Chicagoans take note. Costa Rica’s official tourism agency has Chicagoans on its short list of tourism targets.
Top reason: no shortage of snowbirds or snowbird wannabees looking for warm climes in winter such as those in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica for Foodies
Also, Chicago is a foodie town with a fast-growing appreciation for healthy food. According to Costa Rican tourism, Ticos (Costa Ricans) had been practicing farm-to-table 0 km cooking long before these were foodie buzzwords.
Now, nationwide, there is an initiative called the “Costa Rican National Sustainable and Healthy Plan”, which aims to get restaurants throughout the country focusing on healthy and environmentally sustainable cuisine. This complements the eco-tourism opportunities in Costa Rica, a small country that boasts shelter of approximately 5% of the known biodiversity in the world.
It also includes sending chef ambassador Randy Siles worldwide to give cooking lessons and tastes of traditional Costa Rican recipes with innovative twists. Chicago was just a quick one-night stop in travels that have taken him throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Cook Like a Tico Feast
With eight journalists as his sous-chefs, Siles conducted a good spirited Tico cooking lesson to prepare: red snapper ceviche; squash and faro salad; and arroz con leche (rice pudding).
Chef Siles gives the ingredient lists (see below) but proportions and other special touches just came from his instincts and eye. It doesn’t surprise to learn that he first learned to cook in his mother’s kitchen as part of growing up, the only child in his family to do so.
Eat Like a Tico Too
Warm and vivacious Luanna Gonzalez from Costa Rica’s official tourism agency and super-friendly and welcoming Gwen Salazar from the US PR agency of record for Costa Rica also regaled us with facts and factoids about Costa Rica , and tips on travel there as we chopped.
Gonzalez and Salazar said:
- Guaro, a sugar cane distillation made in government owned and run distilleries, would likely be what we’d drink in Costa Rica at such a feast, in shot glasses, if and when we really eat like a Tico.
- Ceviche is indeed very common fare for Costa Rican families that live near beaches—everyday meal type food.
- Real Costa Ricans have eaten very healthy always—and the new initiative is just to make it “sexy again”.
- Pura Vida, literally pure life, but also an expression and greeting that really means “full of life” is used throughout Costa Rica--- speaking to the spirit of Ticos.
- Every ingredient we used to prepare this meal is found widely throughout Costa Rica—from pumpkin, to milk, and more.
Standout Tico Cuisine
It was indeed very fresh ceviche, and the touch of mango is quite a crown.
This is truly an intriguing farro salad with cheese, pumpkin and other very sating ingredients. It in itself could be a meal.
We thought also that calling the dessert “rice pudding” doesn’t even begin to convey how unique this confection is. This was one extraordinary preparation from the chef’s artistry where the quality and taste seemed to far exceed the various ingredients in the recipe.
We fear that “cooking like a Tico” would take quite a few more lessons.
Costa Rica Tour Tease
Then again, with kayaking to see dolphins and whales one possible stop, time in luxury spas another, or taking long treks in spectacular cloud forests or rainforests to explore the wildlife, or caving or rappeling, one imagines scant time for cooking lessons during a tour.
Pura Vida - Full of Life
When he is not cooking or roving the globe as Costa Rica’s food ambassador, Chef Siles can often be seen taking advantage of Costa Rican beaches’ many assets for surfers. His enjoyment of Pura Vida may be an added ingredient in the mix.
Cook Like a Tico Recipe Lists
If you are channeling your inner Tico such that you can also whip out a Pura Vida showcase akin to Chef Siles, here are the ingredient lists.
Red Snapper Ceviche
- Red snapper, fresh
- Olive Oil
- Cilantro, fresh
- Red onion
- Hearts of palm
- Ground black pepper
- Passion fruit
Squash and Farro Salad:
- Olive Oil
- Fennel bulbs
- Feta cheese
- Cilantro, fresh
- Edible flowers
Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding):
- Short-grain white rice
- Cinnamon sticks
- Vanilla sticks
Visit the official Costa Rica tourism website for more information.
All event photos: Peter Kachergis
Costa Rica tourism photos and photos of Chef Siles surfing courtesy of visitcostarica.com