Investigating food and culture in Costa Rica

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  • Costa Rica
  • Phase I   Interview
  •         Costa Rica, which means "Rich Coast", lies at the heart of the Central American, is an ideal tropical paradise for living or just your vacation. Almost 95% of the Costa Rican population is of Spanish or Mestizo (mixed) heritage, heavily influencing the country's cooking style ( While doing my research about Costa Rican’s food and diet, I had an interview with a Costa Rica native Alejandro Saprisa. He was born in Costa Rica and is the first people to migrate to the U.S. among his family. Compare to the family or friends in Costa Rica have a close relationship to the Catholic Church [Because it was a Spanish colony, today, more than 90% of Costa Ricans consider themselves Catholics. (Margaret Kelly, P18)], Alejandro does not have any religious affiliation. Beans, rice, potatoes and coffee are what he mentioned regarding as foods that are indicative of Costa Rica culture and also use for meal cooking. Normally, Costa Ricans have three meals every day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are prepared in the kitchen by women in the family, usually the mother. Alejandro usually has coffee, muffin as a snack between lunch and dinner. Back at home, when he had dinner with his family, every member of the family sits and eats together around the same table. All dishes are set on the center of the table; everybody help themselves to enjoy the meal. Plates, forks, knives, bowls, spoons, glasses are used for meal.
  •         In American culture, today, we have taken time away from enjoying food and eating with family, which is due to the lack of time. Ever since Alejandro moved to this country, his food habits are slightly changed.  He surprisingly finds himself has not touched a plate of rice and beans for a while due to tight time schedule that makes him no enough time for cooking at home. He has no choice but tends to choose more pre-cooked meals which he would never have eaten in his home country. However, in a Costa Rica way of eating, people eat beans and rice almost every day and encourage eating with company.  
  •         When being asked about any symbolic meanings of food known to his culture, Alejandro said, “I cannot really think of something that is seen as “symbolic” but there are certain foods that remind me of certain holidays such as homemade relleno (stuffing) that is made for Christmas.”  He also said, “I can’t seem to think of any specific food taboos except being catholic we do not eat meat on some specific Fridays. In addition, we definitely do not eat things such as cockroaches.”

        Christmas, Semana Santa, Mother’s Day and Independence Day are some of the major holidays that Alejandro believes are important for Costa Rican to celebrate during the year. During the holiday season, Alejandro’s mum makes some special foods like relleno (stuffing) as well as a kind of delicious rice made with some sort of thin noodle for family. Alejandro does not fast.  However, he points that there are some people who do sustain from eating meat and such foods for religious reasons.

        Every culture has their certain ways to do or certain food to consume to improve strength, endurance. Alejandro likes to drink caldo do vegetables (a kind of vegetables soup) and consume some meat as well for getting more energy. Vegetables and vitamins are essential to prevent illness. Also, consuming enough fruits, vegetables and water will help to stay health. Personally, Alejandro tries to avoid too much carbohydrate and adds some good proteins like fish in his daily meal.

        Alejandro said he still remember his mother fed him concentrated chicken soup when he was sick and he ascertains that this would cure anything. Besides, a kind of fish oil called bacalao will be taken to help for recovery. One traditional therapy is using vapor rub on particular body part to help relieve pain, even rubbing it on chest to help stop a cough.

         Few years after Alejandro settled down in the America, his cultural habits and traditions have been influenced by American culture. “Living in the US has influenced my eating habits very much because they do not necessarily sell the foods I like eating in “fast food” areas”. Advertisements have gradually changed his way he chose what to eat every day. However, food in Costa Rica is more natural and healthier that have no so many preservatives and condiments in them.  When living in Costa Rica, Alejandro did not visit fast food restaurant as many as he does now.  He spent most of his dinner time with his family at home and ate healthier there. In the end of the interview, Alejandro restates that, as he know, people who ever had a chance to visit Costa Rica are all love the food, culture, people from that “rich coast”.

        I have also interviewed someone who belongs to my cultural group, my friend—Amy Liu. She migrates to the U.S. with her family from China when she was twenties. She is a Buddhist.

        Flour and rice are the two main food staples in Chinese cuisine. In general, rice is the major food source for people from rice farming areas in southern China. In wheat farming areas in Northern China, people largely rely on flour based foods such as noodles, dumplings and steamed buns. Vegetables, meats, seafood, rice or flour are needed to make a meal in a typical Chinese cuisine. Three meals are prepared every day no matter southern or northern China. They are breakfast (7-9am), lunch (11-1pm), dinner (6-8pm). We don’t usually snack between meals. Daily meals are served in a family style. Everyone sit around the table to share food with family by placing all the dishes on the table and individual serve themselves using bowls (for rice or soup) and chopsticks and spoon. Plates are not for individual use. Before Amy moved to SF from LA, her other does most cooking in the kitchen. Now Amy has to cook for herself and her husband. Since both of them have to work, most time, Amy only cooks and has dinner with her husband during the weekday or sometimes order dinner from restaurant. She has some oatmeal as breakfast or omits it if has no time in the morning and eats lunch at office. As to the food habits differ from her family norms, she said, “if only me and my husband at home, we dish out whatever the portion we need into our plate and sit usually in the couch so we can watch TV while we are having food or wherever the place we want. The severing and eating style is more individual like…Compared to have meal with our family; you need to respect the table manner”.

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        Chinese celebrate many traditional holidays and festivals during the year, almost each holiday have its special food with specific meaning respectively.  Noodles eating on one’s birthday are symbolic of long life and good health according to Chinese tradition. Moon cake is eaten during mid-autumn festival (celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month) is a symbol of family reunion.  During the Spring Festival (the most important holiday to Chinese), people will make and eat sticky cake (also known as nian gao or New Year cake). Eating nian gao has the symbolism of raising oneself higher in each coming year, also means prosperous ...

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