Eating in Costa Rica gave me an appreciation for the simplicity of ingredients as well as the simplicity of kitchen techniques. I adopted new ways of cooking that seriously upgraded my health and ability to absorb nutrients. When travelling abroad, you can't rely on any recipe from online because a lot of ingredients are going to be hard or impossible to find. Niche health foods, flour replacements, special spices, and even things like peanut butter and mushrooms were unavailable. Also, when going to the grocery store means biking 20 minutes, sometimes in the rain, and then carrying the weight of the groceries on your back on the return journey, you learn to be a bit selective. Overall, we probably got groceries 2-4 times a week and the majority of the groceries tended to be vegetables. A lot of the packaged foods aren't good quality, and while this is true anywhere, it's especially true in places where there are little to no banned chemicals. We would commonly see grown men carrying 2 liters of Coke around like a water bottle.
I remember one morning I had leftover rice mixed with strawberries and avocado. Another common meal would be rice mixed with mango and coconut milk. It basically makes a super decadent porridge that would send your blood sugar into an opiate-like state.
The staple foods in Costa Rica are super decadent and healthy, though.
Embracing simplicity really opened my eyes and I really dislike using recipes now because it's so much easier just to get creative and use what you have on hand. I still like to use recipes when I need a starting ratio or if I want to try a new technique, but I end up deviating from it quite a bit usually. It also made me realize how easy it is to go off the deep end with some of these whole foods.
Here's an example of a regular breakfast I had at my mom's when I was home for a few days. Yogurt in the smoothie, banana oat pancake, bacon, potatoes, etc. This is delicious, but it's just way too many things to have at once. Actually, when I made this breakfast I was having decision fatigue because of all the options available in my mom's kitchen. Simplifying options saves times because you don't have to decide, and when all the options are good, you can't go wrong.
The bacon would be really hard to pull off in Costa Rica as I wasn't able to find any without nitrites or nitrates, which are known carcinogens. The yogurt is also impossible unless you make it yourself from the raw milk that comes by in a truck, because all the store brands have sugar and other undesirable additives. And I mean we've read every yogurt label in multiple stores in Costa Rica. I never saw maple syrup in CR, although you could probably find it for $25 a bottle at one of those specialty import stores. Last the blueberries, never saw those in CR either, although strawberries were definitely around.
Here's a decadent lunch in Costa Rica. Mixture of whatever fresh veggies and spices were available (I think greens, beets, mushrooms, and cumin, at least) along with some roasted eggplant, fresh tomatoes and little egg omelette. Homemade hummus and orange on the side.
Here is a lunch from a buffet in Tilaron. It's a classic platos casado style plate, with a cabbage and tomato salad, a potato mash, stewed meat, and beans and rice. We ate a lot of beans and rice in Costa Rica, usually black beans. I can tolerate them pretty well but having them built up in the system definitely taxed my digestion quite a bit. The drink is horchata, which was the only option besides soda, and it was so sugary I couldn't even drink it and gave it to Daniel.
Central America definitely is heavy on the nightshade vegetables, including some interesting persimmon-like fruits called star apples that look like purple tomatoes with white juice. Here is another lunch, with rice, queso crema, and plantain fried in ghee. We could usually find ghee in health stores and larger farmer's markets in Costa Rica.
When were were in Playa Cocles and the electricity would go out, we ate raw vegan. Here's an avocado salad with flor de jamaica.
The cafe del Alma in Tilaron was out of this world. Everything I got there was a work of art. This is a late with some kind of dulce de leche cake.
And here is a rice dinner with vegetable medley. There are big chunks of radish, green onion, parsley, turmeric, bell pepper, and crumbly cheese we got from a farmer's market.