Gallo Pinto: Recipe & History of Costa Rica’s Traditional Beans & Rice Breakfast

Bodhi Surf + Yoga / Surf + Yoga Camp Blog / Gallo Pinto: Recipe & History of Costa Rica’s Traditional Beans & Rice Breakfast

Gallo Pinto is a simple and classic breakfast consisting of rice, beans, and Salsa Lizano (another Tico must-try).

Costa Rican typical breakfast

What is Gallo Pinto?

The national dish of Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto manages to pack loads of flavor into a fairly simple set of ingredients. The typical Gallo Pinto is also served with eggs, platanos maduros, natilla (sour cream) and tortillas, making it a satisfying and filling breakfast. No trip to Costa Rica is complete without this famous dish.

If you come stay with us on one of our week-long surf and yoga vacations here in Costa Rica, you will be sure to try it! After waking up to the birds chirping in the early morning and perhaps going for a walk, catching some waves, or doing a few rounds of sun salutations, this classic Costa Rican breakfast is just what you will be craving.

While many travelers outside of Latin America may have a hard time getting their head around eating beans and rice for breakfast, trust us and do not miss out on Costa Rican Gallo Pinto — it is always a guest favorite here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga!

How to make platanos maduros

The history of Gallo Pinto

The history behind Gallo Pinto is a strange one. The literal translation from Spanish is “spotted rooster,” which probably refers to the spots of black beans within the white rice resembling the spots on a rooster. But, there is one tale that is much more entertaining…

In the mountains of Costa Rica some decades ago, a farmer invited friends and family over for a big meal. He was going to cook up his prized rooster – the gallo (“rooster”) pinto (“spotted”) — and feed everyone. As word got out about this feast, more and more villagers decided to come along and by the time lunch was to be served, there were far too many people for one rooster to satisfy. In a panic the farmer cooked up some leftover rice and black beans and added a few spices from his cabinet so that there was enough food for all the people that had gathered.

It turned out that many of the townspeople that came didn’t even get any of the rooster and ended up only eating the rice and beans. So as the story goes, from that day forward whenever the townspeople ate rice and beans they would jokingly ask “Hey, how was your Gallo Pinto?” The saying stuck and now Gallo Pinto is synonymous with one of the best breakfasts in all of Costa Rica.

Typical Costa Rican recipes

Costa Rican Gallo Pinto vs. Nicaraguan Gallo Pinto

The drama behind Gallo Pinto doesn’t end there. There is also a generations-long debate about the true origins of this delicious dish… is it from Costa Rica or Nicaragua? And who makes the better version?

It is commonly agreed that Gallo Pinto has its origins in the Afro-Caribbean community but neither country can truly lay claim to this staple breakfast dish. Some sources say it was invented in the suburbs of San Jose while others claim the dish goes all the way back to the 17th or 18th centuries with the introduction of African slaves to the Nicaraguan shores.

It was first documented in the book Mamita Yunai by Carlos Luis Fallas, which explores the role of the banana plantations in Central American history. At this time both Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans were working together across the coasts so it is difficult for either to truly claim ownership.

Nevertheless, Gallo Pinto is the national dish of both Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The two versions do, however, have very distinct differences. In Costa Rica (and at Bodhi Surf + Yoga), Gallo Pinto is always made with black beans while in Nicaragua it is traditionally made with red beans. In Costa Rica there is also the addition of Salsa Lizano — a sauce that is similar to Worcestershire or HP sauce in England, but very slightly spiced.

While this hotly debated topic will never truly be solved, we play favorites at Bodhi Surf + Yoga so you can guess where our loyalties lie…

Costa Rican Gallo Pinto ingredients & recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 cups day-old, cooked white rice
  • 3-4 cups black beans, cooked
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 sweet pepper, finely chopped
  • ¾ cup chopped cilantro, loosely packed
  • 1 tablespoon complete seasoning
  • 3 tablespoons Salsa Lizano
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a large pan or skillet on medium-high heat, saute the onion and pepper with olive oil until cooked.
  2. Add the beans, complete seasoning, and Salsa Lizano. Cook until beans are warmed through and flavorful.
  3. Add the rice and mix everything together. Fry the Gallo Pinto until all of the flavors are incorporated, about 5 minutes.
  4. Off the heat, add the cilantro.
  5. Serve with scrambled eggs, platanos maduros, fresh fruit, and enjoy!

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About the author

Adrianne

Adrianne is the fun-and-food-loving socialite of Bodhi Surf + Yoga. If she's not whipping up a feast for Bodhi Surf + Yoga guests, she's probably busy writing for the Bodhi blog or keeping people up-to-date on the goings on via social media!