There are a lot of things one can do with rice. One can write a name on it, use it as a filling for cushions, throw it on a wedding or dry things with it, as rice absorbs humidity. But, one can also just eat the rice… For over half of the world’s population, rice is the staple food. That is also true for Central American countries, even though they are not a typical rice growing area. Often rice is associated with Asian countries like India, Thailand and Japan, but also Central Americans are addicted to their rice dishes.
But why rice? Well, it is a rather cheap aliment. And it is easy to store…for a long, long time. Of course, rice is actually not one of the traditional, pre-colonization dishes in Central America. Rice got only introduced with Spanish and Portuguese colonizers. However, now rice is part of everybody’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.
When you tell a Costa Rican, that you cook rice only in salty water, they get horrified: „What…you do not put small cut vegetables in the rice? No onion, no garlic, not even oregano or coriander? Then the rice is tasteless!?! How can you eat that?“ You can see the shock in their face. They do not really believe what you were just telling about western rice-cooking-methods.
|One of the host moms cooking lunch in Costa Rica|
Cooking rice in Costa Rica is almost an art. Normally it contains fine cut onion. My host family also swears by some fresh oregano from the garden. Sometimes tiny, tiny pieces of sweet pepper can be found in the rice, too. And then, people in Central America just love coriander. The herb is put it in everything. Also in rice. So, depending on what you put into the rice while boiling it, the taste will of course be different. But it will never taste bland and tasteless. Give it a try!
Another specialty in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica is „gallo pinto“ (or „casado“, how Salvadorians call it). That is basically fried rice and beans. Normally this dish is served for breakfast, but it is no problem if you have it for dinner, too. The different rice and bean dishes are originally influenced by the people of West Africa. The many slaves brought these recipes to Central America, where they rapidly became – and still are – one of the most important energy sources. Even though rice is often seen as the grain of life, I guess it is actually the beans that sate you.
Also the way of getting the food from your plate to your mouth is slightly different in Central America. Over here applies the rule: Why use a knife, if a fork is enough. So, normally you eat your meals just with a fork (or a spoon). You have meat on your plate? No problem, just spike it with the fork and bite it. Or what are your teeth for?