Cooking and eating through a new culture

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Feria Verde

I need to pay better attention. Really. I’ve been here for over a year now and I should know these things. Check that. I did know about them, but I was leery. An organic market? Hmmm. Was this just to cater to the granola cruncher crowd? High priced produce, but no regulations on its authenticity? I had concerns. I was skeptical. I was about to be educated.

Begin with the Feria del Gustico Costarricense, and go from there. You have no idea how excited I was at seeing all those amazing vendors growing, producing and selling all these incredible products. I was seriously overwhelmed and chirped at Rafa incessantly about what I wanted to write. He, being my muse, gave me the best way to do it; by interviewing each one and where better than to start than at Feria Verde, the organic market I was so suspicious of to begin with.

Feria Verde de Aranjuez began about four years ago and formed the group la Asociación Amantes de lo Orgánico -AAMOR, “to create spaces that house various proposals for sustainable living such as organic farming, fair trade, sports and artistic activities, the rescue of traditions, organic food, and various alternative and holistic practices among others”.   The market is only on Saturdays and runs from 7am to 1pm. Sometimes our Saturdays can be rather questionable, or should I say dictated by the activities from the night before, but we did manage to rise at a decent hour and make our way to the market. Set around the edge of a soccer field at the bottom of a little creek valley, past the roller derby girls (yes, you read correctly) is a portable village of bamboo tents and the most delicious array of goodies any self-respecting food snob locavore could desire. And the first thing I see:

Orgasmic strawberries!

Yes. It was a good day. Priced at 500 colones (or about a buck a pint), I was more than happy to sample a few while I drilled the farmer on his practices. I refused to buy strawberries in the other markets only because I know how many chemicals are required to get them so big and luscious. Granted, I always felt there is no way to know for sure here, but according to the Feria Verde charter “Producers and industrial processors and business must ensure that your product really is organic either have certified their production units by internationally recognized certification or because it has the support of a Participatory Guarantee System.” Reading that really put my mind at ease and made me realize how passionate people are about bringing safe sustainable food to everyday Costa Ricans. Strawberries are heavy feeders, meaning they like lots of fertilizers, and are one of the “Dirty Dozen” fresh foods that contain pesticides. It’s a good list to keep in mind if you are concerned about what you eat.

The second thing that made me all squirmmy with happiness was this (also on the “Dirty Dozen” list):


This was the first time I have seen this kale in the market place. Tuscan kale (Brassica oleracea) (also known as lacinato kale, dinosaur kale and palm tree kale) is my all time favorite to cook with and is superb in soups. Even diehard veggie haters have gobbled down my kale in soups and sautés . Tuscan kale, like all kales, is extraordinarily nutritious: a cup provides more than 100 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamins K and A, and 88 percent of the DV for vitamin C. It is also a rich source of organosulfur compounds that have been linked to cancer prevention. Another market place oddity I saw was fennel bulb. I don’t normally use fennel but it is an integral part of the recipe I have for my homemade bouillon (recipe in the “Rice, Rice, Baby” blog).  The only place I found it was Auto Mercado and I froze it for later use. It’s good to know I have a fresh fix now.

A few of the products I found missing from the expo but discovered at Feria Verde which are on my future shopping list include: fresh pasta (my next weekend purchase), coconut oil, fresh spices like vanilla, cinnamon, and pepper, some outstanding chocolate, and fresh made Kombucha. Now, I never like kombucha. Some people swear by its detoxifying properties and medicinal healing claims, but I am skeptical. The stuff I had back stateside was rather vile, but the fresh brewed kombucha here was, dare I say, quite tasty. So, if like me, you had a bad experience with this stuff, snag a glass. You won’t be disappointed.


Costa Rican chocolate to die for.

The fresh pasta lady.

The dry pasta man.

This little blog certainly does not cover all that is Feria Verde. There seems to be a lot going on from book swaps to yoga to events for kids, so I recommend checking out their site to see what is coming up. Also, I highly suggest going on an empty stomach. I didn’t even get to mention all the vendors selling prepared food and drinks. Needless to say, there was a lot for me to consume and I am just going to have to come back for more.


Feria del Gustico Costarricense…I want this! I must have this! Where do I get this?!

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It’s easy to miss things here. Advertising just doesn’t have that gringo aggressiveness I am use to. So imagine my surprise when Rafa returns from a morning run and tells me about the Feria del Gustico Costarricense, at the old customs building, La Antigua Aduana. Basically, this was a Costa Rican small farm expo. I was so excited about this, I eagerly changed our plans from a quiet picnic in the mountains to spending a day jostling for free samples and checking all about what I didn’t know about Costa Rican agriculture. Needless to say, it’s a lot. Let me summarize some of the highlights.

The venue held just about a hundred stands representing different agricultural businesses from all over Costa Rica. From tiny family run operations to big plantations, each one was unique and wonderful. Costa Rica is getting all locavore! I love it!

The three biggest commodities represented were coffee (well, duh), dairy, and chocolate. This is what I found to be the most interesting about coffee, although Rafa has said this to me before: the best coffee is exported and the crappy stuff stays in country. Now, crappy coffee here is still hands down better than anything I have had stateside, but when you are able to sample the brews of literally dozens of farms, you would be astounded at the differences. Each kiosk offered such unique flavors and complexities, my limited taste buds couldn’t keep up. That’s why I have those three sentences in my title, because I could not stop repeating them over and over. The stores just don’t offer this!

Next came the chocolate. Chocolate does not seem to be a local favorite. Or maybe it’s like the coffee, and just not offered, because I had to beat back some persistent old ladies to snag my samples. Costa Rican chocolate is mainly sold to gringos. Any of the shops that sell it, are geared towards the tourist crowds, which is a shame since it is outstanding chocolate. I should know. I worked in three different gourmet chocolate factories when I was in college, so I have sampled my fair share. Do yourself a favor and hunt some of these places down. You just have to hunt hard. Many do not have websites, but you will not be disappointed.

Last, but not least, dairy. Oh, lovely bovine bliss. How I covet thee. Yes, I have talked about the diary here before, but they are certainly doing a lot more than I had given them credit for. Artisan cheese is breaking into the market here and it’s about time! It’s baby steps, but at least they are trying. My goat cheese lady, from the blog “Got Goat”, was there too offering a  Camembert that had a beautiful subtle flavour and texture despite her protests that it did not fully ripen. But what really made me squeal with delight was the buffalo cheese ricotta. When I sampled it, I literally had a ricotta acid trip and flashed back to all the wonderful Italian meals I had consumed over my lifetime. It was that good.

Okay. Those were the big ones but what really got my heart racing was the unexpected: Quail eggs and meat, pickles and preserves, specifically Jaleas & Mermeladas with their fig jam and limited edition sweet goat milk caramel. I bought Rafa the 100% organic strawberry jam and the owner, Fiorella Medrano, assured me of its authenticity. I love people who are passionate about their products. Makes me want to start asking for jobs! There was also grape seed oil, spirulina, dried fruit (to eat, and believe it or not, to wear!), beauty products (soaps and lotions), AND (I saved the best for last) MUSHROOMS!! Yes! It’s true! Fresh, fantastic fungi. But wait! BioFungiCR offers classes TO GROW YOUR OWN! WhoooHooo! I was so excited when I saw them, I nearly began to weep. I will be the over eager gringa in the next class with the Spanish/English dictionary sticking out of her back pocket.

It was wonderful to see so much but I know there is more out there. This is my wish list of what I thought was missing: organic meat and sausage, avocado oil, quinoa, coconut oil, fresh pasta, and farm raised fish. I have been hearing rumblings of trout being farmed up in the mountains, but I have yet to get my hands on some of this. Avocado and coconut oil are hot commodities now, both in cooking and for beauty products. I bought some coconut oil while I was in the Caribbean for my curly hair and it is divine. Far better than any product I could purchase at Sephora. And why no quinoa? It’s the South American super food and I cannot find it anywhere.

I am sorry to say I don’t have a good representation of all that was offered and some places just didn’t have any contact information either. I tried scratching up a list from the show itself, but I could not locate it. My only hope is that this keeps happening on a regular basis, and more and more people are exposed to what Costa Rica has to offer. We only heard of the expo on Sunday and it was heartbreaking to learn it had gone on for three days and had free classes too. It’s tough keeping your eyes peeled to all that is going on in this tiny country! Below are the places that I could not get enough of.

A good place to start looking for these items:

CHEESE: Muva!/pages/Muva-Lacteos/235365813215770

Queso Artesanal (of “Got Goat” fame) tel: 8910-2808 or

Italacteos Mind blowing mozzarella and Ricotta: (but it is under construction. Hurry, damn you!) tel: 2470-3000

COFFEE: Cafe San Vito (they had the Italian and Japanese exports)

Aprocetu tel: 8970-2017

Cafe Forestral


Association of Amazilla Women of the Caribbean , a group of rural women from Pueblo Nuevo de Guacimo dedicated to the production of organic chocolate.

Association of Indigenous Bribrí Women of Talamanca.—ACOMUITA Chocolate Production

Preserves: Jaleas & Mermeladas J & M tel: 2297-7864

Quail: Montesland tel: 2446-6404

Bread: Konig


Pork, Platanos, and Peace of Mind

Everyone has moments in their life when things have gotten a tad stressful. Be it as it may, I was finding myself in just one of those moments and it is usually at times like these, one may emotionally digress…aka, freak the shit out. I must confess, I did. Now, hindsight is always 20/20 and reflecting back on things, I was a bit of a drama queen. Just a bit. But it is what you DO with these situations that A. Repeats losing ones shit on a regular basis. Or B. Reflects, analyzes, grows and moves on. Needless to say, I fucking hate drama.

Rafa, even though I have yet to get him on a horse, was my knight on dusty flip-flops and armed with some extra cash, a fine bottle of sparkling wine, and a clear lovely day, we certainly set things right.

Start with one seriously awesome chicharrón  place in Paraiso, Piso de Tierra; old school dirt floors with pictures of the family from times gone by. I wish I could give you directions to the place, but alas, Costa Rica has yet to invest in street signage. I suggest just stopping a person on the street. The place is loved by the locals.

The Ritz....we got take out.

The destination: open skies, and breath-taking views of Orosi. Nothing facilitates good digestion and calms frazzled nerves like fresh air and sunshine…well, mimosas too. The Orosi valley is only a short 37 mile drive from San Jose and offers some of the best views on the planet. Dubbed as the most picturesque valley in Costa Rica, it is one of my favorite places to tool around. The hillsides are covered in coffee and dotted with hot springs. If you travel south along the river you will end up in Parque Nacional Tapantí Macizo Cerro de la Muerte, which covers about 600 km² and forms the northernmost section of a massive collection of nature parks that extends into Panama. Awhile back, Rafa and I did a trek into Tapantí and it was stunning.

The view.

The meal: Chicharrón , platanos, frijoles (purred black beans), and escabeche (pickled vegetables). A word about the chicharrón; in a nutshell, it is seasoned deep-fried pork. Some may think of those nasty fried pieces of pig skin but here, they are chunks of pork, usually from the leg, with only minimal amounts of fat or skin drizzled with fresh squeezed lime.  They are tender, salty, savory chunks of piggy bliss. For us, there needs to be a low-fat, high meat ratio for us to return. Add to that some awesome platanos with smooth flavorful frijoles. Plantanos, if you remember, are sections of sweet plantains flattened and fried and are usually treated like a cracker, and in this case, topped with slow cooked, smashed black beans. Finger food at its finest! Of the course, the final finishing touch: a delightful mimosa to settle the stomach and lift spirits.

The meal.

I gotta give snaps to this guy. I won’t brag…too much. There are moments in one’s life that will stand out in the end. Moments of such sweet divine bliss that you will relive each second over and over. It could be a wedding, the birth of a child, or a Sunday afternoon over looking a beautiful valley sharing food with the only person who can make everything right in the world.

The Man.

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