A new place to eat has opened up in the western San José suburb of Escazú, and it’s no trendy restaurant or café; it’s Costa Rica’s first raw food store, Organic Oasis, where none of the food is cooked, but all of it is tasty.
Though raw food sounds simple enough, it’s a little more complicated than the description implies.
“Raw food is more about living foods; anything under 110 degrees Fahrenheit still has living enzymes,” explains Severin Stone, Organic Oasis’ gregarious founder. “It’s about using living enzymes to break down food rather than your body’s enzymes to break down cooked or, as some people refer to it, ‘dead or devitalized’ food.”
A lot of equipment is necessary to keep raw food from being as boring as crunching celery all day. In lieu of a stove or microwave, Organic Oasis uses food processors, juicers, blenders and a dehydrator for some of the more complicated creations, such as unbaked crackers.
So what kind of food do raw foodists actually eat? Preferably organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and spices. The diet is completely vegan; all animal products are excluded. Organic Oasis has a permanent menu of juices and smoothies (¢1,450-2,100/ $2.80-$4), salads (¢1,575-3,745/$3-7.20) and desserts (¢1,325-2,250/$2.60-4.30). Daily specials feature some of the more elaborate raw food recipes, such as “rawvioli,” “rawsagna,” taco salads with non-meat and a version of pad thai.
Stone, 28, from Sacramento, California, has been living in Costa Rica for more than three years. He says he started reading about nutrition while his wife Christina was pregnant. He has been on the raw food diet since February of last year and is extremely enthusiastic about the benefits, which he says include increased energy and weight loss.
Stone connected with a chef from Los Angeles, who taught him even more about the diet and introduced him to more recipes. It wasn’t long until the idea for the restaurant was born.
The goal of the restaurant is to provide the freshest organic ingredients possible. With the exception of a few spices, everything the restaurant uses in its creative and interesting recipes is organically grown.
“The preparation is all about fooling the mind,” Stone says.
The proof was in the rawvioli sampled on a recent Tico Times visit. Thin layers of eggplant are used in place of pasta, and the filling is a macadamia nut “cheese.” A yellow bell pepper salsa completes the amazingly delicious dish (¢2,750/$5.30).
Another special offer Stone has worked hard to provide is fresh wheatgrass juice (one ounce, ¢750/$1.45; two ounces, ¢1,250/ $2.40). He imported seeds from the United States and now grows his own organic red winter grass.
Wheatgrass has long been regarded as a powerful tool to detoxify the body.
“It has 60 different amino acids and 80 different enzymes, and is a great source of chlorophyll,” Stone says.
The wheatgrass shots are made fresh to order in a hand-cranked greens juicer. The juice is a brilliant green and the taste is slightly sweet and, well, a little grassy. Something so earthy and vibrant-tasting just has to be good for you.
Fortunately, eating raw doesn’t mean you have to skip dessert. Organic Oasis features several special creations. The surprisingly satisfying chocolate layer cake with mixed berries (not on the regular menu but available on special order) has the texture of mousse and is quite sweet, considering it contains no sugar or chemical sugar substitutes.
As far as starting a strict raw food diet, Stone advises being really in touch with your own body. He recommends doing plenty of research to learn the vitamins and minerals each fruit and vegetable contains to ensure a well-rounded diet.
“It’s important that you know your body because everyone’s is different,” he says.
“Once you start the diet, you’ll feel your way along through it. If you have hunger cravings, you need more protein.”
The first 30 days on a raw food diet is definitely a cleansing, according to Stone. The easiest way to start is with fresh juices.
“Make it fresh and raw and organic,” he says.
Stone explains that for most people the first two weeks are easy, but it’s common to start to get cravings just after the second week has passed. After four weeks, the body reaches an assimilation point and the benefits of the diet begin to be felt.
Regular patron Silvia Monge, 38, says she is very pleased with the raw food diet.
“We planned to eat it for one month and now I don’t want to go back to cooked,” she says. “It’s a great feeling.”
Raw food activists claim that following the diet provides more energy and an overall feeling of well-being. Stone says anyone who wants to try the diet can talk to him for advice. He recommends doing research on the Internet and reading a few books on the topic. And of course, you can supplement your research by sampling the recipes on offer at his raw food restaurant.
Organic Oasis is in Escazú Centro, 50 meters west of Toycos, beneath the Merecumbé dance studio. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. For information, call 377-3704 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.