Can’t get exotic foods in Costa Rica?

Food & Cuisine

Link to properties in Costa RicaLets face it, we all need to eat to stay alive right? Some eat just to survive and then there are people like me that find great pleasure in eating for many reasons, not just survival. When I retired from the hospitality industry and first moved to Costa Rica over eight years ago, this was something that was a bit of a concern for me. Being a retired chef, food and exotic food products are more than just a way of life, it is the life for a chef, once a chef always a chef. The options for great products here in Costa Rica are unending you just have to look closely.

Many times on my travels here before making the move to live here full time, I dined in a lot of typical “SODA” restaurants as I wanted the local feel and learn about the customs of dinning. Basic simple food prepared from fresh ingredients, wholesome and delicious. But always in the back of my mind was the thought, can I get things like portabella mushrooms, how about some basic Asian staples like toasted sesame oil and or hoi sin sauce, or even one of my favorites Thai curry pastes, and the list goes on and on. I was thinking well I cannot live just on rice, beans, plantains, salad and some kind of meat which is a basic “casado” the national dish of Costa Rica meaning the marriage. I also dined at a lot of “Tourist Restaurants” as well; you know the ones in popular beach destinations or close to one of the national parks or the international airports, but most those types of places offered the same old stuff, hamburgers, pizza, griddled fish with garlic butter and not a lot of imagination. Granted they were good but just how hum food for people that truly enjoy eating, trust me they were nothing that you would write home about or remember for years to come.

So I made a pledge and a promise to myself, I am going to be adventurous and try as many local things as possible and use my past culinary skills to turn local products into something really cool or at least delicious for me and people I invite to my house.

That was eight years ago, now things have changed for the better in a big way. I still love cooking and cook at least 4 nights a week, the rest of the time I like to go out to one of the many good restaurants in the Playa Hermosa and Playa Del Coco area. I will get to those in I minute as it all relates to this topic.

When I go grocery shopping I take my time, I look for products that I could use in many different ways to create some unique dishes. One of the funny things about retailers here and what I love about Costa Rica is the placement of products in the grocery stores. As an example, I love to use dried Italian porcini mushroom, yes you can get them here, to make sauces for meats and pastas and add to rice dishes, well you would think they would be in the section with the imported Italian pastas and canned sauces, or maybe even in the spice sections. But not here in Coco, I find the porcini mushrooms in the section that has all of the Asian foods. Another funny example is just plain old tomato juice. You can search the juice section and won’t find it, but head over to the liquor isle and you will find it by the vodka!! Bloody Marys’ anyone?

Heck just last night is a great example, I bought a kilo ( 2.2 pounds) of some beautiful fresh red snapper filets, skinless, boneless and ready to cook for only $12.00 US, caught in the morning that day. I wanted something a bit exotic and not totally local so off to the Mercado I went and picked up, sweet red chili sauce, Nori sheets, (for those that do not know what this is, it is basically seaweed used in making sushi rolls) natural coconut milk, fresh ginger, green onions, yellow Holland bell pepper and dried Vietnamese rice paper used for fresh spring rolls. Took everything home and created a great dinner of snapper spring rolls with sweet red chili coconut sauce. This sounds hard but really easy to make even for a person with no culinary experience.

With the addition of a wider range of products available now, this has turned into a real plus for area restaurants. Again no more just plain burgers and pizza and Buffalo wings, granted they are good when the hankering calls with a cold beer watching the NFL or the World Series at a local sports bar which we have here as well, but again who wants to eat that all the time. In the area there are some really good restaurants to choses from, if you are into sushi you are in luck and I mean good fresh fish with nori ginger and wasabi, to Middle Eastern falafels with creamy garlic yogurt sauce and hummus with grilled pitas. Too out there for you, how about fantastic fresh made pastas at Italian restaurants or French crepes filled with all sorts of goodies. There is a great German restaurant very close by and if you ever have been to a traditional October Fest you will love this place. Do you like true Spanish Paella? You know the rice seafood and sausage dish, well we have a great family run business featuring typical and classical foods from the region of Spain the family comes from. The choices are ever growing and getting better and better all the time.

The amount of great food products available here in Costa Rica and the area I call home has made the transition for me well worth it. These restaurants would not be opening and serving great food if the products were not here to start with. The area really is not a gourmand’s destination but if you love to eat, like I do, you won’t be disappointed. By the way the “Casado” is still one of my favorite dishes. Come on down and I will show you around and the how to eat well. Pura Vida!

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