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Pura Vida!

Costa Rica: A taste of the good life

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When I started my design job at VT, my then-fiancée, Laura, and I were eagerly planning our honeymoon to Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful land, exemplified by the national saying, “Pura vida”—a catchall phrase that means “the good life”—because when you’re in Costa Rica, you really are living.

After hearing of our honeymoon plans, the editorial staff encouraged me to bring back some Costa Rican recipes to share. In the capital city, San José, you can find almost any cuisine, from traditional to contemporary, local to international. Eighty percent of Costa Rica’s population—affectionately known as “Tico”—are of Spanish origin.

Traditional “tica” dishes reflect the country’s history of European colonization coupled with the produce native to Central America. Travelers will find this culinary collaboration throughout Central America. Over the last century, Costa Ricans have begun to reestablish their national culture. In areas such as Limón on the east coast, the cooking has an Afro-Caribbean flavor, as in Patacones and Spicy Bean Dip.

No matter where you travel in Costa Rica, there are plenty of opportunities to sample the wares of the many street vendors selling fruits, vegetables, and packaged and prepared foods. I liked drinking water from young chilled coconuts served with a straw.

But my favorite Costa Rican dishes are those made with local fruit. Like all living things in that country, the fruit is exotic, flavorful and abundant, and each season offers yet another ripe refreshment. Laura and I drank glasses of freshly squeezed carambola (star fruit) and maracuya (passion fruit) juices, savored the succulent fruit covering cocoa seeds and ate lots of freshly cut bananas, papayas, pineapples, mangos and, my new favorite, mamoncillos—a small, softly spiny fruit that splits apart to reveal an edible flesh, which boasts the perfect balance between sweet and sour.

Destination Spots

When not dining on delectable native fare, you’ll want to spend time experiencing Costa Rica’s natural resources. Whether you choose the Caribbean or the Pacific Ocean beach areas, or the volcanoes or the rain forests, you’ll find lots of interesting places to visit. We selected remote eco-tourist resorts, and we found that their smaller size made it easy for our hosts to meet our vegetarian needs. Our hosts explained that it is common for their guests to request special diets, especially those suffering from food allergies, so they were very accommodating and made our experience a pleasurable one. We also found that the meals prepared at each of our destinations depended upon the background and experience of the head chef—so we were fortunate to taste dishes from Spain, Belgium, Venezuela and the United States—all with a Costa Rican twist.

As you enjoy these recipes, you may find yourself dreaming of some wild and wonderful destination spot, where you can hear tranquil lapping waves accompanied by the distant roar of breakers on an offshore coral reef in the Caribbean-or the exotic call of a howler monkey on a hilltop overlooking Gulfo Dulce as the sun sets. Ah, ¡pura vida!

With recipes in hand—courtesy of Liesel Flashenberg, Through the Kitchen Door and John Lovell from Rainbow Adventures—Laura and I treated our good friends Rob and Bev Steele and their twins Aden and Zoe to a home-cooked taste of the “Rich Coast,” some of Costa Rica’s more traditional “tica” dishes. ¡Buen provecho! Enjoy your meal!