Travelers could rediscover their love of Arroz Con Pollo in Costa Rica

Typical Costa Rican Arroz con Pollo (chicken rice)
Typical Costa Rican Arroz con Pollo (chicken rice)

Even someone without a knowledge of the Spanish language can translate arroz con pollo into English – it means “rice with chicken.” In North American, this dish seems rather basic. It might even be something served as a comfort food to a child, rather than a special meal you go out on the town to find. In Latin America, however, with the influence of incredible Costa Rican spices, vegetables and herbs, it can become something spectacular and unforgettable.

A Traditional Dish With Lengthy Roots

Arroz con pollo is said to trace its roots back to Puerto Rico, but it might also have some distant relation to paella, a Spanish rice dish. In Costa Rica, arroz con pollo is one of those personal traditional dishes that every chef, mom and abuelita makes their own way, much like North Americans might make stuffing according to the “old family recipe.” The basic ingredients, beer, saffron or annatto, rice, sofrito and chicken, are adorned with locally grown seasonal vegetables and family favorites.

Flavorful Elements Your Tastebuds Will Go Crazy Over

Even though the elements of this recipe are simple, their combination produces a dish you’ll never forget. A basic recipe for arroz con pollo starts with cooking the chicken in a pot of water. The chicken is shredded and set aside while the rice cooks in the leftover broth. The chef then sautés vegetables, onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic to create a sofrito, which becomes the saucy base of the dish. Carrots, green beans and corn might be added to the mixture.

Because Costa Rica is a tropical country, fresh vegetables can be found year-round, and are often incorporated into the flavors. Exotic varieties of plantains, rambutans and mangosteens found at local farmers’ markets might become featured elements in the dish. While it might seem odd to put fruits into an arroz con pollo, the sweet tastes can often help balance the spice in a dish. In like manner, North Americans often use apples, cranberries and oranges in savory dishes, to a similar effect.

Cilantro, which is a native herb, and Achiote paste, which has a sweet and peppery flavor, are two other common flavors in arroz con pollo. Much like Indians use curry powder, Ticos use achiote paste or powder to enhance many traditional dishes. Some say achiote paste tastes like what you might find in a pre-Columbian home; it’s so earthy and traditional.

The chicken is then often dressed in a peppery adobo sauce, before it is added to the mixture of rice and vegetables. This combination of sweet and savory textures brings what should be a simple dish to a level of fine cuisine any traveler can appreciate.

Sample Everything

When you’re traveling, it’s always important to eat like the locals -- even if you’re unsure that you’ll like the food. Each chef has his or her own take on traditional and exotic dishes, and tasting unique foods is part of the whole experience of being in a particular location. Whether your menu offers a beautiful dish of Arroz con Pollo, or a smorgasbord of other interesting Costa Rican cuisine, do yourself a favor – sample everything. You just might fall in love.