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gallo pinto, food & drinks

Discovering the traditional dishes and drinks of Costa Rica

Gallo Pinto

Enjoy Costa Rican food

Gallo pinto is the traditional dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua cuisines. It is considered the national dish of both countries, although the two prepare it in a different manner, and is eaten as a part of any meal.

Though many variations exist, the dish at its most basic is composed of pre-cooked rice and beans fried together with spices such as cilantro, onion and peppers.

The Name

The name gallo pinto means "painted rooster".

When the beans and rice are combined, the rice gets coloured by the beans, and the mix results in a multi-colored, or specked appearance. Nicaraguans traditionally prepare it with small red beans, while Costa Ricans usually use black beans. Beans are slowly cooked until the juice is almost consumed. Gallo pinto means 'coloured rooster' in Spanish, thus the name fits with the coloured rice.


A typical Nicaraguan dish containing gallopinto, tajadas, fried cheese and cabbage.

There is some controversy about whether the dish originated in Nicaragua or Costa Rica. Regardless of its origin, the dish is an integral part of both Costa Rican and Nicaraguan culture. A Costa Rican legend claims the name gallo pinto was coined around 1930 in San Sebastian, one of the southern neighbourhoods of the capital, San José.

Nicaraguans hold to this day the world record on the biggest gallo pinto. The event, which has been done four years in a row every September 15th, broke its previous record of 18,400 served dishes. It took place and was organized by Pharaoh's Casino of Nicaragua. The new total of served dishes amounted to 22,200. All money went to a Charity Home.

Costa Rican Cuisine

Costa Rican cuisine is known for being tasty, yet fairly mild, with high reliance on fresh fruits and vegetables. The main staple, known as gallo pinto, consists of rice and black beans, which in many households is eaten at all three meals during the day.

Lunch, the traditional national dish is called a casado. It again consists of rice and beans, though this time they are served side by side instead of mixed. There will generally be some type of meat (carne asada, fish, pork chop or chicken) and a salad to round out the dish. There may also be some extras like fried plantain, a slice of white cheese, and/or corn tortillas in accompaniment.

As a common appetizer, Ceviche is a dish of raw fish marinated in lemon juice with cilantro and onions.

Fresh vegetables are a primary ingredient in most main dishes, and members of the squash family are particularly common. These include varieties such as zucchini, zapallo, chayote, and ayote. Potato, onion, and red pepper are other common ingredients.

Coffee and banana are the two main agricultural exports of the country and also form part of the local cuisine. Coffee is extremely popular and nationally-revered drink. For more information on the beverage and the industry, check out our section on Coffee. Coffee is usually served at breakfast and during traditional coffee breaks in the afternoon, usually around 3:00pm.

The Plantain, a larger member of the banana family, is another commonly used fruit and can be served in a variety of ways. Ripe plantains have a sweet flavor, and can be fried in butter or baked in a honey or a sugar-based sauce. Green (unripe) plantains are boiled in soups or can be cooked, mashed into small round cakes and fried to make patacones. Sweet corn dishes are common traditional meals like pozole (corn soup), chorreadas (corn pancakes), etc.

Other Costa Rican food staples include corn tortillas, white cheese and picadillos. Tortillas are used to accompany most meals. Ticos will often fill their tortillas with whatever they are eating and eat it in the form of a gallo [direct translation: rooster, however, it resembles a soft Mexican taco]. White cheese is non-processed cheese that is made by adding salt to milk in production. Picadillos are meat and vegetable combinations where one or more vegetables are diced, mixed with beef and garnished with spices. Common vegetables used in picadillos are potatoes, green beans, squash, ayote, chayote and arracache. Often, picadillos are eaten in the form of gallos.

Common Dishes and Condiments

  • Tortilla - name for either a small, thin corn tortilla, or an omellete
  • Tortilla de queso - a thick tortilla with cheese in the dough
  • Arreglados - greasy puff pastries made with meat
  • Tortas - sandwiches on buns
  • Arroz con pollo - rice with chicken and vegetables
  • Gallos - meat, beans, or cheese between two tortillas
  • Natilla - sour cream of a relatively thin consistency
  • Palomitas de maíz - popcorn
  • Picadillo - sautéed vegetables sometimes with meat, served as a side dish
  • Tacos - meat and cabbage salad tucked into a tortilla
  • Tamal de elote - sweet corn tamales wrapped in corn husks
  • Tamales - cornmeal, often stuffed with pork or chicken, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled

Deserts and Sweets

  • Cajeta de coco - a fudge made of coconut, tapa dulce, and orange peel
  • Melcochas - candies made from raw sugar
  • Tapa dulce - brown sugar, native to Costa Rica, sold in a solid form
  • Dulce de leche - a thick syrup made of sugar and milk
  • Tres leches - a three-layered custard flan, and the national desert


The traditional breakfast drink, besides coffee, is called agua dulce ("sweet water") and is made from tapa de dulce. Sugar cane juice is boiled down in traditional trapiches and put to solidify in molds in the form of conical sections with the top cut off called tapas which can literally be translated into "lids". Then some of this tapa is scraped off and dissolved into boiling water or milk to make the sweet delicious agua dulce.

The traditional drinks for lunch are called refrescos or frescos for short, and consist of liquefied fruits diluted in either water or milk and sweetened to taste. They come in many varieties such as melon, blackberry, strawberry, watermelon, mango, papaya, tamarind, passion fruit, guanabana and cas.

Another popular drink is known as a granizado, a slush drink made of finely shaved ice and flavored syrup. The most popular flavor is kola. This is not the cola usually associated with carbonated soda but a fruity cherry flavored syrup. It is sometimes served with evaporated/condensed milk on top depending on the preference of the drinker.

The national liquor of Costa Rica is made from sugar cane and is called guaro. Ticos drink guaro as a shot or mixed with juice or soda. The cost of guaro is very cheap compared to the cerveza (beer) in Costa Rica which is run by a monopoly. Imperial is the most popular and is an American style lager that is also available in Light; the Pilsen is a bohemian style pilsner also available in a 6.0 version with higher alcohol content; and Bavaria is offered in Light, Dark or Gold. The Dutch beer, Heineken, is also produced in Costa Rica but tastes a little different. Import beers can be found in some markets, but are common only in parts of San Jose or larger tourist towns. Costa Rica produces an excellent rum: Ron Centenario and the Flor de Cana rums made in Nicaragua are also widely available.

Make your own Gallo Pinto


  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 1 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup broth from black beans
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper chopped
  • 2 spoonfuls Olive oil
  • 2 Teaspoons Sesame oil
  • 3 Tablespoons Salsa Lizano (or spicy vegetable sauce)
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Salt & fresh black pepper to taste


  • Heat olive and sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add spices (onion, sweet pepper, garlic) and sauté for about 5 minutes, until brown.
  • Add the black beans and broth. Then add the rice.
  • Combine the rice and beans with the spices and simmer until broth is gone.
  • Finally, add cilantro, salsa Lizano, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Accompany the Gallo Pinto with eggs, cheese, or green salad

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4 - 6

Costarica il blessed with a huge variety of fruits!

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