May 09, 2023

My first attempt at Costa Rican cooking

Shortly after I arrived in Costa Rica, a friend suggested I try some gallo pinto. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew I was suppose to have some "authentic Costa Rican food" later in the week, so I assumed that would be part of the meal. But after a day or two, I realized that the hotel where I was staying served it as part of the breakfast buffet. So I tried it.

First, I'd like to say I've been a picky eater all of my life. If my poor mother appeared on the planet again right then and saw me purposely eating rice and beans, she'd probably die all over again. But when I travel these days, I try to push myself to eat new things. And thank God I did because it was delicious. It became my go-to breakfast along with the little empanadas they served. I'm drooling just thinking about it again.

If you're not familiar with this dish, it is a Central American staple, and it's usually eaten at breakfast. Wikipedia says that gallo pinto means "spotted rooster" in Spanish, though I've yet to get that far with my Spanish lessons, so I'll have to take their word for it.

Anyway, I did go on to eat several other foods I never would have eaten at home while I was in Costa Rica. I'm really picky about the fruit I'll eat, but I sat on a beach and ate mango and pineapple for probably the first time in my life. I tried guava pastries and margaritas and passionfruit this and that, and when that authentic Costa Rican lunch did roll around, I tried it all without hesitation, even the bit that I realized later probably had mayo in it. I don't eat mayo. I didn't die though. And I still ate my fair share of hamburguesas (I have gotten that far in my Spanish lessons) from the hotel's 24/7 cafe, so I wasn't a total daredevil.

But ever since I've been home, I've been craving that gallo pinto. I wanted to make it, but I lost my taste with COVID, and then I got busy with school and work, and then I realized you have to have Lizano sauce — a popular Costa Rican condiment that our driver, Roy, introduced me to — to make it, which I ordered from Amazon, but then I had to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive.

Well, today was finally the day. I was finally going to cook my first authentic Costa Rican dish. I'm not exactly eating carbs at the moment, but I figured I could make this one exception. Plus, I try to cook for my dad once or twice a week, and he used to love rice and beans when my mom cooked them, so I thought he'd love this. I decided to fry some chicken to go with it, and I was going to make another side dish.

Let's just say it didn't go exactly as planned.

First, I realized I had to actually cook the beans and rice before I could combine them to make this dish. I've never actually cooked beans before. When I had my dad try the ones I cooked today, he said, "Are these beans raw?"

Second, when I went to add the cilantro, I realized that my grocery delivery person brought me parsley instead. I added a little anyway. Why not?

Third, I couldn't decide between two recipes. There was one that seemed really popular when I googled, but I'm also a fan of Costa Rican chef Melissa Guzman (I'm actually hoping to take a cooking class with her when I go back), and I wanted to use her recipe too. So, for some reason, I decicded to combine them.

Fourth, I put the rice in the freezer to cool it down after I cooked it, and I totally forgot about it and had to thaw it out to add it to the mixture.

Fifth, I can't cook to save my life. I mean, I can make some things. And by "some things" I mean tacos and chicken nuggets. I also make a pretty mean lasagna, but beyond that, when I cook, there's a 50/50 chance the results will be edible. The older I get, the more I like the idea of one day having a husband who comes from a long day of work, and I've made him some amazing meal that he devours, but unless this guy I marry also has the diet of an American six-year-old, that is most likely going to remain a fantasy.

So, how did my first attempt at gallo pinto come out? Well, given everything I said, it wasn't awful. It did not taste like anything I ate in Costa Rica, but it's edible. If you like hard crunchy beans and thawed rice. Though, my dad took a look at it and said, "I've had heartburn all day. I better not eat it." Where's the eyeroll emoji when I need it?

It's probably a good idea that he opted out of the meal. The fried chicken I made turned out pretty bad as well, and that's something I actually know how to make pretty well. I blame that on the brand of chicken I had though. I'm pretty picky about that, but again, my grocery delivery person got something else before I could object. And I never even got around to making another side dish.

So, my first attempt at Costa Rican wasn't a total disaster, but I wouldn't call it a success either. Honestly, I have about as much patience with cooking as I do with precalculus, but it doesn't stop me from trying when the random inspiration hits. I guess I'll just have to wait until I go back later this summer to have some good gallo pinto.