When you see a sign “comidastypicas” in front of a restaurant it usually means they serve typical Costa Rican food, but at tourist prices. However, most local restaurants and cafés serve Casados, the typical meal, especially sodas.
A Costa Rican “soda” is a small, unpretentious restaurant that offers basic food at reasonable cost. Many sodas do not bother printing a menu because their selection is limited to the basics, often featuring one or two varieties of Casados. But each soda will have its own unique twist on the standard recipe.
The name Casados refers to a “married man”, implying that this plateful is well balanced and nutritious, and the type of lunch that a caring wife might prepare for her husband. The other interpretation of the name is that each ingredient is “married” to the others in a happy union.
Casados includes rice and beans, usually with a salad similar to cole slaw of cabbage and tomatoes, with a side of fried plantain slices. Most restaurants offer options for different meats: pollo (chicken), cerdo (pork), or carne (beef), or pescado (fish). Avocados are occasionally added as are fried eggs.
The beans and rice are often in the form of Gallo pinto, the other Costa Rican staple which is a lightly spiced blend of white rice and black beans molded into a four or five inch round shape. Gallo pinto by itself or served with eggs is a common breakfast as well as part of Casados. Casados is usually accompanied by plain tortillas, which you can use to scoop up the stray bits of beans, rice, and meat.
Casados, like most Costa Rican food, is not hot and spicy as many other Latin American cuisines are. The main flavor additives are cilantro, garlic and onions boiled into the beans and the rice.
Some restaurants will present their Casados in segmented steel plates to keep your lunch organized and emphasize the wholesome balance of food groups. This also simplifies the cook’s job.
On my recent trip to Costa Rica, my first meal after arriving late at night was Casados. All I could find within walking distance of my San Jose hotel was a local soda. I didn’t recognize anything on the menu except “pollo.” After a long flight from Canada a little comfort food was just what I needed. On my final night in the country I had Casados again to sustain my on the trip home, to mitigate the effects of airline food.
The nation’s well-balanced and nourishing food speaks volumes about Costa Rica’s values and lifestyle.
Among the restaurants that serve good Casados in San Jose are:
Restaurant Café Mundo, Calle 15 at Avendida 9; La Esquina del Café on the downtown pedestrian mall (Avendida Central); and the News Café in the ground floor of the Hotel Presidente; La Dona is a humble place that is more typical of a local ‘soda’, near the Ritzli Hotel; and AvicolaPortela near the Coca Cola bus station is another typical soda, specializing in chicken Casados