The History of Gallo Pinto for Expats

About a week ago I wrote about the annual Gallo Pinto festival which takes place in downtown San José. Imaginen that enough was prepared to feed 25,000 people. Well, it turns out that almost nobody knows how this savory dish was created and by whom. Believe it or not it did not originate Central America as most people believe. As you will read below there is a reason why anyone who tries this delicious dish virtually becomes a “slave” to it.

Actually our famous Gallo Pinto had it origin in Africa, mainly in Benín, Togo and Ghana. It arrived in Limón Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras and the Caribbean islands with the slaves who were brought to this part of the world as an inexpensive source of labor, according to historian Dr. Patricia Vega from the University of Costa Rica. When these peoples came to work on the region’s plantations they were given a diet of rice and beans to keep them alive and well-nourished because of the back-breaking work in which they engaged.

In Limón Province coconut oil and milk were often added as a side dish along with green plantains, bell peppers since there was an abundance of these ingredients in the area. When slavery ended many of the people dispersed, moved to other regions in the area and took their staple of rices and beans with them. Because of the lack of coconuts the recipe changed and rice, beans, lard, bell peppers (chile dulce), onions, cilantro coyote were then used to prepare this dish. Thus, gallo pinto as we know it today was born.

It is not know exactly on what date gallo pinto was first invested but according to the estimates of one historian it made its appearance between 1910 and 1920. To this day nobody knows how its name came about. One historian theorizes that the dish got its name from the spotted rooster in cock fights (gallo pinto actually means spotted rooster when translated literally).

Nowadays gallo pinto is mainly eaten with natilla (sour cream), plátano maduro (fire sweet plantain) and eggs. A typical Costa Rican breakfast would not be complete without it.

Few retirees know that gallo pinto is very nutritious dish. The beans reduce colesterol, contain folic acid which protects the heart, help digestion and contain little fat. They are also a source of iron, calcium. Rice is a good source of carbohydrates and vitamin B and is easily digested and does not contain gluten or allergens. When eaten together rice and beans are a complete protein.

Although gallo pinto is not the official dish of Costa Rica, symbolically it is considered our nation food. According to one poll 98 percent of Costa Ricans consider it so. In fact, there is a saying “Más tico que el gallo pinto,” which refers to someone or something that is 100 percent Costa Rica.

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