Embracing the small pleasures of food abroad in Costa Rica has made my study abroad experience one worthwhile. Tasting the freshness of natural foods really puts into perspective the value and care of having quality home-made meals. The preparation that goes into making food here is one aspect of culture that I appreciate more often than always grabbing food on the go. Even though fast food is popular and very accessible, I believe my trip would not be as complete if I did not experience the typical foods Costa Rica has to offer. The traditional meals and drinks of Costa Rica such as gallo pinto, a mixture of rice and beans, the coffee, and the array of fruits has been a great welcome to the country. However, I love the simplicity of the meals prepared. Ticos warm welcome of others around the table to take part in sharing their culture through food as helped my transition to living abroad in Costa Rica.
When I first came to Costa Rica and my host family served lunch, I could not help, but notice the care that was put into making me feel welcomed and apart of the family. I wasn’t used to the big portions of food, but however I was appreciative for the rice, beans, and salad she took the time to prepare for me, a stranger that was going to living with her and her family for the next five months. The food my host mom had prepared was amazing and delicious nonetheless. This small interaction and component of culture through food made me feel more at home even when my idea of home is nearly 3,000 miles away; it was a great way for me to be exposed to a new culture and family through typical foods representing their culture. Coming from a fast paced society like the United States, I could see the difference in food preparation and the time that is taking out of the day to enjoy food, but also the meaning of preparing a homemade meal.
One meal I can enjoy any time of day is gallo pinto with a side of plantains. The meal is perfect with any refresco or natural drink that is common to Costa Rica’s region. Cas, mora or tamarindo are a few of the natural drinks to accompany gallo pinto. Although I prefer the drink of cas. When asking locals what exactly is cas, many friends explain to me that this fruit is typical here and not too sweet. I have been custom to eating these meals practically every day with my host family and I cannot deny the freshness of each meal. I notice this because the variety of fruit and vegetable stands are practically on every corner of Heredía.
However, when I want to explore other foods within Costa Rica grabbing a bite to eat in Costa Rica is not hard to find. Traditional food is also served along with fast food at restaurants called sodas. Typically, there are sodas on almost every block of Costa Rica. Locals and foreigners alike can find something good to eat here any time of day. I have found sodas to be convenient when I have a lunch break in between class or I want to catch up with friends throughout the week and watch a soccer game. Sodas are a unique apart of the Costa Rican culture because traditional food of the country such as rice, beans, and natural fruit drinks are some of the options I find on the menu. These restaurants are not necessarily fancy in appearance, but the heart of traditional, authentic food is one aspect I can take pleasure in in a soda. Sodas or cafeterias are also spread out on the campus I attend. The diversity of foods and the proportions served here on campus are relatively cheap for students and extremely filling in between class breaks.
Ultimately, my experience of food would not be complete without tasting or talking about the importance of culture through coffee. Before coming to Costa Rica, I really never drank coffee much, but my introduction to having coffee everyday has made me appreciate the unique things with being exposed to new cultures. Now, I cannot resist having at least a cup of coffee in the middle of the day with friends or my host family. Coffee breaks are an essential part of the Costa Rican culture and I am glad for opportunity to take part in these daily interactions, while I transition into a new country. Not only are these coffee breaks or cafecitos an aspect of the culture, but a great way to immerse myself and understand more about the cultural appreciation of coffee. Besides seeing some of the coffee plantations, the stories older Ticos have told me about the aspect of coffee and the value it has in supporting their families gives meaning and gratitude behind just drinking a cup of coffee. Therefore, my exploration of culture through food has enriched my experience of living abroad in Costa Rica. These opportunities or invitations into the cultural components of food furthermore helps me understand the things that at times may me missed within the society I come from, but appreciated in spaces or cultures other than my own.