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For a true taste of Costa Rican culture, sample some local Gallo Pinto

When exploring a country for the first time, travelers should take the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture of the foreign land. Not only does this provide a more robust and memorable experience for the traveler, but a more open and understanding view of foreign cultures as well. One of the best ways to gain an understanding of a new and interesting culture is to sample the native cuisine of Costa Rica, and first-time visitors of Costa Rica would be remiss if they did not sample the Central American nation's national dish, gallo pinto.

Traditional Breakfast Food

With a name that means spotted rooster, gallo pinto is a black beans and rice dish that has emerged as the national dish of both Costa Rica and Nicaragua (where it is instead made with red beans), and it is mostly enjoyed as a staple meal for breakfast. Despite its title, the dish does not necessarily contain any chicken or egg ingredients, drawing its title instead from the grayish-black color taken on by the rice when combined with the beans.

As a perennial dish that that is most commonly eaten for breakfast, gallo pinto has taken on innumerable subtle variations, individual restaurant and accompanying food items.

One of the most popular gallo pinto dishes is a breakfast pairing with huevos fritos, or fried eggs (over easy). This hearty meal provides a welcome contrast between the dark, often salty taste of the beans with the soft yolks and peppery whites of the eggs.

Delicious Food Pairings

Gallo pinto is also often paired with fried sweet plantains, bacon, natilla (Costa Rican sour cream), queso Tico (a Costa Rican fresh cheese) and occasionally on handmade tortillas. Diners will certainly want to top off their gallo pinto with some Salsa Lizano, a thin, sweet sauce incorporating elements of black pepper, cumin, onions, turmeric and more that is locally produced and is a fixture in most Costa Rican restaurants and homes.

Travelers seeking the full experience may want to top off their culinary adventure with a cup of agua dulce, a warm beverage made with native brown sugar.

Over the years, Latin America has given rise to several similar dishes including the Cuban Moros y Cristianos and El Salvador's Casamiento, yet there nothing stands up to the original.