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We are spending 3 months this winter in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica. Staying in rented AirBnB casitas allows us to have a tiny home from which to base our slow travel.
We don’t like to spend too much time each day getting to and from town to find a restaurant and we like to prepare many of our own meals. This also saves us money. It is important to us that we experience “living” here, so we want to learn to shop and cook with locally available foods.
Our current stay is in a casita with a little kitchen equipped enough for us to feed ourselves for the three weeks we are here. It has a decent sized refrigerator/freezer, sink with PUR water filter, two burner hotplate, toaster, and electric skillet, as well as dishes, pots and pans and most other necessities.
This casita even has excellent knives, but when traveling we always bring one of our own, along with a vegetable peeler, zester, and rubber spatula. We also bring a stainless steel insulated coffee press, but we didn’t need it here.
We have tried many vegetable peelers before this one. We were amazed by how much better the Spring Chef vegetable peeler is! It is so sharp and makes peeling potatoes and carrots effortless. We take it everywhere we travel.
Many of our readers know us as healthy, gourmet cooks, so, we thought it would be fun to share how we feed ourselves here in Costa Rica. We take advantage of the well-priced and yummy fruits and vegetables, hormone-free meats, and local specialty items.
Here in Atenas, Costa Rica, we are just keeping it simple, healthy, and local, with a few favorite extravagances thrown in. There is a wonderful bread bakery here in Atenas, run by an ex-pat, where we can get whole grain loaves of bread. We can walk to a neighbor’s house for homemade, additive-free ice cream, but neither of these items comes cheaply!
Our hosts, who live in the big house next door, kindly give us a lift to the weekly farmer’s market or feria. This weekly market in Atenas is a large, clean, covered area, sitting up above town.
There are many vendors, including some with refrigerated cases for meat and dairy products. There is a large parking area with attendant, a small cafe area for coffee and snacks and public restrooms.
Here are some of the things we purchased at the market in Atenas in the past two weeks:
avocados, green beans, cantaloupe, watermelon, onions (white and green), broccoli, potatoes, pineapple, papaya, chayote squash, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, cheese (similar to feta), bread (made by expat locals), coffee (grown on a permaculture farm near here), eggs
- A kilo of eggs was about 4 dollars (for 15 delicious eggs of good size)
- Sweet and perfectly ripe pineapples, depending on size, run from about 1 to 2 dollars
- Avocados are about $4 a kilo which means about a dollar for a good sized one
- A good sized head of broccoli was a dollar, same for a head of green cabbage or a huge bag of carrots
This week, we filled our fridge for about $20 (we still had eggs and cheese from last week).
We often stop at a grocery store in town, load up our cloth bags and grab a $2.00 cab back to our casita. In the small groceries in town we have purchased milk, juice, yogurt, dried beans, corn tortillas, sugar, spices, mayo, ketchup, guava jam, butter, oil, soy sauce, rice, ginger root, garlic and baby bananas. Also popcorn kernels, cookies and some disappointing chocolate.
The central or municipal market which is open every day is also a great place to fill in our supplies during the week. There are many vendors with fresh fruit and vegetables as well as a meat market and other stalls. The prices seem better than in the grocery stores, but the selection is smaller.
At the local butcher we have purchased pork, chicken and ground beef. The one time we carried our meat home on foot we attracted the attention of many of the neighborhood dogs, so now we get a lift home when we buy meat!
This time of year we are happy to have ripe lemons and limes to pick right from the garden of our casita. We love fresh papaya with a squeeze of lime!
This week, we went with our hosts to Pricemart, a US based chain (sheepish grin), located in Alajuela (about 30 minutes away) for chocolate, wine and peanut butter. We were amazed at the high cost of many of the US products, and at all the locals shopping there. Imagine buying canned fruit cocktail here in the land of amazing fresh fruits! However, there are a lot of items that can only be found at the US based chains and the locals that can afford it, are finding new (though not necessarily healthy) choices.
Cooking at Home in Costa Rica
Here is a sampling of what we are cooking while we are here. Sometimes we also combine leftovers from a meal out at lunch time, with a salad at “home” for dinner.
- Taco salad, either with seasoned ground beef, shredded chicken or leftover fish from a restaurant, with guacamole, of course.
- Stir fry of local veggies with pork or chicken and brown rice (arroz integral)
- Egg scramble with veggies and crumbled cheese
- Grilled chicken and roasted veggies and potatoes
- Hamburgers with cole slaw (here is our recipe for International Cole Slaw)
For lunch, when we are home, we often have a salad or leftovers.
Dining Out in Costa Rica
When we dine out, we try and get a sandwich or eat the casado, which is comida tipico (typical Costa Rican fare)- a hearty plate of rice, beans, grilled meat, plantains, and some sort of salad. We could split one, but it seems a bit rude, so we take about half of it home to share for dinner. A plate at a local “soda” (casual lunch place) costs about five dollars and sometimes includes a fruit juice drink.
My favorite place in Atenas for a small meal, followed by delicious gelato is at Gelly’s, a little cafe that sits up above the road overlooking the central plaza. The staff here is lovely and the gelato flavors are heavenly. Next time, I really must order the small (pequeno) one, but our first time we went for grande and got to have four little scoops, thus tasting as many flavors as possible.
Of course, when the power failed at dinner time, we took our flashlight and headed to Kappa Sushi where we had the special sushi roll boat for two, complete with edamame. This was our answer to being away from the US on Thanksgiving and we enjoyed our candle lit Thanksgiving in Costa Rica.
Still More to Taste
We have traveled to a variety of countries and each has wonderful and unique culinary offerings. In Costa Rica we have enjoyed preparing wonderful fresh fruit salads, delicious and fresh meat dishes and amazingly fresh veggies.
We love the fried plantains that are served with the comida tipica at lunch, the gallo pinto (rice and beans) breakfasts and the freshly made ceviche. We also appreciate that we can get some international meals in the bigger cities and tourist towns.
We still have lots to see of this great country. And we plan to report back on the Caribbean influenced cuisine after our February trip to the Caribbean coastal town of Puerto Viejo.
Until then, Pura Vida!
Interesting information. The food looks yummy and quite affordable. We visited Costa Rica in our camper many years ago. I’d love to go back. We also carry our own chef’s knife with us and a few other items some home owners don’t have.
When I read you had your Thanksgiving dinner here, I was confused at the timing of this post. (I received it in a recent email). I didn’t see the date you wrote and posted it, but based on the comments, it was a few years ago. Happy Thanksgiving for this year, wherever you are!
Hi Laurie I really enjoyed this article. As always you are a fine descriptive writer and make the place come alive in just a few short words. My mouth is watering for the fresh papaya, and the fresh fish. all the best.
Thanks Pam! I am glad you enjoy our writing. You might also enjoy the post about the coconut water Neil harvested for us on the beach. It is a brand new post, so you probably won’t have seen it. The tropical vibe will help with the winter dreary sky times! Hasta! https://joyfuljourneying.com/how-to-get-free-coconut-water-pipa-in-costa-rica/
La vida dulce! Nice description of local foods. Why is it when Tom and I travel, it is always the food we
remember as well!
Thanks for your comment Sandra. I think that meals are memorable because when we dine, we are using so many of our senses- taste, smell, sight, touch, and if the ambiance is nice, perhaps sounds as well. It is an immersive experience! And food also shows a lot about the culture, so it evokes our sense of place. Certainly finding new and interesting foods to cook and eat is one of the reasons we love travel so much.
We really love the farmer’s markets here in Costa Rica, you can’t get any fresher, better produce than what they have for sure! Lots of exciting things to try too, like yucca, mangosteens and rambutans.
Yes Charlie! We had mangosteens and rambutan in Bali. We have yet to find them here, perhaps they are not in season yet. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Yes, the fruit especially here in Costa Rica is delicious and inexpensive. There is a huge variety too. Whoo hoo on your promotion! A cane is so sophisticated.
I love your descriptions and it seems to me that you have a greater selection of edibles than we did when we lived in California. Lots of love. BTW, I have been promoted to a cane!