Costa Rica’s mild, humid climate makes ideal for growing fruits, tropical plants, rice, corn, and coffee (of course). We lived in Sierpe for 3 months and ate plenty of food in Costa Rica. Which we got for free.
How is that you ask? Well, we became yard foragers.
While in Costa Rica we took advantage of the edibles growing in our yard (and some in our absent neighbor’s yard…). Some were great, and some were so-so, but they were all fun to try. Here’s what we ate from our yard in Costa Rica.
Also called “rambutan” this small fuzzy fruit was usually eaten by the birds before we could get it, but we managed to snatch some for ourselves.
Mamon chinos grow in bunches, and turn red when they’re ripe. To eat it, we cut it open and scooped out the gelatinous interior (which kind of reminded us of lychee). We ate it like a grape, but we had to watch out for its great big seed.
The mamon chino seed was so big and the amount of fruit so small that we had to eat a lot of these suckers in one sitting, otherwise it wasn’t worth the effort.
Costa Rican Cilantro
We had no idea this stuff was growing everywhere in our yard until a friend showed us how to identify it. We are cilantro lovers, and once we knew what wild cilantro looked like it was game on.
The first thing we noticed was that Costa Rican cilantro didn’t really taste like “real” cilantro – but it tasted good enough that we harvested plenty from the yard. We found the serrated edges of the leaf were sharp – and kind of dangerous if we rubbed them the wrong way. After cutting this faux-cilantro into small pieces (to avoid cutting our mouths on the sharp edges) we used in our meals for seasoning, and on tacos to make a delicious difference.
There were about 8 coconut trees in our Costa Rican yard, in various stages of coconut-maturity. These coconuts were young and green – they didn’t have much meat, but boy was there plenty of sweet, delicious water inside.
We felt like total badasses using a machete to chop the coconuts open. We liked drinking fresh coconut water, and there weren’t many coconuts left on the trees when the next house sitters arrived.
Bananas and Plantains
Some of the fastest growing edibles in Costa Rica – and in our yard – were the plantains and bananas. An entire bunch of bananas and a bunch of plantains matured while we were house sitting – it was bananarama in our house for weeks.
There were about 50 bananas/plantains to each bunch. We let all this fruit ripen and we had to eat them fast or risk – gasp – wasting food. There was no way we were going to waste food.
We learned to cook green bananas in Costa Rica. Want to know how? OK, first you boil the banana with the peel on, then you peel it, boil it some more, and then you eat it. After that it has a consistency like potato, and it’s kind of bland. Good substitute for bland potatoes.
To consume the plantains, it was frying all the way. When they’re young, those suckers taste terrible but when you let the peel turn black and fry them, they get gooooood. There were so many we had fried plantains with every meal for (what felt like) weeks.
OK, technically the rose apple tree was in the empty yard next door but that didn’t mean we didn’t try some. The shape of a rose apple is similar to a pear, and rose apples grow on a tree like pears too. The one we picked had a grainy consistency like a pear, but it didn’t taste as good. It was kind of chalky.
The birds had their way with the rose apples, so we didn’t get too many. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (in my opinion).
The breadfruit tree in our yard was really tall, and the only fruit was at the top. Unfortunately by the time the fruit made its way to the ground (via gravity) it was totally squashed. Breadfruit is round and spiny like the legendary stinky King of Fruits, durian (and we actually thought this was a durian tree when we first saw it).
We never got to try any breadfruit from our yard because we weren’t willing to scrape it off the grass. I hear tell it’s quite tasty though.
Starfruit is another edible that wasn’t technically in our yard – the starfruit trees were in the public park in town. Once we realized that a public tree basically meant free food, we plucked every ripe fruit we could reach (while ignoring the stares from the locals).
Starfruit turns yellow when it’s ripe and we got plenty of those, and green ones which we kept until they ripened. The fruit is tart and made a great addition to curries and stews. We also mixed it with yogurt for a tasty snack.
We loaded up on starfruit whenever we went into town. Not only was it surprisingly tasty for food in Costa Rica, it looked super awesome when we cut it. Just like a star. Obviously.
Maybe you’ll be as surprised as we were to find out that pineapples don’t grow on trees – a pineapple plant is more like a bush. There were 3 pineapples growing in our yard in Costa Rica, but they weren’t ready to eat when we were there. Pineapples turn yellow when they’re ripe and these stayed kind of green so we never got the change to harvest them.
We did find out that after you eat a pineapple you can plant the top, and it’ll grow into another pineapple plant. Oh, and it’s also one of Costa Rica’s top exports.
The lemon trees in our yard smelled really great (like lemon, as you can probably imagine). There weren’t any lemons growing while we were there, but we could still use the lemon leaves to season our food. We cut up the leaves and sprinkled them into any food we thought could use it.
We also found out that you can confirm a citrus tree by looking at the leaves. If you see spots on the leaf when you hold it up to the sun, that’s the citrus oil. Neat, eh?
There are plenty more things to eat in Costa Rica, but that’s all the food that we foraged for ourselves during our house sit. Depending on when you visit, different plants in Costa Rica will be ripe and ready to eat. Next time we hope to visit during avocado season.
House sitting in Sierpe? Check our Non-Tourist Guide to Living in Sierpe, Costa Rica