One of my favorite things about traveling is enjoying the quintessential foods of that country. My rule of thumb is to look for where the people are. If you see a restaurant and look inside and see no one, look for another one. If you see a line of people somewhere waiting for food, even if you don’t know what they’re eating, get in line and order one. I’ve gotten to eat so many good things as a result of keeping my eyes open and following this simple rule. Guidebooks are useful too, but they usually cover only a small portion of the good restaurants out there, and they tend to be filled with other tourists reading the same guidebook. So use it to plan a few meals but don’t forget to let serendipity be a guide, too.
Almost though not quite as fun is coming home and trying to recreate the flavors and meals you had while traveling in my own kitchen. Whenever I return from some place, I crave the foods of the culture I just left. It’s a way to hold on a little longer to the experience of being there, wherever there happens to be.
A simple but delicious meal that I had one day was after a morning of beachcombing at Playa Grande. My friend and I stopped by the Hotel Las Tortugas, which was right on the beach, for a tasty beverage and a little lunch. Neither of us was very hungry so we passed on the casados. Instead, I ordered a simple sopa negra, or black bean soup, which was garnished with hard boiled eggs and came with a side of rice. It completely hit the spot. After coming back, both my friend and I attempted to recreate the meal in our respective homes. Here’s the recipe I used from costa-rica-guide.com:
1 lb (450 gr.) Black beans. Fresh are best but most likely you’ll find them dried.
8 cups (700 ml) chicken broth or water or a mix
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
salt and black pepper to taste
10-12 sprigs cilantro (coriander leaf) fresh or frozen, not dried!
1 small or medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 small green, red, or yellow sweet pepper
If beans are dried, cover with water and soak overnight, if they are fresh, just rise them off. Drain the beans and add water or chicken broth, salt, and half of the chopped ingredients. bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to very low simmer until beans are nearly soft (~ 2½ hours). Add the rest of the chopped ingredients, and vegetable oil, and cook an additional ½ hour. Add eggs for the final 2-4 minutes (depending on how you like your eggs cooked). Remove about half the beans and reserve for gallo pinto or to mash and refry (you can leave all the beans in but typically some are removed).
Remove the eggs, peel and place one or two in each bowl before serving with warm corn tortillas.