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A love letter to Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican beans and rice)

"When we think about Costa Rican national identity through food, Gallo Pinto is the first thing to pop into our minds. I don't have just one story to share, because it is part of my daily life. It accompanies me every morning and no shared breakfast is complete without it."

“When I think about a recipe to share, there are many that come to mind from simple cajetas and tortillas to more complicated dishes like tamales. There are many recipes I could share to express aspects of my identity, but the one that strikes me most is gallo pinto. Now gallo pinto is a traditional Central American dish, but most of all from Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It consists of rice and beans mixed together alongside pepper, cilantro, and most of the time Salsa Lizano, which is basically an adaptation of the English Worcestershire sauce.

“Gallo Pinto is traditionally a breakfast meal, but it can be eaten at any time of the day, for example when it comes to the Caribbean dish rice and beans (which is pretty similar only prepared with coconut milk and habanero pepper, this one is actually a lunch or dinner meal).

“Personally I have gallo pinto for breakfast every day and it is a common dish for families as well. This is why when we think about Costa Rican national identity through culinary lenses, Gallo Pinto may be the first thing to pop into our minds.

“I don't have just one story to share around gallo pinto, because it is essentially a part of my daily life. It accompanies me every morning and no shared breakfast is complete without it.

“Now the ingredients themselves are very accessible and cheap, which is one of the reasons for its popularity. But looking back at how they got here, you get a glimpse of the historical and social journey that make up our culture. For instance, beans originated in America, but the rice came from Asia and was brought here by Spain, and brought to Spain by the Arabs. That makes a dish like gallo pinto, and all of the dishes that contain rice and beans – which are basically staples in our households – a result of conquest of America, and in itself a reflection of our mixed nature, from all of the different cultures that were brought together under our historic line from the period of colonization. This can be seen especially when we take into consideration the different kinds of beans that can be used to make gallo pinto, and the different colours of rice that result from this combination.

“Now gallo pinto tells the story of my ancestors, my family, my country, and sections of my identity. And that is why I was reminded of a poem I once stumbled upon, written by Victor Hernandez Cruz, and it is called ‘Red Beans’. The poem uses the contrast and combination of red beans and white rice as a means to create an image that is an abstraction of Latin American identity. A beautiful part of the poem reads,

There is lava flow

Through the smoking

White mounds

India red

spills on ivory

Ochre cannon balls

Falling

Next to blanc pebbles

“This art illustrates the complexity of Latin American history and the violence that came with the colonization period, and just this mixture of cultures that we now have.

“To wrap this up, I want to say that even if the recipe itself is very straightforward, the journey behind the ingredients, the complexity of our identity, the laughter and the conversations that we have shared with this meal, are only revealed once we take the time to uncover our history and what makes us who we are.”

A love letter to Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican beans and rice)
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