Spilling the Beans: The Costa Rican Staple
Surviving Endless Summer
Published: Friday, September 7, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 02:09
This semester, I’m studying abroad in Costa Rica. I would say that since I arrived in July, I’ve eaten rice and beans an average of 15 times a week, leaving only six meals a week when it’s not served. Before going abroad, I assumed that the American belief that Latin Americans consume an extraordinary amount of rice and beans was a stereotype. Costa Ricans, or “Ticos” in the local vernacular, however, are incredibly proud of this respected combination. The plain yet tasty staple is never served as a main dish, but rather as a side with literally every meal. After being in the country for about two months, gallo pinto — a special way of cooking the two parts together — is the only food that has been introduced to me as truly Costa Rican. I believe it.
Obviously, Costa Rica isn’t the only country that serves rice and beans, but at the very least, the meal symbolizes the time I share with my host family and my host mom’s incredible cooking.
Everything this lady makes is off-the-charts delicious. And as a girl with an insatiable sweet tooth, I couldn’t have asked to be placed in a better home. Since I’ve been here, my host mom has made some of the best rolls I’ve ever had, cookies, at least four cakes, two types of popsicles and two types of homemade ice cream. I live in dessert heaven.
But I digress. In addition to the incredible number of sweets piled around our home, I have never walked into the kitchen without there being what seems like a pound of rice in the rice cooker and a full pot of beans on the stove. While plain rice and beans is served with lunch, dinner and the leftovers my host mom gives me to take to school, gallo pinto is a special brand of the mixture that my host family reserves for one special day of the week. Without fail, Sunday morning breakfast is two scrambled eggs, half a plate of gallo pinto and a glass of whatever fresh fruit juice my host mom has recently made. It is quickly becoming the meal I look forward to most because I know what’s coming and I know it’s delicious.
To me, gallo pinto signifies more than just a plateful of awesome; it also represents the transformation of two pretty boring — and at this point, sort of stale — foodstuffs into one perfect concoction, like a kind of ugly caterpillar transforming into a beautiful butterfly. From what I have been able to tell, gallo pinto is made by cooking the week-old rice and beans together to let the beans’ flavor really soak into the rice. This can otherwise be considered leftover magic. Although, to be fair, all my host mom’s cooking seem like magic to me. Honestly, I think I’m eating better here than I ever have, and I don’t see rice and beans getting old any time soon.
And, according to science, that’s fine! While rice and beans are both rich in proteins, the two foods are considered nutritional complements because they provide different specific types of protein. Both foods also provide significant amounts of fiber, while beans are further full of potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper and some other stuff. I don’t totally understand all of this because I haven’t taken a biology class since freshman year of high school, but from what I can tell, I’m going to have a good metabolism, pretty solid bones and teeth, healthy blood vessels and some rocking cell tissue at the end of this semester. Couple that with my 45-minute walk to and from school every day under the scorching Central American sun — Hello, nice legs and tan! — and I’m going to be pretty hot stuff when I get back to Georgetown. Watch out, boys.
So, dear rice and beans, thank you for keeping me full and happy, as well as making me a healthier person without really trying. I love you. Sincerely, Mariah.
Mariah Byrne is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. SURVIVING ENDLESS SUMMER appears every other Friday in the guide.