By Vicki Barnes

As we countdown the days until our next trip, I’ve been reflecting on a trip we took to Costa Rica a few years ago.

On our first morning in Costa Rica a couple of years ago, we sat down to breakfast as a small eco lodge where we had spent the night. Our hosts, Carmen and Miguel, kept a pen of happy laying hens down at the back of the property so we were assured that breakfast would be fresh.gallopinto

There was a small communal dining area for the smattering of guests to eat breakfast, which was included in the price of the room. But, unlike places in the US where the first meal of the day is included, there were no stale bagels or unwieldy waffle makers.

Three small tables with plastic table cloths, a rabbit-earred television set tuned to Buenos Dias, Costa Rica and the sounds of Carmen bustling around her 2 by 4 foot cooking area.

The smells were delicious, but unfamiliar. 

When she arrived with all three of our plates (Steve and I were traveling with his brother, Jeff) and refills of coffee and freshly-squeezed jugo de naranja, I was surprised. 

The overflowing plate included eggs, toast (OK, that’s pretty normal), sour cream, mango and pineapple slices and rice and beans. Don’t get me wrong, I like rice and beans as much as – if not more – than anyone, but for breakfast?
“Que es eso?” (“What is this?”) I asked, in my shaky, barely adequate, Spainish, pointing at the unusual offering. 

“Gallo Pinto,” she replied and walked back to the kitchen.

Flipping through my mental flash cards, I came up with “Spotted Rooster” as a translation. Um…this was not rooster. I’m a vegetarian, but I think I would recognize a rooster on my plate if there was one.

When in someone else’s home (and, in a sense, we were in their home), I was taught, you eat whatever is put in front of you. So, I did…and with no regrets.

Later, we chatted with Miguel, whose English was far better than my Spanish, and learned that Gallo Pinto is the universal breakfast in Costa Rica. No matter where you go (even Denny’s – yes, there is a Denny’s near the airport in San Jose) that is the most prominent option.

Gallo Pinto does, indeed, mean spotted rooster. It is called that because the rice takes on a spotted look when it is cooked with the beans. It is a savory recipe that complements the ubiquitous eggs and fruit and fills you up nicely for a morning of adventuring (or, in their case, work). At lunch and dinner there are more rice and beans, known as casado, but that’s a story for another day…

I convinced Carmen to share her recipe, which follows. It calls for Lizano salsa, which can be found at some hispanic supermarkets in the US (I found it in ready supply at Bravo and it can be found online as well.), but if you can’t find it, Worcestershire sauce is a suitable replacement.

Gallo Pinto

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 small white onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 Tablespoons of Lizano salsa
2 cups cooked rice

2 cups of cooked black beans (canned beans are fine, just drain and rinse)

  • Pour the olive oil  into a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Stir in onion for about 2 minutes, then add the garlic and keep stirring for another minute.
  • Pour in the Lizano and the  rice and the beans. Keep stirring until everything is incorporated.
  • Serve hot with eggs, fresh fruit and bread.
    You can add more Lizano sauce when you serve it.