When traveling in Costa Rica, it is a good idea to check out some of the things they typically have for breakfast. Chances are these are the dishes that you are going to have offered up wherever you go across the country, so knowing what will be served ahead of time can help you plan your meals more easily.
Costa Ricans usually enjoy a Spanish style savory breakfast that typically consists of some kind egg dish, tortillas, salchichón (sausage), natilla (sour cream), fresh fruit, cheese, and coffee. Other common dishes include fried plantains, homemade bread, and corn pancakes called chorreadas. Another popular staple is Gallo pinto, or rice and beans.
Whether you are trying to pick out breakfast foods for an upcoming trip or just want to recreate the traditional Costa Rican breakfast in your own home, there are plenty of dishes and breakfast staples to choose from. Read on to learn more about what Costa Ricans eat for breakfast.
Tico Breakfast Beverages
Along with the delicious breakfast foods of Costa Rica, there are also a few beverages served at breakfast that are synonymous with the culture and cuisine of the country. Here are a few of the drinks that are commonly served at breakfast in Costa Rica:
- Coffee: Coffee is one of the largest exports of Costa Rica, and it is even illegal to grow anything but 100% Arabica beans in the country. (Source: Café Britt) Because coffee is so important to the local economy, it is consumed both in the morning and in the afternoon in much the same way that tea is enjoyed in other parts of the world. Coffee is served with cane sugar and milk or cream.
- Horchata: Horchata is a creamy drink made of rice and milk that is traditionally seasoned with cinnamon. The refreshing milky flavors of horchata serve as a perfect foil to the rich, savory flavors of most Costa Rican breakfast dishes.
- Pipa fria: Pipa fria is the Costa Rican name for coconut water, which is a crisp and refreshing drink to help cut fatty breakfast meals. While many people across the world may have tasted packaged coconut water, it is nothing compared to fresh coconut water straight out of the coconuts, which is one of the benefits of ordering it in a tropical country like Costa Rica.
- Refrescos: Refrescos are Costa Rica’s version of a milkshake and can contain a variety of different sweet flavors. Pineapple and blackberry (known in Costa Rica as mora) are both popular varieties.
Many of the drinks served with food at breakfast in Costa Rica are designed to be very sweet, since a lot of the breakfast dishes such as fried eggs and Gallo pinto are spicy, savory dishes. The refreshing sweetness of the drinks above helps to cut the buttery mouthfeel of a Costa Rican breakfast.
Gallo pinto (directly translated as “spotted rooster”) is a staple across all of Costa Rican cuisine and is not just present as a breakfast food. This rice and beans dish is still most popularly eaten in the morning, though, and provides a hearty energy boost for anyone to start their day off. Gallo pinto is so popular it is known as the national dish of Costa Rica. Some people serve Gallo pinto with black beans like the Caribbeans, while others serve red beans and rice.
Gallo pinto is the result of Afro-Caribbean influence on Costa Rican cuisine, which has led to the nation developing a culinary flavor that fuses both Carib and Spanish flavors into a spicy, robust hybrid cuisine. Rice and beans in Costa Rica are most often used as a side dish to either scrambled or fried eggs.
Gallo pinto is traditionally seasoned with bell peppers, onions (either regular onions or scallions), salt, chicken broth, garlic, and fresh cilantro. Gallo pinto is also traditionally made with day-old rice, which gives it the correct consistency versus fresh rice. It is often made with rice that was cooked the evening before for dinner. Like the rice, the black beans are often cooked the evening before and refried as part of the Gallo pinto.
An ingredient that is considered a secret local ingredient of Gallo pinto is Salsa Lizano, a light brown sauce similar to Worcestershire sauce with a subtle spice mix. This condiment is a household staple in many Costa Rican homes, and you can add it to your meal at most Costa Rican restaurants. (Source: The Latin America Travel Company)
Pati (Tico Empanadas)
Pati is a type of spicy beef empanada that you might be able to find as a side item at many Costa Rican restaurants that serve a savory breakfast. Empanadas are a favorite street food of Costa Rica and elsewhere in Latin America since these small baked or fried hand pies can be easily carried while traveling. Pati is a Latinized take on another Caribbean hand pie, the Jamaican patty.
While spiced ground beef is a popular filling for empanadas, which are usually made with a corn-based dough, other popular fillings include chicken, potatoes, and pork. Empanadas or patis are popular street food not just because they are delicious, but also because when cooked with simple ingredients like beans, they are an affordable breakfast or snack for the working class.
The dough for empanadas is made using cornflour and consommé, or chicken stock. Water is also added to thin the stock. This dough is mixed and put aside while the filling is fried in a skillet—usually some kind of protein or potatoes with aromatics such as garlic, onions, and peppers.
(Source: My Tan Feet)
The raw dough is formed into circular tortillas, and then a spoon of the empanada filling is added to the center. After the dough is wrapped around the filling, it can be cooked in several ways, from baking to deep frying. Empanadas are a great food to make ahead for a picnic, gathering, or quick snack since they can be served at room temperature or even cold once they have been cooked.
As far as sweeter breakfast offerings go, one thing that you are likely to see a lot of in Costa Rica is sweet bread. Pan Bon is a dark, sweet Caribbean bread served in Costa Rica that is often full of candied fruit such as raisins. In Jamaica, where this type of sweet bread is also popular, it is known as a Jamaican spiced bun.
Pan Bon is usually seasoned with holiday spices such as vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon, making it an especially popular option during holiday gatherings. During the holidays, it is usually paired with a savory Tico cheese like queso palmito, a firm, fresh cheese with a consistency similar to mozzarella.
(Source: The Culture Trip)
Like many recipes popular in Costa Rica, Pan Bon was brought to Costa Rica by the Afro-Caribbean people. Unlike those recipes, however, Pan Bon has remained largely the same across the islands and nations that it has ended up in.
There are many deviations of Pan Bon recipes, with some calling for raisins and others calling for other dried fruits. Some include nuts, and some do not. The type of sugar used also varies, with some recipes calling for molasses and others for white cane sugar. Pan Bon is similar to fruitcake as it evolved in Europe during the Middle Ages and has remained a holiday favorite across much of the world as a result.
Pejibaye is a treat that is exclusive to Latin America, and it is the name that is given to the peach palm fruit. This fruit can be found across Central and South America and is a savory fruit that is packed with nutrients and vitamins, making it a popular snack not just for taste but also for nutrition.
Pejibaye season occurs between September and April, and these fruits have to be completely boiled for three to five hours to be eaten, making them almost more like a tough-skinned vegetable than a fruit. The skin of the palm fruit is also useful for its oils, as they contain a natural sunscreen against the searing Costa Rican sun.
Pejibaye is commonly served with both lime, sour cream, and mayonnaise. It can also be transformed into a variety of other dishes, including stews, cakes, and liquor. Overall, Pejibaye goes along well with the savory profile of most Costa Rican breakfast dishes. (Source: Foodie Tours Costa Rica)
The flavor of Pejibaye has been described as a mix between a baked potato and a roasted chestnut, which means that this fruit acts as a fantastic complementary side dish to many other dishes in Tico cuisine.
Chorreadas in Costa Rican cuisine consists of corn-based pancakes that are made out of fresh corn and can come in either sweet or savory versions, similar to pancakes in North America. Chorreadas are made with either fresh milled white corn (which has a sweeter flavor) or fresh milled yellow corn, which has a more robust corn flavor and gives the cakes a bright yellow coloring.
When served for breakfast, sweet chorreadas are typically served with honey, molasses, or syrup as a side dish to accompany coffee or horchata. A savory version of chorreadas can also be made and served with Tico cheese or sausage like chorizo.
Other options for condiments include the following:
- Sour cream
- Cream cheese
Because many different cuisines around the world have a version of pancakes and cuisines that have been exposed to corn have corn cakes (known the United States as “johnnycakes”), these pancakes are a great foundational ingredient to riff many different experimental dishes off of. Chorreadas can easily take the place of a polenta cake in a dish and goes equally well with both sweet and savory things.
Banana Leaf Tamales
As in much of Central and South America, tamales are a popular food in Costa Rica and are a particular favorite during the holidays, but are often sold to tourists for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in much of the country.
In Costa Rica, tamales are often served with a mixture of Gallo pinto and a protein. Favorite protein choices include shredded pork shoulder roast, beef roast, and shredded chicken. Tamales are made by creating a corn masa dough out of masa and water or chicken stock and then wrapping the masa around a filling of meat and rice or meat, rice, and potatoes.
In most of Central and South America, tamales are made by wrapping the corn masa and filling in a corn husk and then steaming them. But because of their tropical presentation, tamales in Costa Rica are more often steamed in banana or plantain leaves.
Like empanadas, tamales are an excellent food in Costa Rica for “the morning after.” Served with Gallo pinto filling or a side of fresh fruit, they are the perfect way to start a day of post-party tropical exploration.
Patacones is the term in Costa Rica for fried green plantain chips. Plantains are a starchy fruit similar to bananas but much less sweet, allowing them to be either sweetened up for sweet dishes or used naturally in more savory dishes. A favorite way to prepare plantains in Costa Rica is to slice them into round coins, and deep fry them. These bites of deep-fried plantain are called patacones.
The great thing about the pretty neutral flavor base of patacones is that like tortillas, empanadas, and tamales, patacones act as a solid starch foundation for a variety of sweet and savory toppings. In Costa Rica, patacones are either served with condiments such as chimichurri to dip or topped with a protein like shredded beef or chicken.
Plantains are also added to a variety of main dishes in Costa Rica, such as stews and soups. For breakfast, however, it is usually just fried and served along with other fried breakfast foods such as chorizo sausage or bacon.
Eggs are one of the most widespread breakfast foods found in Costa Rica. Many households keep chickens in the country since they can be housed cheaply, and their eggs provide a stable source of protein that can be used in many kinds of meals.
Fried eggs are often served on top of Gallo pinto for a simple and hearty breakfast, or with scrambled eggs for those who do not like a runny yolk. The combination of eggs, beans, and rice is an affordable yet satisfying combination that can keep people running for hours without feeling sluggish.
One thing that might surprise tourists in Costa Rica is that eggs and other dairy products are rarely sold refrigerated. This is because, unlike eggs out of the grocery store, many eggs in Costa Rica are sourced locally, which means that the eggs are generally fresher and can be safely left out without becoming contaminated.
One type of egg that is eaten in Costa Rica but should be avoided is turtle eggs. While many tourists may get talked into trying raw turtle egg as a local delicacy, the harvesting of these eggs is considered poaching and is very detrimental to the sea turtle population. (Source: ABC News)
Costa Rican Breakfast Tortillas
As in many areas of Latin America, tortillas are king. These easy-to-fry, delicious bread discs are the perfect vehicle for eggs, Gallo pinto, and other savory components of a Costa Rican breakfast. Tortillas are a great way to incorporate freshly baked bread into your daily breakfast since they come together quickly with just flour and water and can be baked in a matter of minutes.
For breakfast dishes like Gallo pinto or green banana ceviche, tortillas act as a useful edible tool to spoon up the filling and move it directly into your mouth. Since many foods in Costa Rica are finger foods, tortillas show up at most meals to act as both a staple starch and as an eating utensil. Since most of the foods in Costa Rica taste better when wrapped in a delicious piece of fresh tortilla, nobody is complaining.
In Costa Rica, tortillas are often made of cornflour rather than white flour, and this gives them a chewy texture along with yellow coloring. There are also different varieties of tortillas available from street vendors, such as cheese tortillas. Tortillas are often served with several different condiments such as sour cream (known in Costa Rica as natilla) or chimichurri. Other common additions to tortillas include meat toppings, fresh chopped cilantro, and fresh tomatoes or avocado.
Here is a basic recipe for making a single homemade tortilla, Costa Rica style:
- Two heaping spoons of masa corn flour (do not substitute cornmeal)
- One spoonful of sour cream
- One spoonful of cheese
- A dash of salt
- Enough water to make a dough
- Butter or lard for frying
Mix the flour, sour cream, cheese, and salt until the mixture forms a lumpy dough. Add the water a spoonful at a time until the dough becomes pliable. The dough should be able to be rolled into a ball without sticking to the sides of the bowl.
Once the tortilla ball is rolled, flatten it with a rolling pin and place it in a hot skillet. Fry the tortilla ball in a skillet with a little butter or lard until lightly browned on one side. Flip the tortilla and cook the remaining side. Serve with extra sour cream, cheese, and other toppings as condiments. (Source: Detail
Fresh Fruit from Costa Rica
Fresh fruit is often served for breakfast in Costa Rica as a fresh accompaniment to more savory breakfast dishes. Costa Rica is full of fresh and exotic fruits for tourists to try that are not easy to find elsewhere in the world.
There are a few reasons that certain fruits can only be found in Costa Rica:
- They do not ship well. The tropical fruits of Costa Rica are usually thin-skinned jungle varieties that do not survive long-term transport, which means it is hard to get them outside of the country before their quality rapidly deteriorates.
- They do not grow well on farms. While many other types of fruit such as citrus can be farmed easily, many of the more exotic fruits of Costa Rica can only be farmed within the climate of that particular area, meaning that if you want to experience those fruits, you’re usually going to have to travel to the country to do it.
Here are some of the exotic fruits you may encounter at breakfast in Costa Rica:
- Noni (Indian mulberry)
- Jocote (Red mombin)
- Malay apples
- Passion fruit
- Star fruit
- Cashew fruits
- Peach palm fruit
Fruits are often cut up and served alongside savory dishes at a Costa Rican breakfast to add texture and sweetness to the meal. Many of the above exotic fruits can be found at a Costa Rican farmer’s market, known as feria.
Costa Rican Breakfast Sausage
Like many Hispanic-leaning cultures and the rest of the world, Costa Ricans have a love affair with sausage, chorizo in particular. Sausage—also known as salchichón in Costa Rica—is often served alongside Gallo pinto and eggs or is mixed directly into them in the form of ground chorizo.
Bacon is also served, though not as commonly. Pork, in general, is popular as a filling for a variety of Tico dishes, including tamales, empanadas, and tortillas.
Most of the chorizo in Costa Rica comes from a local butcher, and most of it is made from shop to shop, so the quality and taste can vary wildly depending on where you source it. For those who are recreating Costa Rican dishes at home, any kind of Mexican chorizo can be substituted in a pinch, since the spices used in chorizo are largely the same across Latin America.
The advantage of chorizo and other sausages over other pork products used in cooking in Costa Rica is that these heavily spiced parts of the pig act as a seasoning. Chorizo can be used to season beans, rice, melted cheese, potatoes, and even other meats!
Condiments at a Tico Breakfast Table
One of the best things about eating breakfast in Costa Rica is the condiments. Since the staples of the Costa Rican diet—beans, rice, and corn tortillas—are fairly bland, condiments act as a way to help spice up the cuisine and as toppings for a variety of roasted meats that serve as the main protein of the meal.
Because many dishes in Costa Rica have strong flavors that are sour, bitter, and savory, condiments act as one way to cut through the richness and spiciness of the food.
Here are some of the condiments that you are likely to find at a Costa Rican breakfast:
- Sour cream: Sour cream (also known as natilla) is a popular condiment in both sweet and savory dishes in Costa Rica. This fermented cream is served dolloped over tamales and empanadas or alongside fried eggs, potatoes, and Gallo pinto. The cold sour cream and smooth texture serve as a nice contrast to the hot flavors and varied textures in the rest of the meal.
- Cheese: Like sour cream, cheese acts as a way to dull some of the spicier flavors of Costa Rica. A popular variety of cheese served in Costa Rica is queso palmito, which is a mozzarella-like fresh cheese with a firm texture and mild string cheese flavor.
- Salsa Lizano: Salsa Lizano is a light brown sauce that is served with many kinds of Costa Rican meals, not just breakfast. This condiment was developed in 1920 and has enjoyed a massive cult following in Costa Rica ever since. It is similar to Worcestershire sauce in Western cuisine and commonly used as a flavoring. Salsa Lizano offers dishes a sweet acidic flavor. It goes well with a large number of foods and is also commonly used as a marinade for meat. Salsa Lizano can be bought online at Amazon and Amigofoods.
- Chimichurri: Chimichurri is a South American table condiment, but Costa Rica’s version is kind of like South America’s chimichurri fused with Mexico’s pico de gallo. This version often includes white onions and fresh tomatoes along with chopped cilantro, salt, and lime juice.
Condiments can be a great way to dress up some of Costa Rica’s plainer food offerings, but if you are not into something exotic, these toppings are often optional or served on the side so that you can dress your starches yourself. This means that, no matter how you like your patacones or your tortillas, you can eat them exactly the way you want to.
There Are Tons of Foods to Eat for Breakfast in Costa Rica
No matter what your flavor preference is, you are bound to find something you like on a Costa Rican breakfast menu. The menu has options for both sweet and savory dishes, and the ingredients used in them, such as corn, beans, rice, cheese, and eggs, are beloved staples around the world. This makes it an extremely accessible cuisine.
So, whether you are preparing a Costa Rican breakfast for your family at home or trying to figure out what to eat when you visit the region, you are sure to find several Costa Rican dishes that you will love!
So now that you’ve had breakfast, what’s for lunch? Why, Costa Rican Casado, of course!
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