The rice and beans war


SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — They may not have an army, but Costa Ricans have found a way to cook enough rice and beans to feed one, especially when it comes to making the nation’s favorite breakfast, gallo pinto, or rice and beans.

For years, Costa Rica has gone head to head with neighboring Nicaragua — which, like Costa Rica, claims to be the birthplace of gallo pinto — in a friendly arms race of sorts to see which nation can out-cook the other.

If quantity counts, this month Costa Rica laid waste to the competition: As many as 50,000 Ticos (Costa Ricans) gobbled up 3,300 pounds of rice and 2,640 pounds of beans on National Gallo Pinto Day. Dozens of cooks at the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura, just west of San Jose, sweated over huge pots of the stuff during the week leading up to the event, to serve it free of charge on one of the capital’s main streets.

Nicaragua’s capital Managua has hosted a similar rice-and-beans-a-thon, previously feeding up to 22,200 mouths. The organizers, Pharaohs Casino, said there were no plans to continue its pinto day, which looked like it was becoming an annual celebration.

A leftover-lover’s delight, gallo pinto — which means “speckled rooster” — is all but recession-proof because of the way it saves time and recycles ingredients.

The Tico version is made from white rice and (usually black) beans that were cooked for lunch or dinner the day before, fried in a pan and seasoned with finely chopped garlic, sweet red pepper, cilantro and onion and, of course, the ubiquitous Worcestershire-like thick brown sauce, Salsa Lizano, which is often cooked into the mix or just served alongside the finished dish. Proud Costa Ricans commonly say they are “mas tico que el gallo pinto,” or “more Tico than gallo pinto.”

But not everyone agrees that gallo pinto is exclusively, or originally, Tico at all. 

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