By Ivo Henfling
Every time I travel out of the country, it surprises me how much tastier fruits and vegetables are in Costa Rica. Just like those crab legs I enjoy so much when we travel and enjoy the seafood that we don’t have in Costa Rica, I enjoy the fruits and vegetables in my daily diet when I’m back home. Costarican tropical fruits and vegetables are larger, taste better and are even juicier.
I’ve always enjoyed the huge range of vegetables Costa Rica has to offer. Just going to a farmer’s market and see the huge choice of vegetables that many of you won’t even know make my mouth water. My wife is Costarican and she loves to cook and I love to eat, though I am not a big eater. But I enjoy the different vegetables she uses in her cooking. You’ll find a lot of vegetables available you might know from oriental cooking, like Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian kitchen.
You moved to Costa Rica from another country with a different cooking culture, mainly because the climate will not allow you to grow the fruits from back home. I grew up with pears, cherries and apples, not with mangoes, níspero, papaya and jocote. I see kids here eat unripe jocote with salt, as well as the green mango. What is a jocote? I don’t know what it is in English, the dictionary calls it “common tropical American shrub or small tree with purplish fruit”. There are lots of fruits like the jocote here, fruits we have never heard of. You just need to try all of them and decide for yourself if you like it or not, it’s an adventure on its own.
We never had a fruit trees in our yard when I grew up, I’m a city boy. I still don’t have a fruit trees, though my neighbor donates every year about 8,000 mangoes to me, they all fall on my side of the fence and they’re inedible. So they rot away and start stinking soon and bring in the flies. My neighbor loves it I always have someone clean it all up, that’s why she doesn’t bother. I prefer the supermarket bought mangoes, or better, the manga, the female fruit, she is a lot juicier of course. If you live in Atenas or in Orotina, you’ll have a neighbor who has great mangoes and mangas because they need a warm climate to grow well and be delicious and juicy. Like some of you would eat a juicy peach as we will eat a juicy manga here.
Vegetables are still cheap in Costa Rica, so if you are a vegetarian, Costa Rica is the place to be. The vegetables are very tasteful, probably because of the sun they get and the volcanic soil they grow in. Of course we have all the regular vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes and broccoli that you already know. Particularly the mini vegetables are awesome in Costa Rica and are an export product, so still cheap here. If you don’t know how to cook all these weird vegetables, like plantain, ñampi and chayote, you can find some amazing recipes online and you'll love your new environment by eating it's food.
Many expats are complaining about the cost of living in Costa Rica going up so much and that is definitely a setback for those who were planning to retire with less money than they would spend back home. But there is a solution to this: go native. When you go shopping in Costa Rica, shop and locally grown and locally produced food. You can live without the grapes, the apples and Florida oranges even though you can buy them in the super markets at a high cost, just like you would buy a mango inNew York for a lot of money. You can also eat Guatamalan made cornflakes, Costarican made tortillas and Costarican grown peanuts. Learn to read the Spanish labels on the packaging, go to the farmer’s market, try something different. Give it a try, you’ll see you’ll love it.
By Ivo Henfling, your Costa Rica real estate agent who does eat local food but also loves his wife to cook Dutch dishes made with mostly locally grown food. Contact Ivo if you have any questions about how to live cheaper in a tropical country full of everyday adventure or if you just want to buy a home in Costa Rica.