Vegan and Vegetarian Food Guide: Costa Rica
Vegan and Vegetarian Food Guide: Costa Rica
Costa Rica is known worldwide for it’s delicious coffee, but when it comes to more substantial foods are vegetarians left high and dry?
Tell a Tico (Costa Rican) chef that you are a vegetarian and their first reaction will be confusion, followed quickly by mild panic. Fortunately their next reaction will probably be giving you an enormous plate of delicious vegetarian food! This is because although vegetarianism is still something of a rarity here among locals, the country is actually well-equipped to cater for vegetarians and vegans. Here’s why:
A Vegetarian’s Guide to Typical Costa Rican Food
The staple dinner or lunch dish in any Costa Rican soda (think cheap cafe style canteen) is the casado. Although a casado tipico would traditionally contain a serving of chicken, it’s a very versatile dish and you never know quite what you are going to get.
A casado plate, which is gigantic, will often contain some combination of rice, black beans, salad, veggies, plantains, eggs, cheese and tortillas as well as a meat. While some enterprising cooks have worked out that gringos occasionally prefer a vegetarian version and put it on the menu, all of them are able to give you a meat-free plate of food if asked. If you request a casado sin carne (without meat) or even sin huevos o queso (without eggs or cheese) you’re still left with a huge amount of food!
Our favourite casado vegetariano can be found at Soda Angel, a tiny eatery in Manuel Antonio where everything is cooked fresh to order. Our other favourite, Soda Guetta Girl One Love, is on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica in Puerto Viejo, where the rice and beans is cooked in coconut milk and there’s a spicy veggie stew instead of eggs or cheese.
Despite the name, gallo pinto (spotted rooster) is a chicken-free breakfast that normally contains rice, beans, coriander and onion. Many Ticos consider gallo pinto their national dish. It’s ubiquitous nature means that vegans will never starve in Costa Rica, but be careful: some cooks use animal fat when they fry the beans, so if you are unsure ask!
Empanadas de queso, tortillas filled with cheese, folded over and then deep-fried, are a great way to fill up if you find yourself at a service station and feeling peckish.
A Vegetarian’s Guide to Costa Rican Farmer’s Markets
If you have access to a kitchen, you’ll have a fantastic time prepping your own vegetarian or vegan food in Costa Rica! This is because every town has a weekly farmer’s market where you can buy local produce for low prices.
It’s all local and organic, because that’s simply the way they grow things here. The smell of fresh coriander and basil at Puriscal’s farmer’s market is one of my favourite ever, and you can’t beat some fresh turmeric and spices from the farmer’s market and the local spice farm in Quepos.
There’s also a number of interesting tropical fruits and vegetables to try. Yucca is a firm favourite of mine, and the chayote are very tasty too. You can also get hold of random fruits like mangosteens, soursops, red bananas and rambutans.
A Vegetarian’s Guide to Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is a laid back Caribbean town that is serious about organic local produce and is a hotspot for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and raw food. There are plenty of quirky local cafes doing crazy cool things with food. Como en mi Casa Art Cafe has a great raw vegan frozen tropical fruit cake, for instance. La Botanica Organica Cafe has a sumptuous Caribbean plate with lentil burgers and carrot and ginger dressing perfect for vegans.
If you prefer to cook yourself, then Veronica, a local hostel owner who used to run what may well have been Central America’s first vegan restaurant, has a vegetarian/vegan cooking class. She taught herself how to cook vegan years ago, so expect to eat something that’s as delicious as it is unique – such as her tasty green plantain and oat burgers in Caribbean style sauce.
Eating Vegan and Vegetarian in Costa Rica
Eating vegan and vegetarian in Costa Rica ranges from being a decent but wholesome meal of rice and beans to get you by to an incredibly diverse array of quirky, fresh foods. While street food isn’t big here, the farmer’s markets more than make up for it. Costa Rica is definitely a great but underrated destination for vegetarians and vegans alike.
Charlie is a long-term traveller, freelance writer and house sitter taking an alternative path across the world. Her travel blog, Charlie on Travel, is about simple, sustainable and socially responsible travel. Follow her adventures on Facebook.