Gallo Pinto: A ‘gringa’s’ attempt at making a Costa Rican traditional dish

By Riley Ellis, API San Joaquín de Flores Peer Mentor

Riley is a junior at Colorado State University and studied with API during the spring 2010 term in the Spanish Language and Latin American Studies Program at the Instituto San Joaquín de Flores, Costa Rica. Riley also serves as a peer advisor in the study abroad office at CSU. Following is a recipe for a “tico” dish called Gallo Pinto.

Recipe for Gallo Pinto


  • 1 cup of cooked rice
  • 1 cup of cooked beans
  • 1 chopped onion (small)
  • 1 small chopped red pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 tbs oil
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 4 Tbs. Salsa Lizano
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 1 tbs seasoning

How to prepare

  1. Fry onion, red pepper, garlic, cilantro in the vegetable oil, about 3 minutes.
  2. Pour in the beans and add the sauce, black pepper and seasoning. Let it cook for a few minutes, but don’t let it dry out.
  3. Pour in the cooked rice and mix it with the beans

Enjoy with:

  • Platanos maduros
  • Eggs (fried or scrambled )

The other API students and I joked that we ate Gallo Pinto for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is an exaggeration… well sort of! I ate this mixture of rice and beans for breakfast everyday during my study abroad experience, and it did take some getting used to; Mama Tica never served me cereal for breakfast, that was unheard of in her house!

You might think that one would get bored of eating rice and beans everyday for breakfast, but no, not me. I loved it, and I woke up every morning ready for a hearty serving of Gallo Pinto with a scrambled egg. Once, after a few weeks of living in Costa Rica, I decided to be more daring and splash the food on my plate with Salsa Lizano, a brownish, grayish colored salsa with a unique flavor, made in Costa Rica… I fell in love with it!

I would say that if there is one dish (besides all the delicious fresh fruit) that represents Costa Rican cooking it’s got to be Gallo Pinto, and in my opinion my Mama Tica made the best!! Now having said this I must also say that back in the states I lack the “Mama Tica touch,” if you will, for cooking my own Gallo Pinto. As one can see from the recipe above it seems like a fairly simple recipe; just white rice and black beans for the most part. As soon as I arrived back in the United States this was one of the first things I wanted to cook for my family. They’d heard me talk about rice and beans for an entire semester, so I had to share the Tico flavor with them.

I followed the instructions provided by my Mama Tica step by step, and even used the one-of-a-kind Salsa Lizano, but my Gallo Pinto just did not taste the same. What was I missing? What could I have done wrong? My family and friends back home would never understand the flavor, and so I wrote to my Mama Tica telling her about my ordeal. You would never guess how she replied; she said, well you’ll just have to come back to Costa Rica then and bring your family with you! After that I began planning a trip for my family to head back. I wouldn’t say that the trip planning has been entirely inspired by rice and beans… but then again I am craving a good plate of Gallo Pinto.

Riley’s CSU study abroad bio

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