Face it, taters are boring. You know, potatoes? Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew. In your life, you’ve probably enjoyed enough taters to build a bridge to Ireland. Taters are good. Just ask the Karl Childers.
But boring, right? Perhaps we’re off track, no?
There are two schools of thought about this lovely tuber. On one side of the argument, there was nothing wrong with the potato to start with. Why fix what ain’t broken? The other school teaches you should try new things. Life is about, among other things, nuance. It’s time you ventured out into the tuber outer-limits of Costa Rica.
We’re talking about the ones who arrived via Galleon. In fact, you probably thought it was the Irish who introduced potatoes to America. It’s the other way around. The Spaniards, having discovered the new world, brought spuds back to Europe so they could convince Russia to make vodka, something like that.
Anyway, enough history. Let’s talk about four different ways you get your starch on in Costa Rica. If you spend time eating out in Tamarindo you can expect to find these elements in your food, especially the last one. If you’re in the second school you’ll be trying to figure out how you could procure these bad boys when you get home. More on that later.
Sounds exotic, right? You’ve had this one before, but it’s probably been mostly in autumn or early winter. In North America, the friendly camote (pronounced ka-moe-tay) is known as the sweet potato. You may be more familiar with yams. Let’s not get stuck arguing which is sweeter. They’re both pretty sweet.
The typical Costa Rican sweet spud will taste sweet enough for more palettes. Here they are served much like they are back home, save one exception; they can be found year-round. This reason alone is reason enough to quit your job to permanently move to Costa Rica.
Nutritionally, the sweet potato offers more than it’s non-sweetened counterpart. Plus, with a little butter and brown sugar, eating camote you may think it’s dessert. Nope. Just a fancy potato. Make sure to eat those skins to squeeze out the highest concentration of nutrients.
Let’s get away from the sweets for a second to talk about potato’s great imposter, Yuca. Lest you confuse this with Yucca, the ornamental plant grown in North America, we are talking about what is commonly called “Cassava” in English. It’s Yuca one “c,” instead of two. Yuca is a resilient plant, able to grow in harsh conditions and resist pests. It partially owes the resilience to the presence of cyanide. Because of this, you will want to properly cook Yuca if you try it yourself.
Yucca, like Camote, is prepared in all the same ways that potatoes are prepared. In fact, if mashed Yuca is flavored right, some folks can’t tell the difference. The difference is texture. It’s more fibrous, plus the flavor is more bitter than potatoes. That said, if you are looking for a different texture experience, yuca fries are the way to go. You may never go back to McDonald’s. Speaking of fast food, Yuca is so popular some franchises offer yuca fries in their Latino menus.
This little acorn-shaped tuber grows where other tubers dare not grow: up in the air. Back in the day, tubers were a welcome change from grains which would bend over and die if they grew too big. Tubers grew in the ground, so they could get as big as they wanted. In the case of pejibaye, peach palm in English, you get your tubers without all the soil. These grow in palm trees.
Pejibaye (pronounced pay-hee-bye-yay) come in colors including golden, scarlet, olive and brown. Typically, when they are harvested they are boiled and peeled. If they aren’t sold from a large vat of hot water for you to take and peel, they are peeled and canned for you. The fresh ones are generally better quality, but both are very enjoyable.
The flavor of pejibaye has been described as a little nutty-goodness mixed with potato. Like most tubers, that flavor can be bent a couple of ways, but it’s usually savory. A little harder to find, you can sometimes find pejibaye flour. It’s a hearty flour you can use to create gluten-free dishes. No doubt, whatever you make from pejibaye flour will taste unique.
We strongly recommend trying pejibaye when in Tamarindo. This is definitely on the list of traditional Costa Rican foods.
We saved the best for last. Technically speaking, these are not a tuber, but they’re treated similarly in Costa Rica. Also, these are not huge bananas. Don’t even try it. You will be sorely disappointed when you peel one of these to bite down. That said, a RIPE plátano or plantain as they are known in English can be very tasty. The trick to these is knowing when they are ready. It is NOT when they turn yellow.
In fact, some plátanos never turn yellow. They go from tropical green to brownish-black. When they are nearly all black, that’s when you start peeling. They may be a little mushy on the very outside, but unlike a banana, the core will still be firm.
The number of ways these are prepared in Costa Rica varies as much as the ecosystems of the country. One really yummy dish is to cut the plátano in half then bake it with some cheese on top. It’s a savory, yet slightly sweet potato that will have you begging for more.
Another favorite is patacones. Ticos cut sections of plátano, squishing it into a pan of oil. The resulting thick-chip can be dipped in whatever you like or eaten with a little salt.
Because plátanos dance on the edge of sweetness, they can easily be coaxed into a sweet menu item. About 99% of the traditional meals served in Costa Rica, known as Casados, are served with plátanos in some form. The sweet version is fried then covered in sugar or honey. It is to die for, but probably not the healthiest item on the plate.
We hope you get a chance to try something out of the ordinary while in Tamarindo. You can likely find more of these back home in your nearest Mexican market or Whole foods. Just make sure you don’t open those plantains before they are ripe or undercook your yuca. No Bueno.
Horizon Pacific Management & Rentals is located in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Horizon Pacific offers vacation rentals, property management, long-term rentals, as well as a complete concierge service. Providing you with a local contact during your stay, Horizon Pacific is a company you can trust, with the experience you need.