Posted tagged ‘cuisine in costa rica’

I’m “sweet” on Costa Rican Mangos! They’re everywhere you look!!

May 27, 2014

Mangos (or tropical peaches) are among the most widely produced and consumed fruits around the world.  Introduced to Costa Rica in 1796, limited exportation started in 1980, but this fruit still remains primarily grown for national consumption. Production estimates put mangoes between 40 and 50% of all the fruit in the world produced for juice, canning and fresh consumption. Originally cultivated on the Indian subcontinent, mangos are now produced along the equatorial band around the world, with Mexico currently holding the title as the largest exporter of fruit and Costa Rica boasting of a robust crop that is mostly enjoyed nationally.

The mango tree itself is a truly a remarkable work of Mother Nature, with cultivated specimens living for 300 years or more, and

reaching heights of 120 feet, with tap roots that can push 20 feet into the earth.  The fruit is also a wonder of tropical evolution with a large seed in the center, a thick protective exterior skin and a

juicy and wonderfully peach like flavor and texture.  Fruits with a more fibrous flesh often develop this less desirable texture when grown with hard water and/or chemical fertilizers.

To be permitted into the USA, fruit must undergo a process called Hot Water Quarantine Treatment to kill any fruit fly larva or mature insects. This is a process where the fruit is submerged in 115°F water for 55 to 100 minutes. This treatment process is ideal for the growing trade in organic mangos as it adds no artificial ingredients or chemicals to the post harvest process.  Some countries have opted for irradiation method instead, exposing the fruit to low levels of radiation to eradicate and possibility of existing fruit flies. These fruits will not qualify for the “organic” seal of approval.

There are dozens of cultivated varieties of mangos that fall into three broad

groups in a typical USA produce department. The smallest group is the green cooking mango, which is used primarily in Southeast Asian recipes, or “Ticos” enjoy these sliced and dipped in salt…apparently an acquired taste. There is also a reddish green skinned variety which is generally quite large, as well as bright yellow skinned smaller fruits, the latter two which will start green but change coloring when the fruit is ripe and ready to eat. One popular variety is known as the Hayden.  This reddish green skinned variety is plain in appearance externally but extremely flavorfully and less stringy and fibrous than most other varieties, so it is a top international seller.

Another popular variety of Mango is known as the Francique, common to the island of Haiti (Hispaniola). This yellow skinned

variety is common throughout Costa Rica, and has a smooth melon-like texture and is widely regarded as the sweetest of all mangos. Harvested green, the Francique turns full yellow as it ripens, and provides an outstanding aroma and flavor. Mangoes are a key element of sustainable agriculture, providing soil retention on land and/or  hillsides that are vulnerable to erosion, especially in challenging terrains like those found in Haiti.

When selecting a good mango you should take advantage of your senses. The fruit should be uniformly firm to the touch with no soft spots or visible bruises. When completely ripe, the yellow varieties will be a uniform yellowish red color with no remaining green

areas, while the green varieties will retain some green, with a purplish coloring indicating it’s level of ripeness.   For those that prefer a slightly tart Mango, the color does not need to be uniform from the stem to the flower end of the fruit, even the green coloring can provide a wonderful sweet surprise! The red blush on some varieties is due to direct exposure to sunlight and may not be a factor in the quality or ripeness of the fruit, so one has to learn which varieties suit them best and not just depend on color to pick the best mango. An important sense to engage when picking the perfect mango is the sense of smell.  A ripe mango has a full, sweet fragrance easily indicating its readiness for consumption. Keep in mind that most tropical fruits, mangos included, can discolor and lose much of its flavor if refrigerated, so it is recommended to keep them at room temperature.

Most people would likely consume more mangos if they were not so difficult to

peel.  The cubed method is the easiest for quick and clean preparation.  Slice the mango along the flat part of each side of the large elongated center seed. You will end up with the flat seed center and two shallow cup-shaped pieces from each side holding the bulk of the delicious flesh.  With a sharp knife, cut criss cross lines in the flesh of the mango, being careful to cut all the way to the skin, but not through it. You then invert the skin inside out, and the flesh will pop up in cubes making them easy to cut off of the skin or eat right from the skin by scraping with your teeth.

If you have the space, Mango trees make handsome landscape specimens and huge, efficient shade trees. They are erect

and fast growing and the canopy can be broad and rounded, even providing good overhead coverage in tropical zones inclined to sudden rainstorms. They are considered a rather large tree, often some 65 ft. across their canopy. The tree is long-lived with some specimens known to be over 300 years old and still fruiting. In deep soil the taproot descends to a depth of 20 ft, and the profuse, wide-spreading feeder roots also send down many anchor roots which penetrate for several feet and make this specimen very sturdy in otherwise normally unstable terrain.

The yellowish or reddish flowers of the Mango tree are borne in inflorescences, in dense clusters of up to 2000 tiny flowers. Pollinators are flies, hoverflies, and bees.  Normally only a few of the

flowers in each inflorescence are perfect, so most do not produce pollen and are not able to produce fruit.  Do not worry, these trees still produce an abundance of eatable fruit over a prolonged period of time.  Be warned though, these flowers often cause allergic and respiratory problems for sensitive persons, so this should always be taken into consideration if planning on growing your own mango tree (or when living near them).

Mango peel and sap contain urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy and poison sumac that can cause urushiol-induced contact dermatitis in susceptible people. Cross-reactions between mango contact allergens and urushiol have been observed. Those with a history of poison ivy or poison oak contact dermatitis may be most at risk for such an allergic reaction. Urushiol is also present in mango leaves and stems. During mango’s primary ripening season, it is the most common source of plant dermatitis.

To grow mangos from seed, remove the husk and plant the seed (before it dries out) with the hump at soil level. The

seeds normally germinate in two to four weeks, and will bloom and bear in only three to six years. Mango fruit matures in 100 to 150 days after flowering. The fruit will have the best flavor if allowed to ripen on the tree. Otherwise, the fruit ripens best if placed stem end down in trays at room temperature and covered with a dampened cloth to avoid shriveling. Mangos generally ripen in June from a January bloom, and October to November from an April bloom. The main nutrients in mangos are

Calcium, Copper, Fiber, Iron, Magnesium, Vitamin A, B6 and C.  The fruit can either be eaten by itself or paired with light meats like pork, chicken or shrimp, or added into desserts. Mango is also a nice addition to fruit salads, juices and smoothies. Pureed mango tastes delicious in muffins and cookies and is popular as baby food as well. The mango is also famous for processing into chutney, so you can see that it has many many wonderful uses!

So the next time you find yourself wandering your local supermarket aisle, visiting your local farmers market, or even better, walking around Costa Rica at the right time of year……grab that mango and enjoy the world’s most popular fruit!   Happy eating, and remember that beauty can be more than skin deep!!

Enjoy this delicious and easy recipe from this local Costa Rican Hotel that keeps forever when well sealed in your freezer!

Simple Mango Sorbet
2 fresh, ripe mangos
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp coconut milk
1 tsp lemon juice
About 1 cup whipping cream

Peel and deflesh the mangoes , chop roughly. Blend mango with sugar until well pureed. Add coconut milk and lemon juice. Remove from blender.  Pour whipping cream into blender and whirl until the cream forms  stiff peaks.  Add the mango puree and whirl for 10-20 seconds. Pour into container and freeze for 8 hours, stirring every 1/2 hour for the first 3 hours to prevent uneven freezing.

Author:
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years.  Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.  Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and operates her own luxury Vacation Rental Home business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

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Costa Rica’s answer to Brown Sugar…..Tapa de Dulce!!

May 17, 2014

Most people would think that the popular Costa Rican coffee would be the obvious morning drink, but actually, the traditional breakfast drink is known as Agua Dulce (“sweet water”). Made from the “typical” local ingredient “Tapa de Dulce”, these familiar (or not so familiar) molded small cakes of firm compacted brown sugar product are very similar to the North American “brown sugar” we buy in a bag.

Also known in many Costa Rican homes simply as “Bebida”, this sugary cane liquid is extracted, boiled, evaporated and eventually poured into conical molds, which are cooled, at which time the tops are cut off making them tapas (“lids”). The traditional drink of “Agua Dulce” is made by cutting or breaking off a bit of the tapa and gently dissolving it in boiling water or hot milk. Delicious!

Known by many names throughout the world, Tapa de Dulce can also be called “Panela”, “AtadoDulce”, “Raspadura”, “Rapadura”, “Chancaca”, “Papelon”, “Piloncillo”, “Panocha”, “Empanizao”, “Melaza y Cuyo” and many many other varying names depending on the region and/or country you are in at any given moment.

Consisting completely of Sugar Cane juice, to make the ubiquitous molded Tapa disks old traditions held to using oxen or sometimes donkeys or mules to run the small rural processing “plants” better known as “Trapiches”. Not being easy to extract the sugary juice from the cane stalks, the animals were much more efficient back in those days, but alas…today it is almost completely a mechanized process being much more efficient and sanitary then using the animals. Back in the early 1900’s, Costa Rica had more than 1600 Trapiches, but today they have almost completely dissappeared, and a national cry has gone out to not let this tradition completely disappear. Costa Rica Hotels and Tour Operators have projects in the works to incorporate the Trapiche Farms in to rural tourism centers, directly sharing the experience with visitors from around the world. Unfortunately, this idea is far from fruition at this point.

Not a completely empty calorie sugar product, Panela or Tapa de Dulce differenciates itself from ordinary white sugar with measurable amounts of glucose, fructose, proteins, as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorous, and trace vitamins such as absorbic acid. It’s said to have “medicinal” properties as well, but more on that below!

When preparing a cup of delicious Agua Dulce, add a small chunk shaved off the molded Tapa de Dulce sugar block and mix with a small amount of hot water, working it until it’s the consistency of honey. Then either add hot water (“Agua Dulce”), or hot milk (“Bebida”) and enjoy! In the Atlantic region of Limón, the Agua Dulce is served cold and mixed with lemon juice and a hint of ginger. This is known as “Agua de Sapo” (Toad Water) or “Hiel” and is another refreshing way to enjoy sugar cane juice. But why stop there? Do you have a cold? Mix the Agua Dulce with lemon juice and an ounce of “Guaro” (Cane Liquor), which is said to be the best remedy in Costa Rica and sure to make your pains go away!

The country of Colombia is the leader in the Panela industry, providing an important source of employment for that country with around 350,000 people working in approximately 20,000 Trapiches or Panela Farms.

In fact, the city of Palmira, Colombia broke the world record in 2009 for the largest and heaviest Panela, with a molded sugar cake that measured 10 feet and 20 inches and weighing some 715 kilos! This required more than 70 tons of sugar cane, and 90 people working for 28 hours consecutively to complete.

So are you ready to try this tasty little treat? To buy your own Tapa de Dulce, make your way to your nearest typical “soda”, Costa Rican supermarket or the Pulpería (corner store). If you aren’t lucky enough to be in Costa Rica, you can buy Tapa de Dulce online at:
http://costaricasuperstore.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1087
http://www.ticoshopping.com/Crude-Sugar-Tapa-de-dulce-21-2-oz

VIDEO FOR GRIPE (a cold):

AUTHOR:
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and manages her own Luxury Vacation Rental BusinessManuel Antonio Rental Homes.

SOURCES:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rican_cuisine
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panela
http://recetasdecostarica.blogspot.com/2009/05/agua-dulce.html

“Mamon Chino”, a Tasty Costa Rican Snack!

March 12, 2014


The “Mamon Chino”, also known as “Rambutan”, is a colorful and interesting exotic fruit found on medium-sized tropical trees producing one of the most popular convenience snacks found in Costa Rica. Thought to be native to Malaysia, this fruit is also commonly found in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. The Mamo Chino is closely related to several other edible tropical fruits including the Lychee, Longan, and Mamoncillo. The name rambutan came from the Malay word rambut, whose literal translation means hairy, logical when you see the distinctive “hair” that covers the skin of this small fruit.

Description:
A hearty tree growing to an average height of 30-60 feet, the flowers are small and emit a faintly sweet pleasant scent. Mature trees in fruition brim with oval shaped fruit bunches that grow in a loose hanging clusters of around 10-20 specimens. The rather thick and clean peeling skin is generally reddish, orange or yellow in color and is covered with a thick hairy texture, making this fruit easy to identify. The coveted flesh of the fruit is translucent, whitish or a very pale pink, with a sweet, slightly acidic flavor, similar to that of grapes, but with it’s own uniquely tropical flavor. Be careful not to ingest the large single seed found buried within the sweet fleshy part, as it can be mildly poisonous when raw, but can be eaten when cooked properly. (I have personally never tried that, so anyone who has, feel free to chime in on how that works!) The seed is also said to be high in certain fats and oils valuable for industrial uses, as well as the oils are used to manufacture soap products. Beyond that, the roots of the Rambutan tree, as well as the bark and leaves are touted to have various medicinal uses and have been used in the production of certain dyes and coloring compounds.

What to do with the fruit:
A mainstay at Farmer’s Markets countrywide, roadside fruit stands are another great place to find the freshest Mamon Chino. Traditionally eaten by easily peeling the fruit with your fingers (it practically peels itself into two pieces) or you can often see locals open them with a quick flick of their teeth, popping the fruit directly into their mouth. The sweet creamy pulp of the fruit is easily enjoyed by putting the whole fruit inside the mouth and sucking on the pulp, remembering not to swallow the large seed. Disposing of the seed takes a practiced spitting launch, or better educated friends discreetly discard it into their hand or the bag the fruits came in. Despite the light color of the fruit’s flesh, remember to be careful, as the juice will stain a dark brown color, the reason indigenous Indians used to use Rambutan to dye cloth. Though most commonly eaten fresh in Costa Rica, you can find Mamon Chino jams and jellies, and it is now even canned in some locations. It would be important for me to mention……when using the common Costa Rican name (Mamon Chino), its important to know that the word “mamón” in some Spanish-speaking countries can be slang for a “person who sucks”, or more commonly it can refer to a “large breast”. Just giving a fair warning to my friends before you go to the Farmers Market yelling “I want Mamones”!

Production:
When CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) was in negotiations throughout the region, Costa Rica noted that this new agreement presented an excellent opportunity to expand the production of this little known fruit to International markets. Costa Rica, having little actual data on the production of this fruit within the country had the government entity known as “MAG” (Ministerio de Agricultura), launch a nationwide in-depth study to find out more about the cultivators of this crop, with the hope of bringing them the economic benefits that would result from expansion to an International marketplace. The results of this extensive study, primarily conducted in Costa Rica’s “Brunca and Atlantic Región”, was the first stage of a strategic crop development plan conducted by Ingienero Leonte Llach Cordero for the National Program of Tropical Fruits, a division of MAG. The initial results are listed below:

Results of Study (Dec 2003)
• Total Cultivators 354
• Estimated Hectares in Production-720
• Approximate Total Production per year-5.5 millon kilos
• Number of Adult Trees (over 4 yrs)-46,365
• Number of Trees under 4 yrs-49,839
• Amount of Cultivators with less than 20 Hectars-350
• Amount of Cultivators with more than 20 Hectars-4
• Most productive season-July to September
• Percentage of Local Market Production-+90%
• Estimated number of trees per Hectar-100 trees

The results of this study were extremely helpful in furthering the development of this tropical fruit to be competitive in an international market. As the Ministerio de Agricultura (MAG) began a program to distribute some 40,000 tree starts to farmers, their enthusiasm, pioneer attitude and excellent farming practices, helped to dramatically increase overall production by a staggering 20% in only 6 yrs. This impressive number converted Costa Rica to be the top producer of Mamon Chino in all of Central America. Costa Rica now exports an incredible 1800 tons of this popular fruit yearly.

So my friends, the next time you see these cute little hairy fruits at your Costa Rica Hotel, the local Farmer’s Market, local “Pulperia” (market), or a roadside fruit stand…… Stop! Buy!! Eat!! Don’t be afraid of them!!! Not only are these tropical delights delicious and convenient to snack on, but they also have specific nutritional qualities, as well as ancient medicinal uses that might come in handy one day. Just please remember no yelling “I want Mamones!” while in Costa Rica when you go shopping, or you might end up with a black eye!!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and operates her own Vacation Rental Home business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Sources:
http://www.mag.go.cr/biblioteca_virtual_economia_desarr_sociolog/rambutan_censo.pdf
http://www.simas.org.ni/revistaenlace/articulo/1091
http://costaricahoy.info
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rambutan
http://nal.usda.gov

The Tourist Tree? The Naked Indian Tree? It’s the Gumbo Limbo Tree in Costa Rica!

February 7, 2014

Living in the rainforest in Costa Rica means being surrounded by an abundance of interesting trees. One of my personal favorites is the Gumbo Limbo tree! A wildly popular tropical tree, it is native to the southeastern United States, but found widely throughout the Americas, West Indies and especially prominent in Costa Rica. This tree easily adapts to a variety of both dry and moist habitats, and is a fairly salt-tolerant species, enabling this tree to be found along most coastlines including around the Hotels of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Though consisting of a fairly soft wood, the Gumbo Limbo is considered a very wind-tolerant tree, making this species a good choice for hurricane or extreme weather areas.


This fast-growing canopy tree reaches heights of 50-60 feet and more, with a trunk that bears a striking color of green and red, with a thin paper like exfoliating bark. The Gumbo Limbo or Bursera Simaruba, goes by several aliases, such as the Spirit Gum, Birch Gum, Turpentine, Naked Indian, or more commonly named in popular vacation destinations…..the “Tourist Tree”, because of its red color and peeling skin!

The Gumbo-limbo is generally planted for shade and ornamental use in front or backyards, can be found along streets and highways, but it is also commonly used throughout Costa Rica as a “living fence” since it easily sprouts from cut branches that are stuck into the ground. With it’s naturally rapid growth, within no time farmers have a strong, natural, eco-friendly fence with which they can corral their livestock and mark their land.

The arils (or etable part surrounding the seed) provides an important source of food for winter migrating birds, including many migrants from North America, as well as local residents such as the Masked Tityra, Bright-rumped Attila, and Black-faced Grosbeak, the Baltimore Oriole, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and many species of Vireos. Additionally, Gumbo-limbo’s rapid growth, easy and low cost of propagation, and it’s ecological versatility make this species an ideal “starter” tree for reforestation projects.

There are so many more natural benefits to this great tree, as the sticky, turpentine-scented resin has been used for centuries for making glue, varnish, liniments, as well as a water resistant coating for dugout canoes. The aromatic sap is also used as an anti-inflammatory, a treatment for gout, a form of incense, as well as the leaves are brewed to make a medicinal tea for a wide variety of ailments. The bark is also considered a treatment against rashes caused by plants such as poison ivy and poison oak. Though the actual wood of the tree is rather soft and spongy, this versatile wood is traditionally used to manufacture the colorful carousel horses you see at county fairs, and other small wood products such as matchsticks, toothpicks, charcoal, boxes, crates, and interior trim have also been made from the Gumbo-Limbo wood.

Tribal or Native Indian medicinal uses include remedies for skin infections, skin sores, ingesting a bark tea for urinary tract infections, pain, colds, flu, sun stroke, fevers and to purify the blood. A length of bark about 5 cm x 30 cm is boiled in a gallon of water for 10 minutes or so for these local remedies and then used topically or can be sipped as a tea 2-3 times per day. Not only is it touted to provide the above medicinal remedies, but it is also said to kill bacteria, stop excessive bleeding, increase urination, increase perspiration, cleanse the blood, neutralize various venoms, helpful as a cough expectorate, reducing fevers and my favorite remedy…..increasing libido!!

So when out hiking, exploring, or just taking a drive around Costa Rica, no more passing that Gumbo Limbo tree and not even giving it a second thought. Just look at how much one can do and “cure” with this beautiful and unique tree!

But my friends…..you have been warned!!!! None of these uses are FDA approved, so please do not try these remedies at home! At least not without a Shaman present!!

Author:
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns her own Vacation Rental Home company on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica at Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.
Sources:
http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/Gumbo-limbo/gumblimb.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bursera_simaruba
http://www.regionalconservation.org/beta/nfyn/plantdetail.asp?tx=Burssima
http://www.plantcreations.com/bursera_simaruba.htm

Are you Ready to Celebrate a Costa Rica Christmas in that Special “Tico” Style?

December 10, 2013

In case you haven´t noticed, Costa Rica Christmas decorations and discount sales began long before Halloween dates passed. This brings to mind some of our own special ¨Tico¨ Christmas traditions found in our beautiful tropical locale. Be it the kids that start their ¨summer¨ vacations in December, workers that receive their yearly ¨aguinaldo¨ (an automatic one month salary Christmas Bonus from their boss), or the massive preparations of the traditional Christmas Tamales……whichever it may be, ¨La Navidad¨ is just around the corner!

Will there be snow? Well that is highly unlikely since Costa Rica is located only 11° off the Equator, but Costa Ricans are fascinated by snow, since few have everseen the real thing. Many of the floats in the yearly ¨Festival de la Luz¨ scheduled for Saturday Dec 14th at 6pm passes each year down the main street of Paseo Colon and Second Ave in San Jose. Floats are decorated in fluffy white cotton fabrics to give the impression of snow, and many holiday participants threw white confetti at each other, also meant to simulate snow. This year, the municipality once again is put a firm hand down on the throwing of this confetti due to safety factors, as well as the high cost of clean-up afterwards. In years past, there have been many complaints from innocent bypassers walking to work who were suddenly blanketed from head to toe in the white confetti.

Costa Rica´s animal lovers wait anxiously each year for ¨El Tope Nacional¨ usually held the day after Christmas on December 26th. This parade includes marching bands, clowns and other strange characters, but is most popular for featuring some 6000 of Costa Rica´s most beautiful high stepping horses, as well as the famous colorful hand painted oxcarts. These fabulous detailed oxcarts were originally pulled by people, then by oxen, and now are rarely used in day to day work, but are considered historical works of art cherished by the Costa Rican people.

The traditional Christmas tree, more often decorated in hues of blue, gold, silver,
white and maybe a little red, is accompanied by another important decoration, the ¨Portal¨. The Portal is the representation of the birth of Jesus, with the figures of Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, the ox and the mule. The most important figure in Costa Rica is the Baby Jesus. In Costa Rica, Santa Claus doesn’t bring the Christmas gifts, those are brought by Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. Called ¨La Nochebuena”, it is said that while the family is sleeping, the Baby Jesus appears at the portal and the gifts magically appear under the tree for the morning of the 25th. That is when all family members typically gather around the tree and pray, thanking Baby Jesus for all the good that has passed that year, followed by the opening of the gifts Baby Jesus has bestowed upon them.

The Christmas menu is extensive, but the focus is around the preparing and eating of typical Costa Rican “tamales”. The true “tamal” base is of ground corn, which is
made into a thick dough that is later filled with small amounts of rice, small slices of potatoes, vegetables, green olives, pork or chicken, and finally wrapped in fresh plantain leaves. They are then tied with string in pairs (known as ¨Piñas¨) and boiled until cooked through and through. Making “tamales” is a cherished tradition that involves the participation of many family members and friends, as this is a slow and laborious process taught by Grandmothers from one generation to another. I am lucky enough to have many Tico friends that take pity on my lack of knowledge (or motivation!) to make the tamales and each year give me the gift of the famous Tamal!

Easily, the most chaotic and perhaps crazy activity of the holiday season is the “Zapote Bullfights”, held in the town of Zapote, just outside of downtown San
Jose. It is there that they build a special ¨Redondel¨ or Bull Ring, as well as erect a yearly improvised amusement park complete with carnival rides, amusement park games and a selection of “chinamos”, or improvised food stands. It´s important to note that in the Costa Rican bullfights, the bulls are never harmed, or killed, though the “bullfighters” do not always fare so well (see videos below). The most prestigious cattle ranches provide the bulls for free and it is considered an honor to have their bulls included in this event. Beyond the actual riding of the large bulls (generally done in Costa Rica with NO hands), much more frightening are the bullfighters in the ring. These consist of ¨normal¨ people dressed in all kinds of crazy outfits, that willingly get into the arena in mass without any professional preparation to ¨fight¨ or spook the bulls, encouraging them to chase them around the arena. Incredibly, very few people get hurt or gored during this event, though the activity is definitely entertaining and a big headache for the local Red Cross which voluntarily provides it’s emergency services during this yearly event. It´s interesting to note that this festival year after year draws Costa Ricans from all parts of the country and crosses all social classes.

The Holiday Season then officially ends on January 6th, the day the three wise men arrived and saw Baby Jesus for the first time. That day all the neighbors gather and say a special prayer for the Baby Jesus. This prayer is based on the rosary and traditional Christmas carols. Of course after the prayer, there’s the indulging in
the famous Costa Rica coffee, along with more “Tamales”, “Rompope” (Costa Rican Egg Nog), “Aguadulce” (a Sweet Water like juice) and all kinds of typical baked goods and other traditional beverages. Don´t forget the grapes (no seedless ones here) and the apples, which are considered very special treats here, as they are not readily available or very affordable and kids love them!

Lastly, Costa Rican Hotels and tourism operations around the country eagerly await the arrival of December to usher in their peak tourist season when winter weary snowbirds look to bask in the warm tropical weather and waters of Costa Rica, as well as enjoy the bounty of adventure tours and the beauty of Costa Rica´s incredible natural resources. I hope if you are reading this you are lucky enough to share in our bounty this Holiday Season!

MERRY CHISTMAS OR FELIZ NAVIDAD Y PROSPERO ANO NUEVO!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent another 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino owns and manages her own Vacation Rental Home business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

“Peach Palm”, a sorry translation for the popular Pejibaye Fruit in Costa Rica

November 12, 2013


When traveling or residing in a foreign country, experimenting with foods, fruits and the customs of the host country should be a part of your adventures. In this blog post, we are going to focus on a popular Costa Rican fruit, the “Pejibaye”. One of Costa Rica’s most readily available fruits, they can be found throughout the country’s farmer’s markets, supermarkets and street corners. It’s unique flavor, nutritional value and vivid colors, makes this fruit an interesting addition to any Costa Rican cuisine.

Pejibayes grow in large clusters of 50-100 fruits, with some clusters having as more than 300 fruits, weighing 25 lbs or more,

and located high upon very spiney Palm Trees that often attain heights of 65-100 ft. These Palms are the same species that produce Costa Rica’s famous Hearts of Palm, another very popular offering found throughout this country. Available in a variety of colors ranging from yellow to orange to red to green, the waxy generally orange colored skin of the Pejibaye fruit is a favorite throughout the country.

The starchy texture and potato like consistency of the Pejibaye, requires a ample amount of cooking and preparation in order to

make them eatable, and to bring them to the height of their flavor. The preferred method of preparation is to place the entire fruits into large pots of well-salted boiling water, then cooking them for anywhere from 1-2 hours to soften the fruit’s texture. Eventually, the pejibayes soften (to a certain extent), at which time you can then peel them, cut them in half, removing the large central seed, and place them on a plate in halves or quarters. At that point, the Pejibayes are most commonly served with a small dollop of mayonnaise (or sometimes dipped in butter) helping to contrast the natural dryness of the fruit, and bringing out their natural subtle sweetness. The brilliant orange fleshy color is maintained throughout the process and enhances the natural presentation.

Roadside vendors sell boiled Pejibayes at makeshift stands all across the country, as well as the weekend farmers markets offer the ready cooked fruits and raw “racimes” of the fruits weekly. Pejibayes are so popular, that even some of the most prestigious supermarkets throughout Costa Rica have the boiled fruits for sale at all hours in their vegetable sections.

The Pejibaye, Bactris gasipaes, is also referred to as the “Peach Palm”, and is thought to be indigenous to Amazonian areas of

countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil, and found in other tropical locales such as Trinidad, Panama, having been cultivated and distributed by Indians for centuries. The fruit is plentiful in a literally wild state on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica, as well as large farms that cultivate the fruit for national and international distribution can be found there. Although not as common in other areas of Central America, it is still found throughout Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, as well as Panama since the Pejibaye fruit requires a tropical climate with the ideal average annual temperature ranging between 64°F and 75°F (18°-24°C). At low elevations with excessive rainfall, the palm will not produce viable fruits.

The biggest “pitfall” of this hearty little fruit is that an average 100 grams of Pejibaye fruit contains a hearty amount of

calories, definitely eliminating them as an option for anyone watching their weight. Nonetheless, if you find that you just cannot resist the allure of this tropical gem, the following is one of the most popular recipes to make the most of your experimentation with the ever so popular Costa Rican “Pejibaye”.
Sopa de Pejibaye Recipe (Palm Fruit Soup)

10-12 pejibayes
3 cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups milk
1 onion chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped or pressed
1 red, yellow or green sweet pepper.
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Wash and boil the pejibayes in salted water until soft (about 1.5 hours). Remove from the water, and when able to handle, peel and core them. Puree the pejibayes with the chicken stock.

Sauté the onion, garlic, and pepper in the oil until the onions are soft and clear, then combine all the ingredients in a stock pot and simmer for another 10 minutes or so. Enjoy!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns her own Costa Rica Vacation Rental Home Business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

“Carnavales” in the City of Limon: An Annual Costa Rican Tradition!

September 27, 2013

When: October 11-21, 2013 (annual event)
Where: Limón
Cost: Free
Hours: All hours!!

If you are planning a visit or vacation in Costa Rica soon, Costa Rica’s port town of Limón on the Caribbean side of the country, converts to an all out party every October to celebrate “Carnaval”! Vaguely disguised around celebrating Columbus Day (October 12th) or “Dia de Las Culturas” (as we know it in Costa Rica), locals as well as every strange character you can think of join together in the overconsumption of alcohol, while dancing and parading the streets of Limon to the popular Latin beats of blaring Calypso, Reggae, Samba, Salsa and many other tropical rhythms! A good time is generally guaranteed, all in the name of history, culture and a legitimately good reason to Party!

Background of Limon:
Limon (Spanish for Lemon) is the largest “city” on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, as well as the center for Costa Rica’s largest commercial shipping port in nearby Moin. Serving as the capital city of the Limon Province, Christopher Columbus set anchor in 1502. It is said that Limon was named after the large lemon tree that used to grow where the City Hall is now located, but that rumor has not substantiated over the years.
Also known at the Pearl of the Caribbean, Limon is an exotic province characterized by the friendly openness of its culturally diverse population, as well as the richness of its Afro-Caribbean customs.
Limon’s economy is based primarily on banana, cacao and pineapple production and exportation, as well as the raising of cattle, though the yearly cruise ship season brings a large influx of tourism to the area. Considered to have the largest population of black people in all of Costa Rica, the Afro-Caribbean culture derives from mostly Jamaican descent. Originally brought to this area as slaves to build the railway connecting the Atlantic coastline with the Central Plateau (San Jose) for the shipping of goods by land, a large Chinese immigrant population also remains from this same ambitious project.

Highlights of “Carnaval”:
The first Carnaval (that is the correct spelling for Costa Rica), was held in 1949 and was the brainchild of the late Alfred Henry King and friends, who felt it was a good opportunity to unite the Costa Rican culture (originally descendents from Spain) together with the primarily black Caribbean Culture (mostly African, Caribbean and Chinese descendents), which had suffered strained relationships throughout Costa Rican history. In just over 60 years, the Carnavales de Limon is now considered the most popular Festival in the entire country. It’s interesting that Costa Rica does not celebrate Columbus arriving to “America”; it celebrates the uniting of cultures. Pretty forward thinking!
During Carnaval, throngs of people line the streets to watch and cheer on the “beauty queens”, loud marching bands, and to see the brightly colored costumes of the “Comparsas”. Colorfully dressed and adorned coordinated dance troupes, the Comparsas wildly and skillfully shake their booties (booties of ALL ages and ALL sizes!!)to the loud tropical beats of mostly Brazilian Samba & Latin Salsa for miles and miles. It is quite a loud drum banging, hip swinging, cuchi cuchi type show, worth the 2.5 hour drive from San Jose!

My own Adventures at Carnaval:
Having lived on the Caribbean coast for 10 years, I have had the pleasure to personally attend Carnaval. Beyond the great live music throughout the 10 days of the event, one of my favorite parts (and there are many) is the Carnaval Infantil (Children’s Parade). Large macho men run around wearing large “muumuu” style dresses with HUGE handcrafted masks on their heads (see picture).
The “Mascaradas” as they are known, consist of men who play a game known as “Rass’em”. The lucky guy wearing the large mask (check out the peep hole in the picture, so they can see where they are going) chases the other men in the group, and when he is caught, the next guy has to put on the mask and dress and start parading around. A pretty amazing sight for this “macho” society, and really quite entertaining, if not a little creepy!
At night, the Limón Carnaval really comes to life! It’s like an enormous block party with everything located outside in the warm tropical air, just like a county fair, only A LOT crazier!! Rows and rows of booths (or “chinamos” as they are called here) of food, drink, handicrafts, local delicacies (more on those later), and dance floors dot the area and there are always people dancing in the streets (literally)! I personally love the Reggae music coming out of houses, offices and every corner of the city, that is my kind of music “mon”. My biggest challenge is trying to understand the Jamaican Creole dialect. I speak English and am fluent in Spanish, fortunately so are most of the inhabitants of Limon, as otherwise, I would be at a loss for much of what they are saying in their unique dialect. Whoppin? (What’s happening?) Watcha got? (What time is it?) Just a few examples that caused initial confusion on my part, but now seem a natural part of conversation!

The Food of Limon:
Visitors have not had the full Limon experience and definitely not the Carnaval experience without trying some true, authentic Caribbean style food. First and foremost, you must try the “Rice and Beans”. This is not your everyday “gallo pinto”, though it does look the part. This “rice and beans” is made with coconut milk, and if you are really lucky, has a touch of the super hot Panamanian Chilies thrown in for a surprise kick. Some other favorites of the area are the ubiquitous “Pan Bon”, similar

to Christmas Fruitcake in the USA and just as nasty to me, as well as “Pati”, a wannabe tasty empanada and Patacones (double fried Plantains), everything’s better fried!! Am I right? My very favorite has to be…… (drum roll please)…..”cajeta”. A delicious coconut candy with the texture of very firm fudge, this candy can be found sold on almost every street corner, store, bus stop or “chinamo” throughout the City. (I have some stashed in my refrigerator right now.)

In Summary:
If you haven’t had the good fortune to visit the Province of Limon during your Costa Rica vacation, it’s not just about the beaches to the South, or the endangered Marine Turtles to the North! The actual City of Limon is worth a visit, and I can’t think of a better or more exciting time to visit the area then during the yearly celebration of Carnaval!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Sources:
http://www.whatsonwhen.com/sisp/index.htm?fx=event&event_id=166975
http://www.yourtravelmap.com/costarica/limon/index.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lim%C3%B3n_Province
http://www.crtraveler.com/articulo.php?id=100
http://www.bukisa.com/articles/28152_limn-carnaval-in-costa-rica-
http://www.insiderslimon.com/CH1Page.html (Photo & Audio credits, please support their cause!)
http://alegresmascaradas.blogspot.com/
http://www.costaricaway.net/artcaribe/pdf/gentecultura.pdf