Eating Locally: Learn to Love Rice and Beans!

by Narelle Webber on Friday, 16 November 2012

“Taste” the local culture where ever you go: Here I am eating delicious local food on the train in Thailand

Years ago, after months of travelling in the Caribbean eating mostly rice, beans and many ‘mystery’ items, the first dinner I had when I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica was…. KFC! However, I quickly got back into eating more local (rather than global) foods. In Costa Rica, this actually means eating more rice and beans (amongst other things) and I loved the experience, as you will too. Here’s why…

The concept of eating locally is fairly simple and on ISV’s programs we encourage everyone to eat as locally as possible as part of a responsible travel ethic and as a way to immerse themselves in the local culture. Sometimes locals eat similar things to what we do at home too (like pizza, KFC, or hamburgers!), but in most countries there is a diverse, local cuisine that puts you more in touch with their culture while enabling you to positively contribute to the local economy at the same time. Here are some points to consider, using a few more examples from Costa Rica.

Plantain, rice and delicious Carribbean food: all pictures © Narelle Webber, International Program Director with ISV

  • Connect cuisine with culture – try eating like the locals eat and understanding why their cuisine has developed that way. For example, agriculture is a huge part of Costa Rica’s history and continues to be in rural parts of the country, thus it makes sense to have higher carbs in your diet (like rice) and protein source (beans) when you’re working hard in the fields all day. Rice and beans are also some of the most nutritious, affordable food types which can be grown in abundance in Costa Rica’s fertile soils.  Fish is readily available on the coast, and chicken, pork and beef are the most common types of meat.
  • Try foods you have never tried before! This is one of the most exciting parts of travel. Costa Rica has some delicious fruits and vegetables, some of which are not very common in other parts of the world. For example, try guavas which (when ripe) are sweet and juicy. Also, plantains look like enormous bananas, but don’t be fooled. You need to cook them first and then they taste delicious!  Tip – be careful of eating too many every day if you aren’t used to them (the starch content has been known to cause constipation, and they also are energy rich and your clothes won’t fit if you repeatedly stuff yourself on them).
  • Support local businesses and farmers by eating locally grown and produced foods. Locally produced food has less food miles (which reduces its carbon footprint), and with less middle-men, it’s more likely that the farmer is getting a higher income. During some homestays it’s possible to have whole meals from foods grown on the family farm, a really great experience!

Although you may tire of rice and beans (gallo pinto, above) or other such local staple foods, remember that you are contributing to responsible tourism by “eating locally”.

For sure, there will be things you try and won’t like, or some things that you might get tired of (like rice and beans, or papaya…. or for a change…. beans and rice!)  Just remember that it’s only for a few short weeks of your life and you are contributing to responsible tourism by “eating locally”.




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