Every morning begins with coffee, of course, and usually fruit. But the centerpiece of any Costa Rican breakfast is the spotted rooster, better known as gallo pinto. Rice and beans. “Gallo” means rooster, “pinto” means spotted, and the name refers to the dappled appearance of the dish when the white rice mixes with red or black beans. It’s the so-called national dish of both Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and people in both countries can get more than a little uppity when it comes to the history of this food and the proper way in which to prepare it. According to an article that ran this summer in The SJO Post, Universidad de Costa Rica researcher Patricia Vega has found that the dish originated in the Costa Rican Caribbean region, where Tico and Nicaraguan banana plantation workers ate gallo pinto together.
Of course, my niece’s host mother makes the best gallo pinto. But it’s apparently difficult to get a recipe out of her.
I dreamed of ceviche before landing in Costa Rica. And when I finally dig into a bowl of it for lunch one day, I dream of what I would do to this dish, were I in charge. It comes with big fleshy chunks of fish (not sure the variety, but certainly fresh and tasty) in a boat of lime, cilantro and mild onion. A little too mild, a little too blah. I imagine a stronger onion, chile, a pinch of garlic, a sliced homegrown tomato….
Now, something of note: see that packet of ketchup? It’s part of the ubiquitous duo, ketchup and mayo, perhaps the Costa Rican salsa. As my niece says, locals slather it on everything. I’m mildly appalled until it accompanies a Tico taco I order one night: deep fried shrimp-filled tortilla, smothered in cabbage slices and that red-white salsa. And it’s good! So prevalent is mayo, I buy some as a souvenir for people I know will appreciate it. It’s flavored with lime, and it comes in a squeeze pouch!
Mostly, though, I’m fascinated by the colors, and the way they dazzle in the light. From juice dispensers…
…to the little market in Miramar, where my niece spent her time. I love the radiance; and I love the way food centers in this rainbow, painting the Costa Rican backdrop.