Is it Possible to Live in Costa Rica as a Vegan?
When traveling or moving to a another country you expect to experience new and exciting things. That is one of the reasons we decided to move to Costa Rica. We also knew to expect some difficulties. We were prepared to experience some level of culture shock. Trying to adapt to our new environment while learning a new language would definitely cause a little stress. The biggest question I had was, can you live in Costa Rica as a vegan? Really, I needed to know How to Live in Costa Rica as a vegan.
The answer to that question by the way, is of course, YES! Really, a vegan can eat almost anywhere in the world. Sure, a vegan can live on just fruits and veggies, but I have picky kids and a picky husband. So for me, the real question was, can a vegan eat a satisfying plant based diet living in Costa Rica?
I knew the food in Costa Rica would be different from what we we’re used to. We tried a lot of the food when we did our 10 day due diligence visit just a year before moving here. The thing is, most, like 98% of that food was eaten out at a restaurant in touristy towns, or at the B&B we were staying at. The B&B’s knew ahead of time that I was vegan and prepared something special for me each morning. They were also the ones who gave us suggestions for the best places to eat that could accommodate my dietary choice.
We went into grocery stores in Tamarindo, Nosara, and San Isidro de El General (Pérez Zeledón) to see what they had. As we walked around the store isles the thing that stood out the most were the tons of rice and beans! They also have basic canned goods that are packaged in Costa rica. I even saw the smaller shelf stable plant milks made in the US available too. I took pics of all the prices so I could check what the conversion from colones to dollars was when we went back to Arizona.
Another important stop for anyone, vegan or not, is the feria (farmer’s market). We went to the feria in the cities of Tamarindo, Tinamaste, and San Isidro de El General (Pérez Zeledón). I was excited to see so many amazing fruits and veggies. Of course there were the things that we are used to buy in the states like, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, watermelon, cantaloupe and more. There were also some crazy looking fruits and veggies I had never seen. At all of the farmers markets we visited, I saw specialty sections run by other Gringos (someone from the US) that sold vegan treats along with nuts, seeds, and other grains not sold in the local stores. I figured I was set!
In my idealistic mind, I envisioned rarely, if ever eating out in Costa Rica. Instead, eating a high raw diet with some quinoa or rice and beans thrown in at the end of the day. We would be eating a clean, easy, and naturally unprocessed diet. The reason I assumed we would be eating this much healthier diet is because there would not be any vegan convenience foods and absolutely no vegan restaurants. There is no Whole Foods in Costa Rica. Most stores in this country do not have shelves stocked with all the vegan convenience foods our family is used to. We would be forced to clean our palate and eat pure and simple. Whoo hoo!
We had actually grown tired of eating out and are excited that we would not have many options to do so. We moved to a city where there are not a lot of tourists and the Gringos need to adjust to how the locals do things. This is just what we wanted, no excuses to cheat! We assumed if we did eat out, it would be Costa Rican food and that would mean lots of Gallo Pinto. Gallo Pinto is a Costa Rican dish generally consisting of rice, beans, onions, bell peppers, water, and spices.
In a little over a month of living here I am finding that the reality is not as dreamy of a picture as I painted in my head. Sure, part of that idealist food fantasy came true. We are eating a cleaner diet full of raw foods because of the oh so aaaawwesome fruits and veggies here. Rice and beans are a regular on our table and I found that oats are inexpensive here too, so lots of oatmeal for breakfast.
The not so dreamy part is, there is no lovely quinoa in our bowls because it is an imported food. I have found it to be more than three times as expensive as in the states, and you can’t buy bulk for cheaper. The nuts that all the Gringo vendors at the feria sell are double or triple the price seen in the states. The nut milks at the stores are also double or triple the price seen in the states as well. Yes, our food is clean but making food out of 100% whole foods is not easy or quick, it is harder than I dreamed it would be with limited (or different) choices than I’m used to.
So, while reading this you are probably thinking, “hey, you are in a tropical paradise and not in the states anymore! What are you bitching about?”, and you’re right! I am absolutely not complaining! I knew to expect some challenges with food. Actually, I am excited for the opportunity to learn how to cook cleaner than I ever have, with foods I have never used before.
Because everything we are experiencing living here is new, the change in food has not been as much of a shock. In Arizona, we had tons of temptations to drool over, and almost always buy, each time we went to the store.
A New Perspective
Now, we are learning to drool over beautiful mangos and weird looking, but amazing tasting, passion fruit, mamon chino, and biriba. We are learning to experience the true flavors of clean food that is grown to ripeness. We get to eat food that is picked fresh just before we bought it and not radiated in the shipment process. These are exciting things for us, and we are grateful to experience this shift.
Generally, you can’t just Google what products you are looking for to find the store that carries that product here. You need to talk to people and walk around and explore. We are slowly finding foods that we thought were lost to us because of either unavailability or gastronomical prices. Through talking to locals we found a shop that carries more reasonably price dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and spices. We have also found reasonably priced, shelf stable Silk soy milk, and two name brand spaghettis sauces from the states.
Unfortunately, as we learn and explore more we are finding a few sinful things from the states too. The prices and my determination to feed my family a clean diet usually keeps us on the straight and narrow.
Summary: How to Live in Costa Rica as a Vegan
- Pack some nutritional yeast, or other must haves.
- Come knowing you will experience different foods and flavors.
- Do not expect to eat what you are used to eating in the states.
- Be excited to try new foods.
- Oh, and bring an open mind and as much patience as you can stuff in your suitcases!