This post may contain affiliate links.
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 the 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?
Related post: 30+ Foods To Try In Costa Rica
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!
You might like: Costa Rican cocktails and alcoholic beverages
About Costa Rican Food
Costa Rican food is characterized by an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, red meat, chicken, and seafood.
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 as 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.
Costa Rican Appetizer Recipes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Enyucados are boiled yucca mashed and then formed into little croquettes filled with white cheese. Lightly fry and serve hot. They are delish!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!