Gallo Pinto: A Traditional Costa Rican Dish

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Close your eyes and imagine the taste of perfectly seasoned rice imbued with the flavours of bell peppers, onions and cilantro.  Add in the pop of flavour as a rich, creamy dark bean opens.  Combine with this infusion the buttery taste of scrambled or fried eggs.  Top it off with a slice of toasted bread and cup of strong, bold coffee.

What is this?

A. lunch?

B. dinner?

C. breakfast????

And C it is!

Gallo Pinto is mainly served as a hearty breakfast meal, but is also used as a side dish at lunch or dinner.

Almost every Latin American and Caribbean country has a traditional rice and beans dish.  In Costa Rica, it’s the Gallo Pinto. Gallo Pinto literally translates to spotted rooster and some suspect the name reflects the appearance of the dark beans against the lighter coloured rice.  The origins of the dish aren’t crystal clear but evidence indicates a mixing of cultures and traditions that gave birth to this well-loved dish.

Beans have been part of Central American cuisine since pre-Columbian times.  The Spanish introduced the cultivation of rice to the region in the 16th century.  When African slaves were brought to work in plantations, rice and beans were mixed together to create the hearty diet necessary for the enslaved to survive arduous work and atrocious conditions.  The Afro-Caribbean influence would later bring in the inclusion of coconut milk and plantains to the recipe.  In others parts of Costa Rica, where coconuts were scarce, it was not included.

In the 1930s the Great Depression in the United States had a knock on effect in most Latin American countries.  Economic necessity in this circumstance helped gallo pinto (a meal considered to be of the lower classes) gain acceptance by the middle classes.  It would eventually become central to the Costa Rican (and Nicaraguan) national identities.  Even McDonald’s, in these countries, offers a McPinto option!

Más tico que el gallo pinto

Today, Gallo Pinto is so entrenched in Costa Rican culture, the saying “Más tico que el gallo pinto” is commonly used.  It translates to mean someone is more Costa Rican than a spotted rooster… or to describe a person who is 100% Costa Rican.

The first time I arrived in San José, it was just after the breakfast rush.  I walked to the nearest café to find a quick meal while waiting for my pick-up and decided to try this Gallo Pinto I’d heard so much about. I was a little hesitant to try the rice and beans with eggs combo, but I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the filling meal.  It wasn’t until I tried my hostess’ version of this dish, a couple days later, that I fell completely in love with Gallo Pinto.

 

I’ve included a couple pins I recently found.  These pins link to recipes for Gallo Pinto, in case you want to try your hand at this tasty meal.

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Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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I’m a Latin American Studies teacher, teaching Latin American History and Politics and Basic Spanish. I love reading, writing, teaching and travelling. 

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