“I’m starving!” you say after a long morning playing at the beach in front of your condo in Playa del Coco. Maybe it is the sea air, or the hot sun, or all the fun activities available to you every day, but in Costa Rica you get HUNGRY. The gnawing kind. You crave a variety of freshly prepared food in great quantities, and you want it FAST. So head to a Soda for a Casado.
You know you want to try a Casado. You have heard of it, right? The Casado is Costa Rica’s “blue-plate special.” It can be ordered in almost any restaurant or “soda” (café)—even if it isn’t on the menu. It is always the biggest plate of food you can get for the least amount of money.
When you order a Casado, you will receive a generous portion of several different dishes. Your Casado meal will always include a generous serving of rice and beans—usually black beans—and a portion of either beef, pork, chicken or fish. Or you can substitute an egg. You choose your protein. And there will always be fried, ripe plantains (Maduros). Also, you will be served a green or pasta salad. The other side dishes vary from restaurant to restaurant; they may include avocado, french fries, fried cheese (those two words should always go together!), corn tortillas, or a picadillo. The word “picadillo” comes from the Spanish word picar, which means “to mince” or “chop”. So it is a dish of finely chopped vegetables cooked with a small amount of meat, of which there are many varieties–all of them delicious. Be sure and ask what the particular casado you are ordering contains; substitutions are usually available.
Why do they call it a Casado? The word casado means “married”, and since it is in the masculine form, it refers to a married man. If you ask a Tico where it gets its name, the answers will be as varied as the plate itself! Some say the dish “marries” several other dishes together. Others say it is what married men eat at home. This latter definition is probably closest to the truth. According to Costa Rican culinary expert Marjorie Ross Gonzales, the Casado was born in the early 1960’s when family heads migrated to the capital city, San Jose, to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities (read: jobs!). These men missed their wives’ cooking and began to urge the local restaurant owners to serve them dishes like the ones they had at home. The generous portions all served together on one plate were just like eating at home! So the dish became the one requested by the Casado—the married man, lonely for home and his wife’s cooking.
Costa Rica cuisine is a blend of Native American, Spanish, African and other ethnic groups. The casado is representative of all these: the rice from Spain, the beans from the indigenous population, and the plantains from Africa. Additionally, Italy is represented in the pasta portion.
Is the Casado a healthy choice? Generally speaking, yes! Composed of protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables, it can be very nutritionally balanced. It is also rich in vitamins A, B, C, and E, as well as potassium (the plantains) and fiber (the beans). It can be low or high in fat depending on the cook that prepares it, so the casado may not be good for your diet if it is shiny with oil. And, as always, go easy on the salt!
When in Playas del Coco a good place to order a Casado is Soda Los Pelones, just two doors down from the Banco National the public bank. “Excellent food, friendly people” and a choice of many different entrees. And, as expected, it is a “Cheap Eats” category restaurant. Win, win, win. What to know where to eat in the Playa del Coco or Playa Hermosa area, just ask me. I live in Playa Hermosa and get around. It also helps I am a retired chef, so I think I know what I am talking about.
So, next time your stomach screams, “I’m hungry”, find the nearest soda and ask for the Casado. You will be filled and satisfied by this mini-buffet of Costa Rican cuisine!