San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

How About a Taste of the Holidays from Home?

AS the international population inCosta Rica grows, so too does the selectionof foreign foods on market shelves, makingholiday cooking easier every year.Whether it is roast duck or homemadestuffing, living in Costa Rica does not prohibitpreparation of the most traditionalholiday recipes from abroad. And with alittle imagination, the availability of freshingredients can give a tropical taste to classicflavors.But before creativity, what most foreignersare looking for when they spendthe holidays in Costa Rica are the tastesfrom home they don’t get – or necessarilywant – everyday, but long for during theholidays.“People want the Christmas dinnerthey used to get from grandma. They wantthe turkey, the stuffing, all the trimmings,”said chef Michael Forbes, who through hiscatering company Big Mike’s, caters holidaydinners.WHILE a number of gourmet and specialtymeat shops around the CentralValley, particularly in Escazú, east of SanJosé, offer hard-to-find items, all the fixingsfor a traditional holiday meal are nofurther than the local Auto Mercado,according to Forbes.Turkey, duck, canned cranberries andcanned yams can all be found in the eightmarkets in the Central Valley. The samecan be said about PriceSmart, which alsooffers stuffing mix, baked hams, frozenSarah Lee pies and pie-crusts and fillings.However, it does not offer cannedpumpkin, a rarity in Costa Rica. Forbessuggests pumpkin pie connoisseurs get creativewith local squash varieties, cinnamon,allspice and nutmeg to make a deliciouspie. Ready-made pumpkin-pie fillingfor the lazy (we mean busy) cook, is on theshelves of most upscale supermarketsEGGNOG, or rompope, does hit theshelves during the holiday season.“All of the supermarkets try to put outtheir holiday ingredients. They are all lookingfor that dollar,” Forbes said.PriceSmart is also offering classes oncooking traditional holiday recipes, includinghow to prepare turkey and ham. Theclasses will be held Dec. 4 in Zapote, Dec.5 in Heredia and Dec. 11 and 20 in Escazú.For those whose holiday meals are notcentered on the traditional, but rather theextraordinary, many turn to fish. However,despite never being more than 120 kilometersfrom the ocean from any point in CostaRica, finding quality fresh seafood can be achallenge.“Seafood is a tough question, it is not ahigh priority market,” Forbes said.ASIDE from heading directly to thecoast, Forbes recommends the nationalmarket, where fishermen and farmers selltheir products to vendors, who then sell atlocal markets.“They come from everywhere,Nicaragua, Panama. They sell right offtheir trucks. You can find the best sea bassthere, the best dorado around, dependingon who is catching what,” Forbes said.The market is a colorful adventure initself, and offers the freshest fruits and vegetables.However the hours – 2 a.m.-9 a.m.,Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays – can beprohibitive to some consumers, Forbessaid. The market is on the road past theReal Cariari Mall, to the right of theTexaco Gas Station.Many amateur cooks also recommendthe Central Market, in downtown San José,for fresh fish. One good place for freshtilapia, is on the way into Alajuela, near theHampton Inn. The fish shop has a largesign across the front, which says Tilapia.For finer cuts of meat, such as primerib and Hawaiian-style and Virginia ham,the best bets are specialty meat shops, suchas Don Fernando Especialidades Carnitasand Lamms. Gourmet Imports by Jurgensin Escazú has high-priced, fancy itemsincluding meat, duck, fois gras and truffles.“Don Fernando has his own farmwhere the cows are raised carefully and fednatural grasses,” said store managerRonald Flores.Many of these gourmet meat shops alsooffer imported items, such as Europeancheeses.Forbes suggests holiday cooks takeadvantage of their location in Costa Rica,not just for the accessibility of favoritefoods from abroad. The root vegetablesand citrus fruits here offer an opportunityfor chefs to be creative with substitutes infavorite recipes, he said.“As the rainy season ends, all sorts ofcitrus fruits ripen. And I really like camote,a kind of red-skinned sweet potato, with areally unique flavor. The world is a lot biggerthan what the United States food industryprojects,” he said.Where to Get the GoodsAuto Mercado, central San José, 233-5511, Los Yoses, 225-0361, Plaza del Sol,Curridabat, 253-5306, Plaza Mayor, 232-5555, Multiplaza, 289-8640, Tibás, 297-0635, Heredia, 262-2833, Santa Ana, 800-800-2886.Big Mike’s Catering Service, 289-6087, www.culinaryadventurecostarica.comDon Fernando EspecialidadesCarnitas, prime rib, turkey, Hawaiianham, two locations, Curridabat, CentroCommercial Plaza Carpintería, 271-3274;Escazú, San Rafael de Escazú, in the PlazaColonial, 289-9165.Gourmet Imports by Jürgen’s,Escazú, on old road to Santa Ana, top ofthe line, also has Omaha Steak products,281-2855,, in San Rafael de Escazú, 100meters north of Más x Menos, offers duck,Virginia ham, grilled or uncooked turkey,228-2814.Muñoz y Nanne, turkey, ham, importedcheeses, San Pedro, 253-4646PriceSmart, three locations: Zapote,southeast of the Fuente de la Hispanidad,253-9449; Escazú, from the AutopistaPróspero Fernández, 200 m. from the tollon the left, 288-0008, Heredia, 300 m.north of Atlas Eléctrica, 262-4848.Saretto, in San Rafael de Escazú, 228-0247.

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