in red meat, carrots, potatoes, cassava, sweet potato, and you can add white rice to it. For cold days or when you are truly hungry, it is a real delicacy to taste. This soup is normally prepared in big quantities due to the tradition of the antique families with a lot of children they needed to feed.

Costa Rican food has been very influenced by the traditional food of the aborigines, mainly those foods made of corn. You can taste delicious combinations of corn with meat, chicken, cheese, beans, and other ingredients in our traditional tortillas, empanadas, and bizcochos.

There are a lot of places to enjoy the traditional Costa Rican food when staying here. Alongside the road you will always find a restaurant or a typical cozy soda. But, if you are travelling using some of the Costa Rica vacation packages we can assure you that you will enjoy delicious international and typical cuisine in the best hotels for food in Costa Rica.

The all-inclusive vacation packages are a great option for your family vacations because you will always enjoy the best meals without worrying about it. A great experience for your free time here!

Now you know a little bit more about the typical food of this little piece of heaven on earth. So, we invite you to let your senses be delighted not only by the landscapes and nature, but also by the delicious gastronomy of our country.

Let us know if we are wrong about this, … probably you won’t cause you will love our food!

Questions About Costa Rica Food

Now, it is normal to have certain questions when travelling to a new country. That’s why we have selected the most frequently asked questions to answer them for you. Then, you don’t have to worry about eating in Costa Rica. Please read as follows:

What kind of food do they eat in Costa Rica?

Costa Ricans have a very varied diet, the “ticos” include in their everyday meals some protein and carbs. Now, with all the influence of the “healthy living” the Costa Rican families have started consuming a more balanced diet, including more portions of salads and veggies to their daily meals.

The homemade foods are always based on the traditional food of Costa Rica, making this diet a very typical one. Rice, beans, bread, potatoes, pork and beef, chicken and fish are a very important part of “ticos” consumption.

But, not only typical food is eaten in Costa Rica. While staying here you can be delighted with an excellent international cuisine too. Mexican, Italian, French, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, and American food is also served in restaurants throughout the country.

It is important to mention that here you can also find outstanding international food brands like Outback, P.F. Chang’s, Denny’s (better than USA), Chili’s, Johnny Rockets, and Starbucks; just to mention a few of them.

What is the national dish of Costa Rica?

As you can read above, we must say that Costa Rica’s national dish is the casado. But, it is worth knowing that you can also read or hear that Gallo Pinto is our typical food. Truth is that both dishes can be considered as national traditional food of Costa Rica.

The first one is commonly served for lunch or dinner, and the second one, for breakfast. Even when this dishes can be found in other countries of Latin America, Costa Rica is well-known for having the gallo pinto and the casado as national dishes.

What is the typical food in Costa Rica?

We must say that the Costa Rica breakfast is the most recognizable typical food. Wherever you go during your vacations in Costa Rica you can easily find a great Gallo Pinto.

This is a hearty meal made up black beans mixed with rice –the main reason for its name- and served with scrambled or fried eggs, cheese, fried plantain, sour cream, tortillas, and sometimes you can also find some variations of the dish including any kind of meat: pork, beef, jam or sausages.

Yes, all of this just for your breakfast! The perfect way to start the morning full of energy!

It is safe to drink the water in Costa Rica?

Generally, it is safe to drink the tap water everywhere in Costa Rica. Here, there are good sanitary conditions that permit a regular consumption of the water. Probably, in the most rural and undeveloped parts of the country you will find an advice telling you that it is better to avoid drinking water there.

You can be sure that, if you shouldn’t drink water in a specific place, you will be warned previously. However, if you prefer to be cautious you will find bottled water in every supermarket or restaurant.

But, if you prefer to be sustainable and do not damage the environment, drinking tap water is absolutely safe and will be cheaper for you.    

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