Costa Rica Calling

by Evan Kleiman
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CR-WeatherMost of my travel is food focused. I’m headed somewhere to meet people who make interesting food tied to a place and to taste that food. Over the past decade I find that the line between vacation, educational junket and personal exploration has blurred. If I travel with food friends then we tend to be like dogs searching for the same tasty bone to turn up. It can get weirdly competitive or punishingly about the next bite even when enough bites have been had by all.

When I started traveling as a kid I wandered. Often I traveled alone, free to choose this road at that speed to stop and see this thing, sink into the culture of that place and eat those dishes. They were my decisions at my pace. No “have to” or “can’t miss”, just wandering and discovery. I miss those days. Of course time tends to be an impediment. I don’t have an extra five or six weeks to spare anymore, so focus is to often at the root of today’s travel.

But, recently a friend (who loves to cook, but is not a foodie) took possession of a long sought shack on the beach in the Pacific Northwest of Costa Rica. She was taking the first trip back to see how the beginnings of rebuilding the shack were going and to install her 21 yr old son for a two-month stay as “remodeling supervisor”. Would I come along?

First-ViewSure, but I had questions. Were we going to Gringolandia? Was it going to be less of a nightmare than the last trip down there we took together? Would the food be interesting? Eventually I just relaxed and decided to chill and go along. A bit nervous to leave The Mom for a week (even in good hands) I figured it was a good experiment in surrender.

After a quick direct flight we piled into a well used car for the six hour drive from San Jose to Nosara (yes Gringolandia, but not completely to my surprise). All I had to do was look out the window. The best surrender is landscape. As it whizzes by your body starts to understand where you are. The brain eventually follows. And where we were was Central America during the beginning of the rainy season. Everything is green.

Green fields dotted with horses with attitude and cattle plodding in the heat. The heat and humidity is what forces you eventually to surrender emotionally. After a three-hour drive we realized we were hungry and stopped at the first Soda we saw. Sodas are simple open air dining establishments that have roofs but few walls.

Casado-2They serve food that is the definition of simple and homemade, often made by families. Some are buffets, some a collection of pots on a plancha that you can peek into. I already knew this wasn’t going to be a food trip. Maybe there is great homemade Costa Rican food to be found, but except for an exceptional experience of home cooked baked fresh hearts of palm on my last trip, I haven’t found it.

The Casado is the foundation meal. Consisting of white rice, black beans, plantains, undressed salad and a choice of protein and maybe stewed or sautéed veg it ranges from bare bones to simply delicious. The breakfast version is Gallo Pinto, black beans and rice, this time cooked together accompanied by eggs.

Hopefully there will be some marinated spicy cabbage, and always there is a bottle of Salsa Lizano, the tamarind inflected condiment of choice in Costa Rica. Which by the way is great on pizza, which is everywhere. Decent thin crust Roman-style pizza. I think there are more pizzerias there than in Rome.

All I did for a week was hang with friends, cook a little, eat whatever was there, read and bob around in water. Simply wonderful.

 

Evan is an active speaker on culinary subjects as well as issues of food culture and sustainability and, just to keep a balance, she has a very public love affair with Pie. She’s been called the Jerry Garcia of cooking with the freewheeling improvisation she brings to the kitchen. You can follow her exploits on her blog at http://www.evankleiman.com/

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