Gallo Pinto, Costa Rica’s national dish
What is Gallo Pinto?
Gallo Pinto literally translates as ‘spotted rooster’ but is the name given to Costa Rica’s ubiquitous national dish of rice and beans. The name most likely originates from the speckled appearance of the black beans against the white rice. Gallo Pinto is traditionally a breakfast dish but can be eaten throughout the day or as a side dish. In Costa Rica there is a local saying that goes mas tico que el gallo pinto which literally translates as ‘more Costa Rican than spotted rooster’ (referring to the dish). This is used to refer to something or someone that is very Costa Rican – the inference here that there is nothing more Costa Rican than Gallo Pinto!
Don’t mention Nicaragua!
The history of Gallo Pinto has caused somewhat of a controversy between Costa Rica and neighbouring country Nicaragua. Gallo Pinto is the national dish of both countries and each lay claim to its origins. Costa Rica says the dish was created in the 1930’s in a suburb of San Jose whilst Nicaragua maintains that the dish was brought to the Caribbean shores of their country by African slaves well before it reached Costa Rica.
In an attempt to claim the dish their own for once and for all, in 2003 Costa Rica cooked 965 pounds of Gallo Pinto and entered the Guinness Book of Records for the most amount of Gallo Pinto ever cooked in one go. In response Nicaragua cooked 1200 pounds of rice and beans, feeding up to 9,000 people, to out do their Costa Rican neighbours. This fierce rivalry went on and on until 15 September 2007 (now known as ‘Gallo Pinto Day’) when Costa Rica produced the biggest pot of Gallo Pinto ever seen that fed over 22,000 people. Two years later Nicaragua responded by cooking enough Gallo Pinto to feed 50,000 people! Although this event was widely publicized it was not officially included in the Guinness Book of Records.
What’s the secret recipe?
There is no one recipe for Gallo Pinto as each region and family has their own variation. The basics of the dish in Costa Rica are white rice, black beans, peppers, onion and spices especially coriander (cilantro in Spanish). The rice and beans are pre-cooked and then fried together with the rest of the ingredients. In Nicaragua they use red beans instead of black beans. There is one ingredient used in Costa Rica, however, that is said to be the secret ingredient and that is Salsa Lizano. Developed in the 1920’s, Salsa Lizano is a light brown sauce similar to Worcestershire or HP sauce in England but very slightly spiced. In Costa Rica it is a household name and you will see it on the tables of most restaurants. Many say this is the secret ingredient for making the perfect Costa Rican Gallo Pinto!
Go and try it yourself
There is no substitute for the original! Check out our selection of tours to Costa Rica or call one of our specialists to begin planning your own, tailor made adventure. We would love to hear what you think of this emblematic dish!