i just wrote this to a member and then thought it might be useful to post on the board. it's really long, but i think it might be helpful for anyone going to costa rica.
i just got back from costa rica and i have to say it wasn't that bad. i had less trouble finding things to eat in restaurants there than i do in the u.s. here's the scoop:
they eat very basic meals in costa rica, most featuring rice, meat, beans and tortillas. i would suggest getting a card made that says that you are allergic to los cereales. this is what i said when ordering (or something like it anyway):
soy alergica a los cereales. puedo comer solamente arroz y maiz, no puedo comer trigo o avena sin enfermarme (wheat and oats-the others nobody has even heard of) . puede usted ayudarme con el menu, por favor?
in case you don't speak spanish, here is a rough translation of my very poor spanish-i am allergic to cereals. i can eat only rice and corn, i can't eat wheat or oats without becoming ill. can you help me with the menu, please?
here are words that might be helpful (i will tell you which were helpful there and which were not)
batido=batter (it seems with their different dialect this word was unknown)
harina=flour (very helpful-as in harina de trigo)
cereales=cereals (accent over the a)
salsa de soya=soy sauce
empanizada=er...not too sure about this one, i believe it means breaded
sin=without (sin pan, por favor-without bread, please)
a la plancha=grilled (ie plain)
lo siento=i'm sorry (i sure said that a lot)
here are phrases that might be helpful
hay=there is, or there are (hay harina de trigo en la salsa?- is there wheat flour in the sauce?)
no hay=there isn't/aren't (no hay harina de trigo en la salsa? there is no wheat flour in the sauce?)
es/son=is/are (las tortillas son de maiz?-the tortillas are of corn?/la tortilla es de maiz?-the tortilla is of corn?)
spanish lesson over . the things you need to be careful of...just like here, nobody understands celiac. make sure you check everything on your plate that looks suspicious, like tortilla chips/coating on chicken etc... i had a horrible incident with tortilla chips that i never want to relive. i ordered a yummy casado (traditional costa rican meal). stuck in my black beans were tortilla chips which i consumed with abandon, only to realize after the third or fourth that they were wheat. i left my husband and ran back to my hotel room and proceeded to make myself lose the entire yummy meal i had just consumed. i just kept doing that. drinking water and doing it some more. it was awful, but i didn't really get sick. someone was looking out for me.
don't be afraid to be insistent. as long as you are polite, quiet (ticos don't like confrontation), and obviously feel bad about the whole thing, they will do what they can to help you. most ticos are incredibly nice. i say allergic because people understand that. nobody wants a person going into anaphylactic shock on them, so they are more careful i think.
i wouldn't do costa rica on a tour. they usually only give you 2-3 options to choose from at restaurants and those are tailored toward north american eating habits. we ran into some tours on our travels and i paid attention. if you do go with a tour, make sure your operator understands the severity of celiac and can translate for you. i would discuss it with them beforehand. tico food is actually very safe, as long as you are careful.
here's what i would bring with you: rice crackers (i ziplocked them and then put them in a small tupperware container to keep them from getting stale/broken), instant soups, a soft-sided insulated bag-the kind you can put your lunch in when you go to work, and lots of freezer ziploc bags for ice. if you bring these things, you can head to a tico store and pick up cheese, nuts, tortilla chips, and fresh/dried fruit. you can fill a ziploc with ice at your hotel and then put your cheese and fruit in your insulated bag. these should see you through the times when you get sick of chicken (or shrimp) and rice.
i ate some really good things while i was there: sopa negra (a black bean soup, very good), casados, and fried yucca (aka tapioca-also super good). but, the best thing...i actually ate french fries there and didn't have a problem. they use most of their oil for frying tortillas, so the contamination risk is much smaller. look at their menu, if it seems to have very little breaded items, then you might want to go for it. if not, tell them "sin papas fritas" at every meal. ticos seem to serve french fries with everything.
wow. sorry, i've run off at the mouth. i just wanted to tell you everything i could think of. i hope it's helpful. if you have any questions at all, about stores, money, ingredients, whatever, please let me know. we saw almost the whole country so i might even be able to recommend places/restaurants that would be good for you. i do insist that you go to costa rica. it is seriously the most beautiful place i've ever been. keep me updated.
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