Costa Rica Food Glossary

Albondigas - Meatballs

Aroz (Rice) is traditionally long grain white rice. Even though the label tells you not to, we always rinse the rice. In some countries the uncooked rice is stir fried slightly before cooking to reduce the stickiness.

Atole - A gritty blue cornmeal drink.

Biscochitos - word for Anise seed cookies also they are made of corn in Guanacaste and bake on the brick oven.

Bunuelos - Fried pieces of dough often served with honey and/or cinnamon and sugar popular on the Countryside fairs.

Chayote - pale green vegetable, shaped like a pear excellent product when you are on a diet, 0 calories and a lot of liquid and fiber.

Chicharrones - Pieces of pork crackling cooked until crunchy and most of the fat is rendered out. Served hot as an appetizer with Yucca and a cabbage salad is call Vigoron and on Puntarenas you can eat the snack on the street on a Almendro tree leave.

Chorizo - is Spanish sausage. It is spicy and has a strong red color from paprika and hot peppers.

Culantro - is also known as Chinese parsley, cilantro or coriander. It is frequently used as a seasoning in many dishes, both fresh and dried.

Empanada - Fried or baked flour dough pastries with either dried fruit or meat filling.

Flan - Caramelized custard.

Frijoles - Beans, they should always be soaked overnight before cooking. They are served usually anytime you serve rice, which would be everyday.

Guacamole - mashed seasoned avocado

Guayaba - or guava, is a fruit. It can be found fresh in the produce section. Guava can also be found canned, in varying consistencies from large chunks in syrup to a smooth paste. Fresh guava should be eaten when they are yellow and slightly soft. If bought green they will ripen at room temperature in a paper bag. Though not very common, guava can sometimes be found as a frozen puree to be used in drinks, custards, or cakes.

Jicama - A large gray-brown root vegetable. Often used raw in salad. Has a white, crisp meat resembling that of a potato or chestnut.

Malanga - is a hard root vegetable shaped like a yam. It has a thin brown skin and beige flesh. You may be able to find it frozen.

Masa - literally "dough flour". A dough of water and masa harina. Used to make tortillas and tamales.

Masa Harina - flour like powder used to make masa. It's made with sun or fire dried corn kernels that have been cooked in limewater (water mixed with calcium oxide). After having been cooked, then soaked in the limewater overnight, the wet corn is ground into masa harina.

Mondongo - Tripe and grits.

Natilla - Sour Cream.

Most Latin grocery stores. It has a lightly salty taste and a crumbly texture. I have seen some books recommend Muenster cheese as a substitute, but I don't think they taste anything alike.

Paella - A rice and seafood dish.

Plantains look like very large bananas. They should always be eaten cooked. Unripe plantains are green and very firm. As they ripen they turn a yellow orange color, much more orange than a regular banana. Then they turn black and become very soft, even mushy. They can be cooked in any stage of ripeness, including complete black. The darker the skin colors the sweeter the taste. The most common cooking methods are either cutting into two inch pieces and boiling with the skin on, or peeling and cutting into very small pieces and frying. Frying a green plantain yields crunchy pieces and ripe pieces yield very sweet soft pieces.

Sofrito - is a wet seasoning that is fairly easy to make. However, it is also sold frozen or in the dairy case in plastic containers.

Tamales - Pork and vegetables encased in masa dough and wrapped in a cornhusk and then steamed or boiled.

Tortilla - corn or flour like pancake. In Spain, tortillas are egg omelets served in triangle pie like wedges.

Yucca is also known as cassava in some countries. Fresh yucca has a hard white stringy flesh and a brown skin that looks and feels like bark. In some markets it is often covered with wax before selling. It is also sold peeled, cut and frozen. If bought fresh, the skin should be removed prior to cooking.