Learning how to cook Tico style… Or sort of.

Home-made Tico food

One of the first things that Frank and I decided when arriving in Costa Rica was that we would try to cook using local ingredients only, preferably fresh fruits and veggies bought on the farmers’ market once a week. We also wanted to experiment with preparing local recipes. We had had some wonderful eating experiences with the family of our dear Tico friend and we were fully prepared to immerse ourselves in the experience. As the say goes, when in Rome…

So, we bought a book. And a bunch of basic ingredients: white rice, full-corn rice, red beans, black beans, green beans, black bean paste, red bean paste, sweet peppers, carrots, yuca (tapioca/cassava), chayotes, eggs, cheese, oregan and garlic. And then we set to learn to cook tico style. Or sort of.

Our newly acquired gem. Super easy to follow instructions of most Tico dishes

The “sort of” comes from the fact that most of the recipes require onion (to which I am intolerant), fresh coriander (which I do not like), lots of fat in the form of sugar, butter, cheese or milk (which we prefer to avoid) and meat (which we do not eat). So, we have embraced the local recipes as much as we can, trying to make them both vegetarian and low-fat.

The best part

Tico meals are nutritious and well balanced, even for vegetarians. They tend to include a source of carbs (rice, for example), vegetable proteins (beans), non-starchy vegetables and healthy fats (like nuts or fruits such as banana or avocado). And a healthy diet is the secret of a lengthy life. No wonder why the area in which we are now is considered to be a Blue Zone a region in the world in which the percentage of centenarians is higher than the average.

Chayotes, rice, beans and sweet peppers

The recipes are also easy to prepare. And with the exception of the black beans (frijoles) which need to be put in water the day before, they can be prepared on the spot. The easiest two dishes to prepare are probably the gallopintos and casados. Both are the backbone of the Costa Rican cuisine. The gallopinto is a very typical tico breakfast composed of rice and beans (already mixed), fried banana (with vanilla, sugar, and honey in the original recipe) and eggs. The casados are usually served for lunch and dinner and are made of rice and beans (served separately), fried banana, salad and a piece of meat or fish.

While some years ago vegetarian casados were almost unheard of, nowadays there are more and more restaurants and sodas (family restaurants) that have them on the menu. In those, the meat is substituted by eggs or cooked veggies.

So yes, by now I guess that you understand why our shopping list includes an insane amount of different beans which we combine with rice to accompany almost all of the dishes. Another positive side of it is that our intestines seem to be very grateful. And no, they do not cause a lot of unwelcome side effects. The secret is in how they are prepared and cooked, I guess.

We have stuck to our European breakfasts, with cereals, fruit, yogurt or oat milk, and coffee. Having rice and beans also for breakfast was a bit too much for us. And except for the occasional coca de trempó (a typical Mallorquinian dish) or a pizza in a restaurant, we have succeeded in our attempt to cook local. Hitherto, we have tried the ayote cream (kind of pumpkin soup), picadillo de vainicas y zanahorias (green beans with carrots); the chancletas de chayote (untranslatable), yuca frita (fried tapioca), rice and beans, the taco tico, the frescos (smoothies) and tonight we are going to prepare out first gallopinto. So far so good.

Our take on home-made food Tico style

The Tico diet is one of the secrets of why Costa Rica – and, more specifically Guanacaste– is considered to be one of the world´s blue zones. So, why not trying to immerse ourselves in Costa Rica eating habits and particularly in the local ingredients? It is also easy to follow a vegetarian diet since almost every meal contains vegetable proteins, carbs, and non-starchy veggies.

It is healthy. Our intestines love it. And they do not lie.

Furthermore, Tico recipes are easy to prepare. And the ingredients are easy to find. We have been able to cook different recipes contained in the book that we bought.

It is tasty and delicious!. My favorite recipe is the Arroz con palmito – cooked by Doña Irma –. I start drooling only thinking about it. Maybe it will be my next challenge!

And don’t let me start talking about coffee….but that is soooo rich, that it will be a blog on its own.


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