The indigenous cuisine of Costa Rica

How do you work with indigenous communities?

I work with Koswak Usure which is a family-run hostel in an indigenous community. They give tourists lodging and a full cultural experience. My job is to generate more tourism in places like that one, by making its gastronomy more visible and by exposing its worldview and oral tradition.

What are some of your favorite Costa Rican ingredients?

I like olosapo, a fruit that when raw has a similar texture and flavor to cooked sweet potato. You can use it in purées and I've tested it in desserts. I also like to use ojoche, a tuber with a texture similar to coconut, and a fern called rabo de mono (monkey's tail) that tastes somewhat like asparagus. I make a tamale with white corn dough, mashed black beans, and rabo de mono. Many of these ingredients are sent directly to me from indigenous communities.

What about local recipes?

Arroz de maíz (corn rice) and gallina achiotada con ñame (chicken cooked with achiote and yam). The process of making corn rice is long and slow and it's cooked with firewood. It has a texture similar to risotto. The chicken with achiote and yam has a great sentimental meaning for me, because it was the first dish I learned to prepare in an indigenous community in [the town of] Amubri.

What are some of your favorite places in Costa Rica?

Talamanca is my favorite place on earth. It's my mental escape and being there feels like being in another dimension where time passes differently. I also love to visit Cerro de la Muerte—it's an amazing place with great magic and energy. Finally, my favorite beach is Puerto Jiménez in Limón.

What do you think people don't understand about the cuisine of Costa Rica?

I would like people to know that we are more than rice and beans, we have great gastronomy not to be discovered but to be shown. There is history behind the dishes with which our ancestors raised our country.

What is the impact of the climate on ingredients?

Crops are being affected by climate change. In the past, production seasons were easy to identify, but now they are unstable because of the weather. Some products are disappearing while others are having a double season with more harvests.

Can you talk about The Conservation Project?

[In the indigenous communities], information is passed from generation to generation orally. Specifically with recipes, so much time has passed without some of the dishes being made that things are forgotten. But when we sit in a group to document them, people in the communities start having flashbacks and remembering how they used to prepare the recipes in their family. The fact that someone external arrives and is interested in their dishes and products excites people.

What about the mission at your restaurant, Sikwa?

Sikwa is a platform where we show all of the research and information that I've gathered from my travels to the indigenous communities in Costa Rica. When you eat at Sikwa, we tell you about our research and ancestral gastronomy. You learn about new products, techniques, flavors, and communities that you didn't know of before. It's very important for me to work with fresh and organic ingredients. We only use whole grains and do not use any processed ingredients or added sugar.

What does 'pura vida' mean to you?

For me it's a lifestyle, it's how we Ticos [how Costa Ricans refer to themselves] envision our day-to-day life which can sometimes be seen as slow and quiet by the rest of the world. We live in very special conditions; a country that has been safe for a very long time, that has escaped the war situations that occur in other countries. Our idiosyncrasy is to be peaceful and relaxed. However, I think that the pura vida lifestyle creates some problems. It creates slowness in things that we need to be fast. It has its pros and cons.

How do you find balance in your days off?

Right now I don't have a lot of time off. That being said, I live in an area near my restaurants where you can easily walk from place to place. I try to use my car as little as possible and walk a lot to do errands. I go to the gym when I can and eat healthy food on most days, like the dishes we serve in our restaurants.

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