Costa Rica is a highly sought-after destination for vacationers and retirees from around the globe, possibly because of its well-known peaceful relations (the country has no army), diverse, yet mild climate and plethora of things to enjoy.
From surfing the Pacific Coast to hiking tropical jungles, relaxing on Caribbean beaches, unique wildlife (sloths anyone?), abundant ecotourism, mountains, Arenal Volcano National Park, urban areas and culture galore, this country provides more than the expatriate haven it’s quickly becoming.
Poised on the Central American isthmus, flanked by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, this non-island delivers an island vibe that is “Pura Vida.” Pura Vida, or pure life/simple life, exemplifies the Costa Rican way, and has been part of the country’s vernacular for decades. It’s a great way to say hello, goodbye or wish someone well. It’s also a slogan that is quintessentially Costa Rican.
Costa Ricans are nicknamed Ticos because of their distinctive use of the suffix “-tico” as a diminutive in Spanish. For example, “un poco” or “a little,” in Spanish becomes “un poquito” (a little bit) in the diminutive. In Costa Rica, it would become “un poquitico.” This also is a sweet way to add affection to everyday speech.
Pura Vida, or pure life/simple life, exemplifies the Costa Rican way, and has been part of the country’s vernacular for decades.
Another interesting characteristic of the country is its people and their origins.
According to Britannica.com, nearly four-fifths of Costa Rica’s population is of European descent, giving Costa Rica the largest percentage of Spanish descent in Central America. The next largest group is Mestizos (people of mixed indigenous and European ancestry), who make up close to one-fifth of the population. There is a small Chinese population, many of whom are also the descendants of imported laborers.
Fewer than 1 percent of the populace are indigenous Indian as the population diminished after Spanish conquest, disease and slave-raiding. Those of African ancestry comprise an even smaller percentage and typically live in Limón province on the Caribbean side. Many are descendants of 19th century workers brought from the West Indies to build the Atlantic Railroad and work on banana plantations.
Since Spanish colonization in the 16th century, Spanish has been the country’s main language; however, in addition to the special use of diminutives, Costa Rican Spanish has a specific national accent. IntrepidLanguage.com adds that there also are five indigenous languages spoken in Costa Rica as part of the Chibcha language family: Cabecar language, Bribri language, Maleku language, Buglere language, and Guaymi language. African decendants in Limón province typically speak Spanish as well as an English Creole similar to Jamaican Patois.
According to The Washington Post, a desendant of Jamaican immigrants made history by becoming the country’s first female Black Vice President: Economist and longtime politician Epsy Campbell Barr became the first Afro-Costa Rican to be elected to that office in April, 2017.
This African diasporic history is important, as it is said to have brought techniques for one of the country’s most beloved food items: Plantains.
The New York Times calls plantain a staple dish throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, with savory tostones (pronounced TOH-STON-EHS) being crisp, flattened double-fried green plantains that are often served as appetizers and side dishes. Savory patacones (pronounced PAT-AH- CO-NEHS) are another variation, typically cut in larger pieces and boiled first, allowing the resulting cake to be two or three times larger than tostones when smashed (usually with a plate), then fried.
Some Latin countries use the terms “tostones” and “patacones” interchangably, though it’s said the word tostón is used in Spain as slang for money and also to describe other types of fried or toasted foods. In colonial times, a Spanish coin was called a Toston, and many argue that the food (plural = tostones) resemble the size, shape and look of a coin during that period.
Sweet maduros, or ripe plantain, shows in the skin before peeling, as it becomes yellow or black the more it ripens (“Maduro” means “ripe” in Spanish) and often are cut on a diagonal for pan frying.
Some Latin countries use the terms “tostones” and “patacones” interchangably.
Like bananas, plantains develop more sugar as time passes. New York Times Cooking suggests that for the sweetest maduros, use blackened plantains as they have the most sugar and will yield a more caramelized result when pan fried.
Check out Part 2 to dig into more Costa Rican food fare!