Costa Rican Food: Flor de Itabo

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Angela with a short itabo plant. “Is that in San Jose?” you may be asking. As Will Smith (may) say in a dubbed movie, “Awww, infierno no!” That’s actually on a busy street in Beijing, from our trip to China in 2012. I’m not sure if they eat it there, but I’ve seen crazy hillbillies climbing up 20-foot trunks to get at itabo flowers here, so I’m thinking they may just use them for decoration in China.

I had meant to write this post about a Costa Rican food specialty back in April, but to be honest I simply forgot. I was going to then wait until next April to write it, but I figured I’d just forget it again. Plus, it’s not like most people who read this will have access to flor de itabo if they’re outside of Costa Rica. So, since it’s more of a curiosity, I’ll just talk about it now.

As you can probably get from the name, it’s a type of flower, and it blooms from a spiky, yucca-like plant called itabo, although the plant’s trunk/base is actually usually a few meters high. I think it’s actually a type of cane. I wrote about it on my personal blog a few years back, so you can check that out here if you want.

The main idea is, when you find this plant blooming, you cut off the whole top, spikes and all, and then get the flowers. I asked if it was really necessary to cut off the whole top including the spikes, since it just leaves an ugly post, but everyone around here assured me that it was definitely necessary. Meaning: maybe. Then, you cut off the bunch of flowers and bloom/bud pods.

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Two itabos on the bush is worth one in the stomach, I always say. Or at least that’s the snappy soundbite I’ve prepared if I’m ever questioned by the media about itabo. These are the ones in our yard right outside our kitchen window.

The petals of the flowers are generally the tastiest part, but you can also eat the pods. They’re just a bit more bitter. You do want to try to remove the stamens or whatever they’re called (my botany class from 8th grade is failing me now), since they’re basically flower penises, and it’s best to avoid them in a macho country.

After that, wash them well and pat them dry. It’s usually eaten with scrambled eggs, but I’m sure you could make numerous other dishes with them. I just wouldn’t be the one to tell you what those dishes are. Personally, I like them with tortillas and/or rice and beans, but I suppose they can go well with whatever you’re eating, unless it’s tripe or chocolate cake, or something where it’s just nasty to think about combining them with edible flowers.

Here’s the step-by-step:

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1. Destroy something beautiful. You have to–it’s the only way you’ll ever feel truly alive. Didn’t you see Fight Club?

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2. Cook up some onion, onion stylie.

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3. Mix in the itabo petals, along with some salt and pepper (although be careful: according to Costa Rican lore, black pepper gives you diarrhea).

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4. Mix in some eggs and stir till they’re cooked (note: my wife–as well as some other Costa Ricans–prefers her eggs really “well done,” so you can also cook them until they become a chunky powder).

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5. Serve it up when it looks about like this. If you think this picture looks like it’s missing something, it is: the main dish. But that’s where The Power of Imagination comes in.

What about you? Have you tried this? If you’re Costa Rican, the answer is almost surely “yes,” but if you’ve only been here as a tourist, you’d have to come at just the right time of year to try it. You’d also need to sneak into a coffee field and take a machete, unless you want to take the easy way out and just buy it from the guys who sell it right near the toll booth on the Pan-American Highway. Lame.

Anyhow, if you liked this or have any other ideas for Costa Rican food posts, please tell me–I’d be happy to hear comments.

Thanks for reading!

Tourist Attraction Review: EcoTermales

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Hello! Two posts ago I wrote a review of Los Lagos hot springs just outside of La Fortuna, so I thought that I’d add another review of a different hot springs in the same area. We went to EcoTermales right around the same time, so although it was admittedly a few months ago, I’m pretty sure you’d have a similar experience today or any other day.

We went on a Thursday afternoon with my family when they were visiting. I think that the timing was the key, and that made all the difference. You generally have to call and reserve a place at EcoTermales so that things don’t get too crowded. I suppose you can just show up and try your luck and if they don’t let you in, Baldí is literally across the street (and yes, I know what literally means…it’s literally across the street). Places like Baldí are actually the reason we wanted to try EcoTermales, though, since the couple of times I’d been to Baldí it was always quite crowded, and the scene was always a bit noisier and touristy, which isn’t as conducive for relaxation.

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Angela, Costa Rica Outsider’s resident Hot Springs Model.

EcoTermales is a nice contrast to that, though. You reserve a 4-hour spot for your group. There are 3 “shifts” per day, so we chose the second one, from 1-5 pm. The cost is a bit higher than other hot springs, but there are “discounts” for residents or citizens of Costa Rica. That’s good for us, but it’s hard not to interpret that as price gouging for foreigners, including my family, so that was a bit of a bummer. But there aren’t as many extra small costs as in other places, since EcoTermales includes a locker and towel with your entry.

When we got there, there were very few people in the pools,maybe a dozen at most. There are fewer pools here than at Los Lagos and other hot springs, and it’s quite tiny in comparison with some of the giant ones, but since there are drastically fewer people, that’s not really an issue. The temperatures in the pools are good, although perhaps a bit too hot in some of them if you’re looking to sit for more than a few minutes without harming your future chances of procreation.

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Even Baby Will enjoyed it! (That’s his enjoyment face.) Here he’s with his grandma and his aunt Di.

We didn’t stay for dinner since the timing was weird, but we had heard that the food was good. The drinks that my family tried were good, although quickly drunk. Right near the end of our time there was a rainstorm, but at that point we’d already left the pools. That’s too bad, since rainstorms in hot springs can be an excellent experience. It’s the closest thing we have here to riding out a snow storm while sitting in a hot tub.

All in all, we’d definitely go back, and we’d probably try the food if possible, since so many places in nearby La Fortuna are getting to be really overpriced anyhow.

What about you? Have you been to this place or any other hot springs in La Fortuna or other parts of Costa Rica? How were your experiences?

Thanks for reading!

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