Buen provecho / Good eatin’

According to the guidebooks, Costa Rican cuisine is nothing to write home about. But I’m going to do just that, because I think the books are mistaken.

We sit at our plastic dining nook, between us a plate of wet papaya slices, mugs of iced green tea and mango juice sweating in our hands. The frozen chocobananas dipped in crushed mani (peanuts) just went back in the freezer… many people sell them from their homes, so we decided to make our own, with a pretty decent result.

This afternoon J. bought a small pop bottle filled with homemade cholero, a spicy sauce made of Panamanian chiles and God knows what else, from the lady at Soda Mirna. A soda is a diner, and we had just ordered the most typical of Costa Rican dishes, casados. That means “marrieds,” roughly, and consists of rice and beans and a tiny bit of salad, along with some kind of meat. Or in my case, flattened and pan-fried plantain coins. The hot sauce was so good that J. had me ask if they’d sell it to us. They would.

Speaking of plátanos, though, there’s an entire branch of them hanging by the door. How are we ever going to eat them all? 1. With lots of cholero, and/or 2. By sneaking them into our breakfast cereals as if they were bananas. J. was none the wiser this morning!

We’ve discovered that it’s much more economical to shop for what Ticos buy; anything imported costs more. This means yucca chips, not potato chips. The corn chips here are way better than those of the USA, but the ketchup sucks. You can get guayaba jam, but don’t try to find raspberry. When given a choice, always pick the brand that’s labeled en español. We get the latino equivalent of standard ingredients: instead of white sugar, a solid cone of cane sugar, which one chips away at with a knife. All this has the added benefit of being educational and more immersive than, say, seeking out McPatatas (though I’m not saying I never would, just out of curiosity).

We can get guava, lemons, bananas, cilantro, lemongrass, several greens, and of course plantains right from the land, though the soursops are not ripening right, and we just missed the pineapples. But we can buy almost any tropical fruit. There are trucks and rickety stands brimming with it, guys hawking them down every street. My favorite is pipas, young green coconuts containing sweet water and soft flesh. The vegetable selection leaves something to be desired, especially in the dark, leafy category. But we do have an impressive sweet pepper bush out back of the cabina… directly below the pee output. Washed very thoroughly, they add color and crunch to our salads.

Here is the best part: in Centroamerica, chocolate is local! The farm down the road makes little stubs of flavored dark chocolate wrapped in wax paper like cigars. Someday we’ll take a tour, and J. can taste for the first time the gooey, sweet bean of the cocoa plant.

We shall see what other culinary adventures we encounter in the next month. I am thankful, however, to report that one such adventure has ended: it turns out that the sal inglaterra mentioned a few posts ago is… epsom salt. Why they sell it in tiny bags with the spices is a mystery, but let me be the first to tell you that though eating them in your oatmeal and dinners won’t kill you, it makes beans take forever to cook!

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