A Vegetarian Abroad

May 25, 2014

In the United States, the food is easy, comfortable and manageable for a relatively new vegetarian as I am. I know my typical go-to and protein packed foods to keep me sustained throughout the day, but being thrown into an entirely new environment with a different style of cuisine was intimidating.

My first thoughts were, no host family will want me. They’ll see “vegetarian” on my small biography page and toss me aside because of the inventiveness a vegetarian diet occasionally requires. Most people find protein and meat synonymous, but that is far from the truth. Meat is, of course, a wonderful way to supply your body with protein, but so are beans, seeds, dairy and other food items.
At first, my host mom would question me at every meal. She would point to the chopped vegetables on her cutting board and say “only?” I would nod my head fervently and say “sí” because that was all I can manage to spit out in her language. Lucky for me, and Consuelo, Costa Rican food has one staple that is usually almost present at every meal: gallo pinto. This consists of rice and beans along with cilantro, occasionally red peppers and a special sauce that I have yet to pinpoint. This means that at every meal, I know I am at least getting protein from the beans within the rice; considering the ample amounts of food I am fed, I have no worries about my protein intake.
With that in mind, Consuelo still manages to have a wide variety of meals in her skillet each day. The most fantastic specimen of food I have eaten so far here has been mi madre’s handmade tortillas. She made them for breakfast with huevos and gallo pinto and I about went to heaven. She creates the dough, pats them to a depth of perfection then slaps them into a slightly curved skillet to warm the dough while barely creating a crispy outer layer. The flavors of the tortilla are juxtaposed with a few pinches of salt to tickle your taste buds. If I knew how, I would ask her for the recipe to take home to my family.
From breakfast to the other best meal of the day–dessert. In San José Centro Market, there was a small ice cream stand. You could layer their only flavor of ice cream with different creams and fruits. Everyone I was with opted to go the classic route and taste just the ice cream. I was pleasantly surprised when it was a mix between sorbet and shaved ice. There were traces of cinnamon and a whole lot of pumpkin pie flavor that threw me back to Thanksgiving. It was such a refreshing take on a heavy dessert. Costa Rica earned another brownie point for that one.
But not only does Costa Rica do well with vegetarian food, but it goes without saying that their coffee is unrivaled by any coffee we have in the States. At home, I pour in the hazelnut creamer and packets of sugar. Not the healthiest of morning drinks, but that is how I get through my day. In Costa Rica, though, I never felt the urge to add extras to the drink. The discovery came about due to my lack of Spanish vocabulary. Consuelo set down coffee next to my plate and offered me sugar, but no milk. I did not know how to ask for any so I popped in one sugar and downed the drink. The flavor is wonderful and it goes down very smoothly. Needless to say, I opted for no sugar the next day. The coffee here can hold its own.
Any concerns I came into this trip having are now tossed aside. I adore the food here and Consuelo gets concerned that I did not enjoy her cooking if I do not clean my plate. Great for my taste buds, but not so bueno for the waistline. Pura vida, though. This whole experience is about seeing, hearing and tasting all of Costa Rica. That is what I have been doing and I am loving every moment of it.


(The way Costa Ricans brew coffee. They put the grinds in the hanging bag then fill it with hot water to let it drop into the coffee pot.)