Being Vegetarian in Costa Rica

Costa Rica     Food
Even though Costa Ricans do love their meat, it's not the worst place to be vegetarian. Costa Rican food isn't very tasty for meat eaters either so you won't be much worse off!
It's been 19 years since I've been to Costa Rica but I can still remember how much I was bored with the food here. I'd say if I never saw another plate of gallo pinto again, it'd be too soon. Well here I am again, and guess what, more gallo pinto.

Even though Costa Ricans eat a lot of meat plates, side dishes with meat in them, and soups made with meat, you really do want to try and eat at the sodas (local eateries). Not only are they budget-friendly, but it's often cafeteria/buffet style so you can pick some veggie options. For the set local dishes, knowing a few key phrases helps immensely so you can adapt a local selection to get something vegetarian. Of course the tourists towns will have western restaurants catering to all sorts of non Costa Rican whims.

My first night back here, my friend and I were travel-weary and it was late and the only option in the small town was Chicken Bros. Yes, even spelled in English. I explained that I was vegetarian and they said they had nothing, Nothing. Well after a little prodding, it turns out their beans are not made with pork fat, their rice is just plain white rice, and their plantains are even fried separately from the meat. I had a huge (although not incredibly satisfying) meal of rice, beans, salad, and fried bananas.

In general, you'll be eating a lot of rice, beans, eggs, salad, veggies, fruit, friend plantains, corn tortillas, and some local non-melty cheese.

Gallo Pinto, a mixture of rice and black beans, is a typical Costa Rican breakfast with fried plantains, eggs, crema, and maybe tortillas and a chunk of local crumbly cheese. Definitely ask if it's made with chicken stock or meat products. To keep cost down, many times it's just made with water (mmm, yummy) so it's vegetarian friendly.

Casado is what is served for lunch and dinner. It's not a specific dish, casdado refers to the entire plate of typical local food that might even come with a glass of juice. Ordering a casado, you'll get rice and/or beans, salad, tortillas, fried plantains, and chicken or something meaty. Obviously just ask for it without the meat. Sometimes you can get grilled veggies instead.

Patacones are smashed deep friend rounds of green plantains. They're a bit dry but are a good salted snack with, you guessed it, beans! Sometimes it comes with avocado or pico de gallo.
I know that ceviche certainly isn't vegetarian! (no it wasn't mine) Just focus on the patacones served with it. ;)
I know that ceviche certainly isn't vegetarian! (no it wasn't mine) Just focus on the patacones served with it. ;)
Picadillo is a diced veggie hash sometimes made with chayote squash cooked Costa Rican style (usually with onions, pepper, garlic, oregano, sometimes salsa Lizano, and other spices) and served with tortillas or rice. It usually has ground beef in it but you can get it without and it's still delicious.

Soap Negra or Caldo de Frijol (Black Bean Soup) is surprisingly vegetarian much of the time! But definitely ask if it's made with chicken stock or not. Sometimes it has actual beans, sometimes not, sometimes it has a hard boiled egg in it, sometimes white rice. It's basically just beans cooked with the typical tico fare of onions, sweet peppers, garlic, and cilantro.

Pipa (PEE-pah) is a young green coconut that is full of refreshing coconut water. You can get these for $1 from roadside carts. They are kept chilled and vendor will cut the top off and give you a straw.

When in doubt, have dessert! :) Rice pudding is great here and you're in for a treat with the flan because they will put coconut on the bottom of it! Roadside cart Copo or Granizado are shaved ice treats with sweet syrup and sweetened condensed milk.
This cold pipa really hit the spot after a long morning shipping at Paso Canoas on the Panamanian border.
This cold pipa really hit the spot after a long morning shipping at Paso Canoas on the Panamanian border.
Agua de coco can be found almost everywhere.
Agua de coco can be found almost everywhere.
Want a cold sugar rush? Grab a granizado or copo.
Want a cold sugar rush? Grab a granizado or copo.
You'll want to invest in some Salsa Lizano. It's a staple here and delicious and many Costa Rican dishes are made with it. It's a brown sort of sweet tangy smoky Worcestershire steak-sauce and it'll add some personality to your food!

Due to the huge amount of expats in Costa Rica, the grocery stores are well stocked with familiar western foods! You can buy yogurt, cereal, peanut butter, sandwich bread, and mayo. The avocados are to die for and there are a lot of nice fruit and veggies. Fresh fruit is easy to come by and the papaya and pineapple are tropical sweet.
You'll find all sort of things on restaurant menus. I had a little something other than beans with this veggie fried rice.
You'll find all sort of things on restaurant menus. I had a little something other than beans with this veggie fried rice.
Wow this is a fancy plate of nachos, but don't expect familiar dishes to be what you're used to. It had negligible cheese but it was still super good.
Wow this is a fancy plate of nachos, but don't expect familiar dishes to be what you're used to. It had negligible cheese but it was still super good.
Grocery shopping on a budget works out great. I made some delish easy meals.
Grocery shopping on a budget works out great. I made some delish easy meals.

Vegetarian Phrases

Language Meaning Phrase / Pronunciation

Spanish

chicken stock / bouillon consome de pollo
cohn-soh-meh deh poi-yo

Does this have animal products? Esto tiene productos de animales?
eh-stoh tyeh-neh proh-dook-tohs deh ah-nee-mah-lehs?

Does this have chicken stock? Tiene caldo de pollo?
tyeh-neh cahl-doh deh poi-yo?

I am vegetarian soy vegetarian(a fem.)(o male)
soy ve-he-TAH-ree-YAH-nah

I don't eat meat, chicken, or fish no como carne, pollo o pescado

Is this made with water or chicken stock? Está hecho con agua o caldo de pollo?

no meat, no chicken, no fish ni carne, ni pollo, ni pescado
nee CAR-ne, nee POY-o, nee pes-CA-do

with vegetables instead of mean (chicken), please con verduras en lugar de carne (pollo) por favor

0 Comments

Submit Your Comment
Thank you! Your comment has been received. :) It will be posted as soon as I get a chance to read it first.
Sorry, don't know what happened. Try later :(
Your email will not be shared or spammed in any way. It is only as extra assurance that you are a real person! ;) Leslie's Travel Snacks reserves the right to delete any comment that is abusive, self-promoting, nonconstructive, mean, or otherwise not in the spirit of this website.