Costa Rica cuisine . . . is that an oxymoron? Do we mean white rice and black beans with some fried chicken and shredded cabbage, a bit of tomato and Linzano sauce on the side? Well, yes. That would be a fairly typical casado, (means “marriage”), and one could even substitute the chicken for overcooked fish or beef, although sometimes it’s possible to luck out on the latter two protein sources. Such a meal, depending on where it’s purchased, could cost from $9 to $14 with tax and tip attached and no beverage in the mix. Still, it’s a better food value than a fast food burger, which runs around $10. American fast food just costs more here than in the States, as does gas and other petroleum products upon which the production and distribution of food stuff depends. (Think about a severe spike in fuel prices and what that would mean for the cost of food everywhere. Rice and beans, fruit trees, and a garden with some chickens pecking in the yard ala rural Guanacaste starts looking pretty good.)
Tax on imported food is another factor in high Costa Rican food costs. Those Italian cheeses and pastas, for example, not only come from a long way away, but they get slapped with import taxes, although many are routed through the U.S. to mitigate the latter. Basically if it’s not grown, produced and processed in Costa Rica (food or not), it will cost exorbitantly. Even Tico food such as cheese can be high priced, although locally produced village cheeses are generally not.
There are solutions for foreigners. It helps to know how to shop and cook and have simple tastes (and not be too demanding in the organic department). Buy produce from local food stands, reduce consumption of dairy, eat less expensive proteins and more vegetable quality food in general. If that seems an impossible hardship, then it is best to have a fat wallet. A good formula for those who have little (and even for those who have lots) is whole grains for carbs; fish, chicken, eggs, beans and legumes as protein sources; and seasonal fruits and vegetables with plenty of raw and cooked greens.
From a local produce stand I recently purchased a head of cabbage, a bunch each of parsley and cilantro, a head of lettuce, and three each of onions, carrots and bananas for around $3.00. At home I made dinner with organic udon noodles (about 75 cents a serving), cooked in a soy broth with onion, carrot, cabbage, parsley and cilantro along with some chili flakes and an egg. This was accompanied by whole grain toast and a salad with simple oil and vinegar dressing. It probably cost two to three dollars. The next morning I cooked some quinoa and added it to the left over broth from the night before and had enough soup for breakfast and lunch. Soups and stews, by the way, are relatively quick and easy to make in addition to being tasty and nutritious.
Asian Noodle Soup
Here is a soup recipe suitable for preparation by almost anyone with the ability to boil water and cut vegetables. Serves 4 to 6
To 6 cups of water add:
1 medium carrot, thoroughly scrubbed or peeled, cut julienne style
1 medium onion, thin julienne
2 ribs celery (optional) julienne
½ medium green cabbage, or Chinese cabbage, cut in strips
a sprinkle of chili flakes
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for five minutes or so
Then bring back to a boil and add:
I pkg. Roland organic udon noodles (8oz.) and stir with tongs, or chopsticks or a fork. Repeat stirring intermittently. Cook about five more minutes until noodles are al dente then add:
1 small bunch each washed and chopped parsley and cilantro
I clove minced garlic (optional)
Small knob of grated ginger root (optional)
Soy sauce, about 1/4 cup
Remove from heat, adjust seasoning to taste and serve.
Other ingredient options include: rice vinegar or lime juice, sweet cooking wine (mirin),wakame sea weed, dulse, egg (break into boiling broth and cook whole, or stir it up), dried fish flakes, fresh spinach, fish, pork, chicken, beef, mung bean sprouts, nori seaweed cut in strips as a topping, sesame seeds, fried won ton skins, pork cracklings, pickled ginger on the side, toasted sesame oil and/or chili oil drizzled on top when serving.
This soup can be made with other oriental noodles such as rice noodles or buckwheat noodles (soba) with cooking time adjusted accordingly.