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Costa Rican cuisine is known for being flavorful, yet fairly mild, with high reliance on fresh fruit and vegetables. Rice and black beans are a staple of most traditional Costa Rican meals, often served three times a day; gallo pinto, a breakfast dish of rice and beans mixed together with onions and bell peppers, is often considered the Costa Rican national dish.
For lunch, the traditional meal is called a casado. It again consists of rice and beans served side by side instead of mixed. There will usually be some type of meat (carne asada, fish, pork chop, or chicken) and a salad to round out the dish. There may also be some extras like fried plantain (patacones or maduro), a slice of white cheese, and/or corn tortillas in accompaniment. Salsa Lizano is ubiquitous as a condiment and as an ingredient in cooking various dishes, including gallo pinto. In many family gatherings or for special occasions is very common to prepare Arroz con Pollo (rice with chicken) accompanied with a Russian salad, a salad made with beets, potatoes, hard boiled eggs and mayo.
In taverns, various small dishes (boquitas) are served which include patacones with black bean dip, chimichurri (tomatoes and onions pickled in lime juice) accompanied with tortilla chips, chifrijo (rice and beans with chicharrones, which are fried pork skins, and chimichurri), ceviche (fish and/or shrimp with onions and pickled in lime juice), and vigorón (cabbage, chimichurri, and yuca, served with a slice of lime).
Fresh vegetables are a primary ingredient in most main dishes, and members of the squash family are particularly common. These include varieties such as zucchini, zapallo, chayote, and ayote. Potato, onion, and sweet red pepper are other common ingredients. The above vegetables are made into soups.
The plantain, a larger member of the banana family, is another commonly used fruit and can be served in a variety of ways. Ripe plantains (maduro) have a sweet flavor and can be fried in oil, baked in a honey or a sugar-based sauce, or put in soups. Green (unripe) plantains can be boiled in soups or can be sliced, fried, smashed and then refried to make patacones.
Other Costa Rican food staples include corn tortillas, white cheese and picadillos. Tortillas frequently accompany meals, but rice is nearly always present. Traditionally people should often fill tortillas with whatever they are eating and eat it in the form of a gallo (direct translation: rooster, resembling a soft Mexican taco).
White cheese is non-processed cheese that is made by adding salt to milk in production.
Picadillos are meat and vegetable combinations where one or more vegetables are diced, mixed with beef and garnished with spices. Common vegetables used in picadillos are potatoes, green beans, squash, ayote, chayote and arracache. Often, picadillos are eaten in the form of gallos.
The traditional breakfast drink, besides coffee, is called agua dulce ("sweet water") and is made from tapa de dulce, an ingredient very similar to the American "brown sugar". "Tapa de Dulce" is made with sugar cane juice which is boiled down in traditional trapiches and put to solidify in conical molds with the top cut off called tapas ("lids"). Then some of this tapa is scraped off and dissolved into boiling water or milk to make the agua dulce.