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Costa Rican Appetizers You’ll Love

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This guide will tell you everything you need to know about Costa Rican appetizers, as well as the recipes for each so you can make them at home even if you aren’t traveling to Costa Rica!

Costa Rican appetizers are a must-try! There are so many things that you can do when visiting this country, but there’s something about their food that will keep bringing you back for more.

If you’re looking for something new and exciting to spice up your mealtime, you need to check out the amazing cuisine from Costa Rica. These appetizers will tantalize your taste buds and leave you wanting more.

With recipes this delicious, you’ll be able to wow your friends and family with an amazing culinary experience they won’t forget. Costa Rican food is definitely worth trying – so why not start with these appetizers?

If you’re planning your next trip to Costa Rica or if you just want to try some delicious new recipes, then this is the post for you.

This post will give you a list of some of the most popular appetizers in Costa Rica, along with links to their recipes so you can create them at home. Let’s get started!

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About Costa Rican Food 

Costa Rican food is characterized by an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, red meat, chicken, and seafood.

Traditional Costa Rican foods include white rice, black beans, plantains, cassava or yuca, tortillas, and the ever-famous gallo pinto.

There are variations of Costa Rican food depending on the region. For example, in coastal areas, you will see more of an abundance of fresh seafood in appetizers. In the Central Valley, you will find many more salads with your appetizers. In the Guanacaste region (Pacific coast), because of the influence of the indigenous people, you will find more dishes that incorporate ground corn. Empanadas and homemade tortillas are some examples.

Appetizers are a reflection of traditional Costa Rican cuisine in that they can be small plates of traditional Costa Rican dishes (such as chicharron with boiled yucca and fresh homemade tortillas). They can also be a new invention of existing side dishes, such as the chifrijo. Chifrijo means chicharron (fried pork belly), frijol (beans) and chimichurri sauce (similar to a pico de gallo.) This dish is made from pulled pork, white rice, black beans, and chimichurri sauce.

Related post: 30+ Foods To Try In Costa Rica

Origin of Costa Rican Appetizers

Appetizers are popular in Costa Rican bars and small local restaurants. In the past, with each beer or cocktail purchased in a Costa rRcan bar, a person would get a small appetizer (called bocas in Costa Rican Spanish). This would generally help with the absorption of alcohol in the body, and the idea was to prevent drunkenness.

Today, the bocas are tiny dishes meant to give you a small taste of many of the traditional Costa Rican foods. Groups may order several appetizers as small sharing plates. Or, a person might order 2 or 3 over the course of the night of drinking.

You can find over a hundred options at some bars (La Guaria bar in San Ramon is one of my favorites). Many of these appetizers are accompanied by the national sauce, Salsa Lizano (similar to Worcestershire sauce but a thousand times better.)

Bocas are generally cheaper than a full dish, and oftentimes just a big. Costa Rican appetizers are also generally fairly cheap, ringing in as low as $2 USD or at most about $6 USD in traditional bars.

Since Costa Ricans generally do not eat dinner, preferring a robust coffee hour in the late afternoon, you will find bocas the perfect combination of a light dinner and a midnight snack.

Sometimes you will find international influences such as guacamole, nachos, or American-style chicken wings. This isn’t guaranteed in traditional restaurants throughout the country. You will find more international cuisine the closer you get to the capital, San Jose.

While you’ll find these small plates on menus all over Costa Rica, you may want to make some of them at home. Here are some of my favorite recipes you may want to try.

Related post: 10 Delicious Vegan Options in Costa Rica

Costa Rican Appetizer Recipes

Dipping a chip into fish ceviche.

Ceviche

Popular throughout Latina America, in Costa Rica this dish is one of the country’s most popular foods. Ceviche is raw fish marinated in lime juice until it’s “cooked.” In Costa Rica you can find fish ceviche, shrimp ceviche or a combination of the two.

The fish used in Costa Rica is usually white fish such as marlin, mahi mahi or red snapper. It is common to ask what type of fish is in the ceviche, and when it was caught.

It’s also popular to make a “caldosa” or to put ceviche into a small bag of chips and eat it right out of the bag with a spoon.

Costa Rican taco bowl chifrijo with chimichurri sauce.

Chifrijo

Chifrijo is a local favorite that started as an appetizer but has developed into its own dish. It combines Costa Rican rice, red beans (kidney beans), fried pork belly (chicharron) and pico de gallo, called “chimichurri” in Costa Rica. Sometimes tortilla chips are served on top, but usually on the side.

costa rican plantains- patacones with red and blue napkins

Patacones

Patacones are boiled green plantains (as opposed to ripe sweet plantains) that are then smashed into flat disks and fried. They are served with a variety of accompaniments for dipping or topping. These can include ceviche, melted cheese, salsa rosada (pink sauce or golf sauce), black bean dip, guacamole, mini chicharrones and more. Patacones in the rest of Latin America are generally called tostones.

These also make a great Costa Rican side dish.

Plate of Costa Rican nachos piled with pico de gallo.

Costa Rican Nachos

Nachos are also wildy popular throughout Latin America and Costa Rica is no exception. In beach towns and areas heavily populated with tourists, you will find American-style nachos with cheddar cheese.

Traditional Costa Rican nachos however are usually individually topped fried corn tortillas. You will fry quarters of a corn tortilla and top each one with black beans, shredded beef or shredded chicken and either nacho cheese sauce or melted white cheese.

Yuca fries served with cabbage salad and chimichurri sauce.

Yucca Fries

Boiled yucca is often sliced into thick pieces that resemble fat French Fries, and then fried to golden perfection. Yucca fries are generally served with a salsa rosada (golf sauce) dipping sauce. They are also served with chimichurri and black bean dip

Chicharron fried pork with chimichurri sauce, salsa rosada- Costa Rica.

Chicharron

Chicharron is fried pork belly. Unlike many Latin American countries who use pork rinds are a chicharron, the dish in Costa Rica has lots of pork. Chicharron is usually served with boiled yucca, chimichurri sauce, a cabbage salad and lots of lime. You will occasionally have a salsa rosada (pink sauce) served on the side, but this is not always the case.

small bowl of white rice, black bean soup and red ox cart

Black Bean Soup (sopa negra)

This wildly popular mini-soup appetizer is the broth leftover when cooking beans. This dish is usually served with white rice and a boiled egg in the soup. Many Costa Ricans order a hot sauce such as Tabasco to eat with this dish.

Close up of hot dog and french fry medley surrounding a bowl of pink sauce.

Salchipapa

Popular with kids and adults alike, this dish is just like its name. “Salchi” stand for “salchicha” (sausage), but this dish usually uses hot dogs. “Papa” is for potato, and is a shortened version of papas fritas, or French fries.

Both potatoes and hot dogs are fried together and served on a plate with toothpicks for eating, and salsa rosada (pink sauce) for dipping.

Sometimes you will find salchipapas with ketchup and mayonnaise squirted on top. Occasionally there is also mustard.

Gallos

Bascially a “gallo” (translated as rooster” is a corn tortilla filled with a small portion of a favorite dish. There are gallos with chorizo inside, fried cheese, picadillos… you name it. If you see a gallo on the menu, it is generally followed by “de” and the filling. These are often topped with Lizano sauce.

Costa Rican style taco with french fries, shredded cabbage, and fry sauce on a white platter.

Tacos Ticos

Forget everything you know about tacos. A Costa Rican taco is more like a flauta than what we know as a traditional Mexican taco.

Stuff a large corn tortilla with shredded beef and wrap it up. Add a toothpick to hold it and fry to golden perfection. Tacos are topped with shredded cabbage and slathered with ketchup and mayonnaise.

Depending on the region you are in, Costa Rican taco may be served with French fries on top as well.

Vegan potato empanadas and small red rampkin of filling.

Empanadas

A traditional street food sold by street vendors and restaurants alike, empanadas are also popular bocas in Costa Rica. they can be filled with mashed potato, white cheese, mashed black beans or shredded beef. This traditional food is usually eaten by hand, the bottom half is covered with a napkin.

Costa Rican salad with lime, chicharron, chimichurri sauce and yuca.

Vigorón

This appetizer is wildly popular on the Caribbean coast and in the port town of Puntarenas where it originated. Just wrap a plantain or banana leaf and fill them with boiled yucca, fried pork belly and chimichurri. Eaten with a fork in one hand and the vigoron in the other. Delish!

For more Costa Rican recipes visit our huge list of best Costa Rican food or our list of traditional Costa Rican food.

About the Author

Christa profile image

Hi- I’m Christa! I fell in love with Latin America in my 20s, and I’m still head over heels! Here at Pura Vida Moms I celebrate what it means to be bicultural- Costa Rican recipes, bilingual parenting and family travel.

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Christa profile image

Hi- I’m Christa, and I’m on a mission to help the world fall in love with Costa Rica through food, travel and language. I’m a mom of two Latinas, bicultural, bilingual (English/Spanish), and 100% in love with celebrating parenthood in all its forms, (even the sucky parts). I’m so happy you found the site- WELCOME! Find out more about me here

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