Effort launched to define a unique Costa Rican cuisine

The French probably have nothing to worry about yet, but Costa Rica is launching its national plan of healthy and sustainable cuisine.

The effort is a joint one among the Cámara Costarricense de Restaurantes y Afines, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad and the Club de la Gastronomía Epicúrea.

The organizations announced the plan Wednesday as part of the World Tourism Day celebration.

The idea is to create a unique cuisine to strengthen the national identity and perhaps even create new businesses.

Costa Rica basically is defined by gallo pinto, rice and beans. But the announcement suggested that there were a lot of food products here that could create a unique dish, such as risotto with flor de itabo or malangachips.

The Costa Rican embassy in France promotes the Costa Rican cuisine as based on corn, beans, pejibaye andpalmito. The embassy Web page includes a little poem to guaro, the national alcoholic drink.

But the proposal Wednesday is more complex and more creative. The organizations cited the work of Carlos Castrillo, executive chef of the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura. He put together a full menu based on local products such as the pejibaye palm nut and the níspero or sapodilla fruit.

The proposal is to rescue traditional foods and perhaps protect the flora and fauna of areas in risk of deforestation by suggesting alternate foods.

In fact, the Ministerio de Cultura and Juventud has conducted regional contests seeking the best of the local cuisine. These dishes have been put into booklets. So the research already exists.

The proposal also marks the 30th anniversary of the restaurant chamber. Manuel Burgos, president of the chamber, said that to put such a plan into action would require coordination with educational institutions. He said it was an ambitious, long-term project.

Expats can experiment with products usually found at the local ferias. For example, malanga is a root crop. And flor de itabo is very seasonal. The white flowers of this yucca plant are collected each year, mostly by those in the country, to provide zest for their meals. One use is in scrambled eggs. But it also can be used in a salad.

Although guaro is well known as a local version of sugar cane alcohol, the country also produces several types of coffee liquor as well as rum. So crepes de flor de itabo flambé would not be out of the question.

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