Coming Home to Costa Rica

September, 2013

Path through the farmI’ve been away from Costa Rica, away from my garden, my kitchen and the farmer’s market. Jan and I were in New Mexico for three weeks where she was presenting watercolor workshops. I was excited to visit Jan’s former home state and try the foods of New Mexico.

The traditional food specialties in the state vary according to the geography and cultural history. Northern New Mexico cuisine is a wonderful fusion of Native American and old Spanish –rich, saucy and spicy with lots of locally grown green chiles. The food in the restaurants of southern New Mexico is more Tex-Mex or traditional southwest North American with just a nod in the direction of the spicier food of the north.

Sopaipillas-1As travelers, we ate mostly in restaurants where we found ourselves tempted and tantalized. Here were menus bearing incredible pictures and descriptions of the wonderful food being offered. I always ended up ordering more and eating more than I intended. Though neither Jan nor I were easily tempted by the sugary desserts, after a while the restaurant food seemed too rich and too expensive. My wallet was getting thinner but I was decidedly not.

So we tried out the grocery stores.

walmart storeBut even in the larger population centers there were few options. In Alamogordo, a city of 30,000, there were only two large grocery stores and a handful of convenience stores. The smaller towns were lucky to have even a convenience store. It seemed that for the most part Walmart dominated the grocery store scene. There was always a good meat and dairy section and an incredible abundance of canned, bottled, prepackaged and prepared foods. The fresh produce section seemed expensive compared to the farmer’s market in Costa Rica. Moreover, much of this fresh produce was remarkably tasteless. Maybe this is why the food in the grocery stores and restaurants is often prepackaged/prepared and seasoned with salt, spices, sugar and oil.

Santa Fe was different. It was here that we found Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s markets. There were still lots of prepared and prepackaged foods but also an abundance of nuts, seeds and fresh produce. In Whole Foods Jan, who had run off to see if they had packages of flame roasted hot green chiles, found me bellied up to the salad bar. What an incredible array of leafy greens, vegetables and dressings. But even here there was little information about the origin of the food. How and where was it grown?


Interestingly, it wasn’t just the grocery stores that were different. In the Santa Fe area I began to see people in their 50s 60s and 70s with a bounce in their step and light in their eyes (most anyone can look good in their 20’s). Did this simply reflect their food choices and availabilities?

Back home in Southern Costa Rica I understand more clearly just how fortunate we are to be here. Every day of the year I can collect organic fruits and vegetables from my own garden. What I can’t grow I can get from the farmer’s market. Here, in this wonderful mountainous tropical paradise, we have every climate from hot lowlands to cool highlands. Almost any fresh food one can imagine is available 365 days a year and all grown within a hundred miles.

One of the first things I made upon return was a ‘cheeseless’ omelette using cooked sweet potato mixed with fresh tomato, basil, onion, a touch of mango, hot chile, cumin and garlic. The sweet potato gives our palates the sensation of eating cheese or meat and the eggs here are flavorful.

Oh, it is so good to be home.