This is Bananas


Hi there! My dad recently sent me this video, which inspired me to do a post:

As you can see, bananas are surprisingly interesting. Here in Costa Rica, they’re much more commonly grown on the Caribbean coast, which isn’t as visited by tourists as the Pacific coast. It’s a shame, since it’s a beautiful area, but it’s also more difficult to get to. And I suppose that also makes it more of a hidden gem. But you can also find bananas throughout the rest of the country, including in our own back yard here in the mountains:


It’s hard to see at first glance, but there’s actually a squirrel who’s stealing our bananas in this picture.

I know that among different dialects of Spanish, bananas and plantains have different names and characteristics, so it’s all a bit confusing. Also, for some reason, what I’d call a “banana” is sometimes called banana here, but also sometimes banano. Who knows.

I’m not a botanist or anything, but I think I remember reading that bananas trees are actually a type of glorified grass. And if you see a cross-section of the trunk thing, you see that may be true. It’s porous and has little chambers, and it grows incredibly fast. It also looks really weird:


The main problem seems to be that you need to cut them all down at the same time, and they’re usually not ripe yet (if you do wait till they’re ripe to cut them down, they get eaten by bugs, birds, and apparently rogue squirrels). And when they do ripen, they all get ripe at once, and you’ve got to figure out what to do with a hundred bananas.


I often give some away, make banana cakes and banana bread, and of course eat them. I also found that if you peel them first, you can freeze a bunch of them in a bag and take them out a few at a time to make smoothies. Tasty! And they’re also great for babies, of course. My kid is with me right now and when he saw these pictures, he said “Na-na-na!” Close enough, kid!

There are also lots of plantains and other banana-related fruits around here. This is a racimo (a bunch or cluster) of small bananas called guineos that I got in our yard.


Wow, our yard and the Formerly Crappy Casita look like crap here. What a difference a few years and some paint can make. 

Guineos are hard like plantains, though, so you have to cook them to eat them. Some people put them in soups or a broth with bits of pork liver and skin, but I don’t like that too much, honestly.

Plantains (platanos) are good, though. Here they’re usually cooked in some oil and have a sweet taste, so they’re often served with breakfast, which is usually gallo pinto (rice and beans). You’ll also often find them as a kind of dessert with a casado, which is like a combo meal for lunch.


I don’t have a better picture of a casado, but this one will have to do. It was a great meal, but you can hardly see the plantains (on the right). I do like the picture, though, since it’s a good illustration of what a traditional, typical Costa Rican meal at a cafe (called a “soda” here) may look like. I especially think the combo of spaghetti with rice is funny. And I’ve not even mentioned that the meat here is actually beef tongue, which is surprisingly delicious and tender.

You can also find them sliced thin and fried to make plantain chips, which are pretty tasty, especially with lemon and salt.


Angela came up with the great idea of putting some fried plantains with vanilla ice cream!

Finally, you’ll also find banana leaves in cooking, but more as a container or plate. Some traditional restaurants still serve food on banana leaves, and the leaves are used to wrap up tamales.

4779420682_357a9f30c3_zLeaves ready for wrapping up tamales.

I’ve never made Mexican tamales, but they’re pretty different from Costa Rican ones. I think you have to cook Mexican tamales upright since they’re in corn husks that can spill open, but banana leaves are maybe more durable, since you can wrap them up and toss them in boiling water and they come out fine.

Making a tamal.


A big pot of tamales, in this case for Father’s Day. Here, tamales are eaten for many special days and celebrations.


Angela taking a piña of tamales out of the pot. A “piña” refers to a “pair” of tamales, but don’t ask me why they use the same word as “pineapple” for “pair” in this context.

Well, that’s about all I have to say about bananas, but I’d be happy to hear any comments, ideas, or recipes you may have. Thanks for reading!

Independence Day in Costa Rica



I was looking through the Costa Rica Outsider archive and I was surprised to find that I’d not written anything about Costa Rican Independence Day yet. That’s not a huge omission, I suppose, but it’s worth mentioning since this is a blog about Costa Rica, after all.

I guess this is my 10th Independence Day in Costa Rica! I came here at the end of August 2006, so even though I’ve just been here 9 years, the confounding math seems to add up to 10 Independence Days. I don’t really even remember the first one, but I was probably just glad to have a break from teaching high school and junior high kids, even if I’d only been at it for a few weeks. I do remember the second one, though. Even though we supposedly had the day off, there was a parade in San Ramon that our students were participating in, and it was also “mandatory” for their teachers–Angela and myself included–to participate.

Fortunately, I quit that job at the end of that year, and I never looked back. But that also seems to be the source of nearly all my Costa Rican Independence Day pictures. Here are a few from that year (2007):  

Some cheerleaders in the parade, in front of the San Ramon cathedral.


A guy watching the parade with an iguana on his head. Sure, why not?


Lots of flags.

Since this is not a history blog or a blog that people come to for actual facts about Costa Rica, I won’t really get into the history of Costa Rican independence. Of course, it was a Spanish colony, and it got independence along with the rest of Central America in 1821. That’s about the gist of it.

To celebrate, there are obviously no military parades or anything like that, since there’s no military here. People also don’t tend to grill or have fireworks like they do in the US. That’s probably just due to a different culture (they don’t really grill much here anyhow), and the fact that it’s usually rainy here in the middle of September.

They do have parades like the one in the previous pictures, and the schools all have activities during the whole week to teach about Costa Rican history. The kids also have little lanterns that they carry around the cities in parades on the evening of the 14th, but I’m not really sure what the significance of that is. I think they just like a good parade around here (or a bad or boring one, if need be).

I hope that doesn’t sound too jokey or sarcastic. I’m now a Costa Rican citizen and everything, but I don’t really feel especially patriotic. I think that probably comes from having a split allegiance between two countries, but also from having lived in a few different countries, and realizing that every country has some great things and some not-so-great things. But I do often joke that I’m more Costa Rican than most of the people in this country since I actually had to go through the long, tedious, baffling nationalization process, because I wanted to be a citizen of this country. The rest just happened to be born here.

Anyhow, I guess that’s about all I have to say about that. Some day I’ll maybe go do more patriotic activities–maybe when my kid is older–but for now, it’s nice to have a day off.


This was Independence Day a few years ago. And I did actually grill, as you can see. But it begs the question: whatever happened to that awesome shirt I had of the alligator eating a bird??

So, thanks for reading! If you’re in Costa Rica, have a great Independence Day!