Friday, January 14, 2011

Costa Rica: Food for Thought

Randie Rosenberg 's trip to Costa Rica in 2009:
Gallo Pinto? Pejibaye soup? No, I’m not really a “foodie”, but my recent trip to Costa Rica has me daydreaming about the superb native dishes made with the freshest ingredients. In this gem of a country you can fish in the ocean and have your catch prepared to your liking that same evening at a dockside restaurant. Yellowfin tuna sashimi alongside grilled mahi mahi. Homemade tamales wrapped in banana leaves, tiny empanadas stuffed with local cheeses or meats; there’s always a new dish to savor.

This trip I discovered pejibaye soup and shredded green papaya. Pejibaye is the nut of a particular palm tree. It has a nutty flavor and a rich, toothy texture. The soup is slightly cheesy and very delicious. Enjoying the soup volcano-side while Arenal puffs steam into the air and lava flows down the mountainside can’t be beat. I found my other new dish during a typical campesino style lunch in the mountains about 45 minutes from Manuel Antonio National park. We visited Santa Juana, a tiny pueblo where Costa Rican heritage is being preserved and protected. After a horseback ride and a nature walk we plunged into the cool waters at the base of a thundering waterfall. Refreshed and hungry we piled our plates from a buffet prepared by a beautiful young villager. The cooked green papaya was shredded and seasoned with a saffron-like spice. The idea was to put it in a fresh hot tortilla with other options…rice, beans, plantains, fresh lettuce and tomatoes. I ate mine unadulterated and went back for seconds.

Before I run out to eat lunch, a few words about the rest of the trip. I traveled with a merry band of women (always a fun time). There were seven of us plus our trusty driver. We started at the Pacific beach area near Tamarindo. This is ranch land with tropical dry forests and pretty stretches of beach. Then off to Arenal volcano. The area deserves more time than we could spend this trip. There is so much to do: mountain biking, rapelling down waterfalls, lake activities and relaxing in hot springs. I always make myself ride the zip lines in Costa Rica. These “canopy tours” are all over the country. This time I tried the Sky Trek/ Sky Tram, a relatively new series of 8 platforms connected by steel cables. What a screaming thrill — 40 mph over the rainforest canopy – it almost blew out my contact lenses! I got calmer with each successive ride between platforms and soon I was enjoying the view of Lake Arenal below and the volcano in the distance. We even spotted a baby eyelash viper curled on a tree branch at platform #4, a rare sight.

Next we drove south to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast, about mid-country, where the sand is white and the hotels are perched cliff-side in a rainforest busy with spider monkeys and white-faced capuchins. Our last night we spent at Villa Blanca in the Los Angeles cloud forest. The clean, cool, moisture-laden air is perfect for orchids and the hotel’s organic vegetable garden. Oops, I’m about to start in on food again. Let me just say you will revel in the tastes and adventures of Costa Rica. As the Ticos say, “Pura Vida”, my friends!

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