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Costa Rican cuisine is generally quite healthy and balanced, based on fresh meats and vegetables, herbs and light spices. Food is not spicy, similar to Mexican, as many travelers expect. Rice and beans is the basic variable in almost all Costa Rican cuisine. A typical meal is the casado, the name referring to the eternal "marriage" of its ingredients. It consists of rice and beans, meat or fish, fried plantains, and a cabbage with tomato salad. 

For breakfast, it is common to be served a hearty dish of black beans and rice (called gallo pinto) seasoned with onions and peppers, accompanied by fried eggs, sour cream, and corn tortillas.

Fruits found in Costa Rica include papaya, mango, piña (pineapple), sandía (watermelon), melón (cantaloupe), moras (blackberries), limones (lemons), guayaba (guava), granadilla (passion fruit), and aguacates (avocados). Many of these are served plain or as a refresco, a blended drink with ice.

Vegetables are mostly used in soups and stews. Corn is one of the most popular vegetables, and it is usually used to prepare tortillas and corn pancakes. Corn on the cob is sometimes roasted, elote asado, or boiled, elote cocinado. Empanadas are corn turnovers filled with beans, cheese, and maybe potatoes and meat. Guiso de maíz is a corn and chayote (vegetable pear) stew. 

Olla de carne is a delicious stew made with beef, potatoes, carrots, chayote (vegetable pear), plantains and yucca. Sopa negra is a simple soup made with black beans. The hearty Sopa de mondongo is made with tripe and vegetables. 

The plantain, or plátano, has the appearance of a large banana, but cannot be eaten raw. It is sweet and delicious when fried or baked, and will often accompany most meals. When sliced thinly and deep fried, the plantain becomes a crunchy snack like the potato chip. Patacones are fried mashed plantains with a sprinkle of salt.

Fresh seafood is more readily available near the coasts or in San José. San José's fish of choice is sea bass (corvina) or mahi-mahi (dorado). As a common appetizer, Ceviche is a dish of raw fish marinated in lemon juice with cilantro and onions.

The Caribbean coast has its own unique cuisine, distinctive from the rest of the nation. The dishes usually include coconut milk and spices like ginger and curry. Grated coconut is used in many deserts and cakes. The patí is a spicy meat pie resembling a turnover. Rondon ("rundown") is a fish soup with plantains, breadfruit, peppers and spices.