While in Costa Rica last week, the directions I received to the closest frutteria went something like this, “Stay on the paved road. Follow all of the twists and turns until you see it on your left. If you find yourself on a dirt road get back on the paved one.”
After a few bumpy miles, we hit the frutteria and the food portion of our adventure began.
We rarely stay in hotels anymore. We prefer to have a kitchen where we can prepare our own food with whatever tempts us at the local markets. For kosher keepers, vegetarians and anyone else with sensitivities or preferences, this can be a perfect solution to the maddening and endless questions you find yourselves posing three times a day when dining out on vacation.
You know what I mean.
Kosher in Costa Rica? I found the country’s only kosher mart in San Jose, the capital city, a 5 hour drive from where we were crashing on a beach on the northern Pacific coast. We arranged to have kosher chicken delivered to our temporary digs in the province of Guanacaste. We figured that we would scout out some fresh tilapia and mahi mahi, grill chicken for a few nights and explore the super casual restaurants, beach bars and small towns dotting the coast.
So with nothing more than strong mountain grown Costa Rican coffee and multiple bags of chicken parts in the freezer, we began our first morning by heading to our local frutteria to check out the scene and begin planning some marathon grill sessions.
I can’t think of a better way to meet the locals, share recipes and explore the wealth of another’s soil.
We found mangos, star fruit and avocados piled high on wooden tables. There was a selection of white and sweet potatoes and plantains, both green and sweet. Oversized heads of leafy greens and unfamiliar feathery herbs, bottles of unmarked local honey and a few loaves of round, whole grain bread fed our imaginations.
Among the most unfamiliar discovery were mangostines. We were offered a taste of this little beauty. It looks like a nut with a stem and has smooth, translucent pearls of wet fruit nestled within the hard shell.
Fragrant, 14 inch long papayas sat alongside watermelons and mounds of oranges, grapefruit and Rangpur Limes, not really limes at all but a bright orange fleshed cross between lemon and mandarin orange.
They are extremely sour and abundantly juicy with unexpected floral notes. We alternated squeezing Rangpur and fresh green limes we picked from a tree on our sunny porch each day. Blended with Yerba Buena (“good herb”), a minty herb known for its medicinal properties, lots of ice and sugar, it was a cooling drink that provided relief from the powerful midday sun.
We discovered that blended fruit drinks were the norm for breakfast and after school snacks for the kids in Costa Rica. We kept our blender whirling with cut fruit and freshly squeezed oranges and grapefruits. We couldn’t argue with this great base for rum drinks at sunset, either.
We grabbed snorkels and enjoyed a long sail with Matteo and his snorkeling and fishing crew one day. They were cool with our request for kosher friendly snacks and local beer. We loved that Matteo grilled fresh mahi-mahi for us. He served it in chunks alongside guacamole and cubes of mango drizzled with lime.
On the days that we ate out, we found the local cuisine was super simple with a filet of fish (chicken or meat) served alongside rice and simmered red beans, perhaps fried platanos and icy cerveza to wash it down. Salads are mostly chopped tomatoes or shredded cabbage. We ate more of them in our vacation kitchen than what we saw offered at any cafes or restaurants.
We were tempted to fry some green plantains after enjoying them at a roadside café following our expedition to Palo Verde National Park. Yes, we saw monkeys and gators, bats and white herons. The white face monkeys are irresistibly adorable and the howler monkeys make deep throated moans that are haunting.
I turned to a local who kindly showed me how simple it is to fry green plantains. It’s not even a recipe as there are 3 ingredients: green plantains, oil for frying, and salt.
If you’re yearning for a taste of the tropics, these are a great crispy treat. Follow the illustrations here:
Want to know more? Ask me in the comments section below. Be sure to check these links, too.
Resources for kosher and vegetarian in Costa Rica:
Lands in Love, a 280 acre vegetarian eco -resort founded by a small group of Israeli friends, welcomes special requests for kosher, gluten-free and vegan eaters. All veggies and eggs are sourced from organic farms.
Congregacion B’nei Israel is the reform congregation in San Jose.
Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica is the orthodox umbrella organization and synagogue, San Jose.
Chabad of Costa Rica runs a wide range of activities, both educational and social, and operates a strictly kosher bed and breakfast. Click here for more info.
There’s a surfer dude who calls himself The Surfing Rabbi, who runs kosher surfer camps and more. Learn more about Rabbi Shifrin by clicking here.
For more information about the Jewish community and its resources in Costa Rica check out Hadassah Magazine’s informative article here.