The Foods of Costa Rica & Nicaragua- by Mackenzie Sherrill. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
After traveling this past summer to both Costa Rica and Nicaragua for a medical service trip, one aspect of the Central American culture that was fascinating to experience was the food. As a result of spending approximately one week in each country, I was able to get a good idea of the types of food the people ate on a daily basis, and also how food can play such an important role in bringing people together.
No matter where I ate throughout the trip, whether it was at a restaurant, hotel, or in someone’s home, rice and beans were always present in each meal I was served. This was very interesting to me because in the United States of America, I don’t believe we have certain food items that are found in almost every meal, similar to how rice and beans are in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. After speaking to some of the local people through our translators, I found out that rice and beans are quite common in the diets of Central American people because of how inexpensive they are and also due to their high abundance in these locations. I learned that most families in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua serve rice and beans with breakfast, lunch, and dinner and if they are fortunate enough, they will serve it alongside some type of meat. It was humbling for me to see how content the people in these countries were with eating only two food items throughout most of their lives, when in the states, we have so much variety in our diets and the foods we eat.
Another thing I noticed about the food in Costa Rica and Nicaragua was how it was used as a sign of respect and hospitality towards others. After staying in a family’s home in Nicaragua, it was very evident that in order to make you feel welcome in their homes, the families would feed you large amounts of food. When offered food, it was only polite that we accepted their invitation, even if that meant eating when you were not hungry. Although using food as a means to welcome a guest into a home is somewhat common in the United States, it was different in these countries in that people rarely turn down the offer.
After returning home from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I was quite relieved when I got a break from eating rice and beans, even though I enjoyed eating it while I was abroad. I am glad I had the opportunity to experience a different culture’s diet, and to see how food can not only be important in nourishing your body, but also in connecting people from all over the world.
Mackenzie Sherrill serves as social media editor for The North Star Reports.
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44 responses to “The Foods of Costa Rica & Nicaragua- by Mackenzie Sherrill. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports”
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I had a similar experience when I traveled to Spain, as the common food I was served there were different types of soups. Almost every meal I was served at least one type of soup, and I also assume that reasoning is because it is easy to make and generally cheaper to make. Personally, I believe that universally food is known to bring people together and I can’t agree more. It is one of the few things that almost anyone can do and something that all humans have in common. Not only does it bring people together but eating is one of the things I look forward to during the day. 🙂
A very interesting story, thank you! I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti on a mission trip a few years ago and me, a lover of food, was very interested to taste the local cuisine. One thing I noticed during my week in Haiti was fruit was also a big part of the diet (if they could afford it). But, like you said, rice and beans were apart of every meal that I had and noticed. Was there any food that you saw that stuck out to you as being strangely different from what we usually eat in America?
Mackenzie, thank you for sharing your experience! I think it’s very interesting that in the US we don’t typically have a routine traditional food. Majority of the time our foods have been adapted from other countries and “Americanized.” My family tends to have a few traditional dishes of our own, but nothing that is served as a side with every meal. We do however believe in serving large amounts of food to welcome company. It sounds like you had a wonderful experience, thanks again!
That is very intriguing that two food items are served at every meal. I do not know if I would ever get used to that. That is a unique cultural food aspect of Central America. The fact that, as you mention, people are content to have the same two items at meal times is neat. I should try and just have rice and beans for most of my meals, like you said they are relatively inexpensive and readily available. Maybe a Duluth college kid can learn something from Central America to emulate in regards to my diet!
I also traveled to Costa Rica for a service medical trip, and although I didn’t get to experience Nicaragua on my trip, I found similar aspects of my trip in your article. I have a gluten allergy, so when I first signed up for the trip I was skeptical and worried that I would face problems such as not finding options to eat or misreading menus. But as soon as I arrived I found the same reoccurrence as you: every meal we were served during the day for lunch was rice, assorted veggies, and chicken (no gluten to be found!). Some may have thought it was bland, but I loved it! I’m sure you would agree that the tropical juices served with the meals were also very refreshing on those hot days!
I can’t think of any foods that work like this in America. Along with that, I think each family eats a bit different than the next family. So to see a big group of people have those staples in their diet is interesting. Did the meals vary in seasoning and flavor, or were they all very similar?
Being born and raised in Central America, when I think about home I think about beans.I LOVE BEANS. Beans, due to the fact that is a staple food in Honduras, is eaten by everyone on a daily basis – no matter what socioeconomic level one belongs to. Gallo Pinto ( rise and beans) is actually Nicaragua’s and Costa Rica’s traditional dish, hence its popularity. It is very important to recognize the role food plays in culture and understand its significance!
Because I have friends from Central America I knew how common beans were to the dishes native to the region but it was not until reading this article that I realized how they are in every meal. Your article also made me realize how varying what we eat is a thing of luxury. I also like how you touched on offering food as a practice of hospitality. In many parts of the world it is very common to do this, including our own but not to the same degree as you mentioned.
It seems so shocking to me that beans and rice are served three times a day, everyday. Here in the US, I get sick of having leftovers two days in a row, so it just seems strange to eat the same meal everyday. I also feel like in the US, even though food and drinks are offered as a sign of hospitality, it is often polite to decline the offer. In Central American countries, it sounds the like right thing to do is to always accept the offer. Although the idea of offering food as a sign of respect isn’t identical in these two cultures, it is very similar.
I like hearing about common traditions such as these ones. It is interesting to see how universal they are, such as offering food to people. I like how the author noted the comparison of food to the United States. It is interesting to see that rice and beans are offered at almost every meal there but there is not a staple food like that offered at most meals here.
I enjoyed hearing about your trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It is interesting to hear that they eat rice and beans for most, if not all, meals of the day, especially because I get tired of eating the same food two days in a row. It is also interesting to hear about how food plays such an important role in culture and traditions in places like that. Food is something that people can enjoy, no matter what cultural background you might have, which is one reason why I think it plays such a universal role in our world.
Thanks for sharing your experience! The food of any place speaks about culture so much. The history behind the rice and beans along with the economic reasons as to why it’s eaten so much is fascinating. It sounds like a great idea since rice and beans are not only filling, but cheap too. My family, who is from South America, eats rice in almost every meal for the exact same reason. We do eat beans often, too, but its cooked very differently.
As you mentioned, offering a guest something to eat isn’t uncommon in the US, though it’s kind of considered polite to turn it down. You mentioned that people rarely turn down offers in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and you would eat when you weren’t that hungry to be polite. Is it considered impolite to turn down an offer of food? Would your host be insulted if you didn’t eat?
Thank you for sharing your story! I too have had the chance to be served a different sense of meal time across seas. I have traveled to Ireland and also had to ease into the way of their meals. When you mentioned the food bringing people together I made an immediate connection. Meal time is a very important role we should participate in especially from a young age. I believe this is a way to build a strong family bond.
You raise several intriguing points about food and the role it plays in determining how cultures are interpreted and presented across the globe. I wonder if it would be possible to compare the average lifespan of Central and South Americans whose diets consist of much simpler foods to the lifespans of we North Americans who have much more mixed diets. Like you said, our meals are made up of so many foods, but many of these foods are hugely artificial and made in grossly huge quantities, making them basically incomparable to the more natural but “boring” foods of other cultures. Do you find yourself missing the more basic but clearly less unnatural foods of the South and Central Americas?
The role that food plays in the diet of the Central American people is intriguing. Maybe the idea that we have so many options in the US is not the best way to conduct our diets. The options aren’t always beneficial and are quite costly. What was more beneficial to your short term health, the limited meals or the variety here in the US?
I really liked you point about how food brings people together. It is also interesting how people rarely turn down the offer when invited over to dinner or to eat more food. Where as in the US like you commented on it is common to turn down an offering of food. Those shows the variance in different cultures and how we interact with one another. Food and meals are a direct correlation to tradition. No matter where you are in the world meals and etiquette reflect what has been passed down to each generation. Thank you for sharing.
It is quite interesting how food is used to connect and comfort people. I do not know if i could eat beans and rice for every meal of the day, but because it is inexpensive it makes sense to eat it on a regular basis. Food in different cultures is always so fascinating to read about because they seem to always be unique. I do not recall foods in America that people try to eat for every meal. Thanks for the story!
Rice is a staple food in my family, where we almost always serve it along a dish unless the dish is like pasta or burgers etc. I can relate to your experience about how food is a sign of respect. In my culture, it is disrespectful to reject the host’s food offered. I still reject at times with my relatives and friends, but I am slowly learning to just say yes even if I am not hungry just so they would not say “Why are you being so rude?” or “Are you scared we poisoned the food?”. Of course sometimes I just laugh it off because of the sarcasm and the close relationship I have with them. But like any other sweet grannies out there, my grandma would always grab a plate and just forced me to take it even if I have said no. I think it was awesome for you to have a new experience with food though!
I am going on this same trip this summer! I find it so interesting how diverse foods are from place to place. It is eye opening to see how content people are with eating the same foods everyday with every meal. It shows how fortunate we are in America to have such a broad choice of foods. Interesting story and great expirience!
Food is always so important when travelling for the reasons you described. It can show us the history of a culture. In the example you gave, rice and beans is so prominent because of the availability and the fact that it is inexpensive. In many coastal areas sea food is very popular because it can be caught fresh and doesn’t need to be exported. Whenever travelling anywhere, it is always fun to try the local foods.
I agree with you that food is used to connect people. When ever i think of family gatherings with distant relatives we always base the meeting around food and the same thing goes with friends. Food which is so evident and common in everyone’s life tends to have many different ways to surprise us. I thought it was really interesting that they eat beans and rice in almost every meal, and once you explained the abundance of those foods in the area makes so much sense. I agree though it is weird how they can go about eating the same thing three times a day and not even care about it. Great Article.
I have a couple friends from Costa Rica and I’ve noticed the beans and rice often with their own food too. I can’t remember I time I visited them without rice in particular. Often when I think about stereotypical American food Mcdonalds comes to mind, but this forgets to include what families create in their own homes which I can’t say has to include burgers with an order of fries and a coke. So it’s interesting to note how we don’t seem to have as much of a national identity where food is involved. My best guess would be bread, but even my own family doesn’t have it every meal, just fairly often.
When I went to Brazil rice and beans were at every meal I can assure you. I got tired of them pretty quickly, but then realized how lucky I was to have food on my plate. Being abroad you get an idea of what the difference between a 1st and 3rd world problem is, and having food to eat is a problem for many people living in 3rd world countries. After this epitome, I didn’t care what was on my plate, I was just thankful for the food that was given to me.
I agree that food is a wonderful way of connecting people and bringing them together. As you mentioned, how humbling it must have been when these people ate the same simplistic foods at every meal. It makes me think how spoiled we are here in the States for having all of the choices that we have. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to have to option on what we can eat, but I think that sometimes simple is better. It seems that these people emphasis on the rituals of food more because of the repeat food items that are consumed. What an interesting read! Thanks for sharing. Jodi
My parents, having lived and travelled in South America for many years, have adapted a bit of this food culture. Although we do not eat rice and beans 3 times a week, it is probably consumed a few times a week at my house. Although this diet may seem very weird to us North American folk, it is much cheaper, more nutritional and healthier than many of the meals we tend to consume regularly. Maybe it is our method of nutrition that is strange and we should adjust? If you think about many of the meals we tend to consume regularly, things such as burgers + fries, steak, etc., many of these things are expensive to produce as well as not terribly healthy and I believe we should definitely reconsider some of the things we eat regularly.
What an awesome experience! I too traveled abroad to the Philippines and I experienced something similar as well. There was always a big scoop of rice for every meal along with veggies and usually chicken. I agree with how you mentioned that food was used as a welcoming into someones home and a sign of respect. This was a very humbling experience to go through. It sounds like you had a great time as well. Thank you for sharing!
Food is an important part in any culture, it most definitely brings people together. It also has an interesting way in connected people. Some of my class mates traveled to South America when I was in highschool. They mentioned that these people eat pretty much the same foods every meal they are just prepared differently. I found this to be kind of sad because we are so fortunate in having such a variety of different foods. However these people don’t know any different so they have nothing to compare it to so it seems normal. In this I think we learn to just be thankful for what we have and are given. Because in the end its the people that you share the meal with that are the most important.
Although I have never traveled to Central America, I understand how important it is to recognize food as an expression of culture and tradition. The passing down of traditions among generations is really interesting, especially when it applies to foods, meals and general etiquette. Hospitality and the offering of food to guests is also really interesting, since it is so common among different cultures around the globe.
Food is a very important and interesting aspect of understanding other cultures. As a vegetarian, I eat beans quite often (although, I can’t say I eat them with every meal) as they are a good source of protein. As mentioned in some previous comments, while the US may have more of a variety of foods from meal to meal, the quality of the food here can be very low. Did you find that the quality of food in Costa Rica and Nicaragua to be much better?
Thank you for sharing! Food is so interesting because it can be so different from culture to culture. I can relate to what you’re saying about the rice and beans — I went on a service trip to Miami, Florida in a small neighborhood called Little Haiti, and rice was a common theme during meals. I have always liked rice, but then again, I haven’t ate it every single day. This was one of the things on my trip that made me realize how grateful I am to have different meals each day, not to mention getting even a single meal. Great read!
To me, food is one of the most interesting parts of a culture. It usually represents what is most abundant and easy to come by. In the USA, we are lucky enough to be able to experience a crazy amount of different foods that we do not need to eat the same thing every day. I spent a large amount of time in Mexico and I ate a lot of rice, beans, and corn tortillas. I think your point about how people use food as a show of respect and hospitality. I think that this is practiced in the USA but I think it is being used less and less. I agree that a lot of people will turn down the offer of food here.
Food is a major part of culture and life. I find it extremely interesting to experience other cultural foods than your own. In fact, it’s almost as if you get a glimpse into someone else’s culture. I have tried several different cultural foods, but only the Americanized foods. It would be a major privilege to experience another culture in it’s original place.
Food has always been a unique aspect tied to each culture. Every time i have been to Mexico on vacation, I have had an abundance of rice and beans. I have also noticed that they love their spices! You see the same thing over in Asia with their rice. Rice is a staple much like bread is to us in the United States. It seems every culture has a staple food that they will always have around and produce but hopefully no culture will be fully dependent on that staple and branch out much like the United States has with other cultural foods.
Thank you for sharing your interesting story! I haven’t had an experience where I’ve been out of the country trying different foods, but I hope to soon! I also found it interesting that in America we don’t have food that we find commonly in every meal. Again, thank you for sharing your story!
That fascinating. I was trying to figure out if there’s any equivalent of that here in the United States, and bacon certainly popped into my mind, but that’s less of a staple and more of a cultural thing, weird as it is. As for me, noodles are definitely part of my daily diet, but that’s a matter of choice. Another more recent choice, however, is vegetarianism, so I’ve definitely been eating more rice and beans to fill in the gaps that meat has left. 🙂 As we keep coming back to in World History, food is an incredibly interesting, multifaceted cultural topic. Thanks for sharing this!
Interesting that those foods are such a staple there. I noticed one of the photos looked like fresh food in a local market. I’d imagine those countries have been able to — for the most part — preserve their food traditions. I’d imagine if larger chain stores and restaurants grow in popularity, these foods and recipes would be at risk. Did you observed these kinds of companies moving in? How did people react to them?
It’s interesting to read this article and compare the meals of other countries to the meals typically seen in America. Specifically, the part which you talked about beans and rice being at almost every meal. I agree that the United States doesn’t really have a specific item that’s always present at the meal. I think it’s interesting that American diets usually vary in ways which some other countries don’t.
Thank you for sharing your experience and going so much in depth! I’m very happy to find out from this article that a culture eats as many beans as I do, but other than that I feel the food items I eat are different. With an abundance of dining dollars this semester, I find myself going to the POD and getting whatever I feel like eating at that moment. I cannot imagine eating two items for most of my life. I am very used to the American way of having cheap, convenient food available to be and I’m not sure if I could give that up.
I found this article fun and interesting to read because I went on this same trip this past summer. Lots of beans and rice were consumed over the two weeks I was in these two countries. Even though we would eat rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day I surprisingly did not get sick of them, because they were prepared in a variety of different ways. Another thing that I found interesting about the food while I was on the trip was how their food looked compared to ours even. For example, one morning our host mother served us pineapple. When I looked at it, it was very white, no yellow tint to it which confused me a bit. However, It was probably the juiciest, most flavorful pineapple I have ever had! It really is intriguing how different food are and how they are prepared depending on the region of the world.
I thought this was interesting that you brought up the point that they use food as a welcoming into their homes. This makes it seem as if food has more meaning to it. I believe eating with other people can bring a lot of meaning and comfort to people. It brings people closer together no matter what culture you are in. I also thought it was interesting in the article that you stated they eat a lot of the same food. I think this is interesting because I feel like in the United States eating food most of the time is considered an inconvience we want our food fast and we want it to be easily accessable. We want there to be tons of variety and for cheap. If we do not get this we get upset. Just a question that I wonder about, “why is the idea of eating food so different in every culture that we visit?”
This is an interesting article, and I am glad that you had such a nice experience. I like your mention of rice and beans. This makes me think about how many cultures actually across the globe actually have such food as one of their staple food. Another idea is food and respect, I think this can also be extended to foodway and food culture. In class, we analyzed a video of food culture in Senegal and how children are to be quiet when eating. The quietness inserts a sense of respect and their position in the overall family. Respect can also extend to how one acts when food is present, such as eating together, contributing or not contributing to stories e.t.c. Overall it is interesting how we interact with given food or the presence of food.