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!

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Sitzman

Just One Monkey On One Of Infinite Typewriters at Costa Rica Outsider
Hello, and welcome to Costa Rica Outsider! My name is Ryan Sitzman. and I'm the proverbial "man behind the curtain" for this site. I hope you like it, and I'd love to hear any comments or feedback you may have. I also have a language learning blog at sitzmanabc.com, or you can check out my personal site at sitzblog.com. Thanks for stopping by!

6 thoughts on “Costa Rican Food: Flor de Itabo

  1. Pingback: Make Me A German | Sitzblog

  2. I just had Italo last night for the first time! We arrives in Costa Rica 5 days ago and are living on a farm in the mountains for the next 3 months. The farm worker so generously brought us the stalk and it was really good. We boiled ours until just translucent and added tomato sauce, onion, garlic grass and chicken breast. It came out to be something like pasta!

    • Hi Brandy,

      Thanks for your comment! If you happen to see this, I was wondering if you boiled just the petals, or the whole bud? Your recipe sounds interesting!

      Thanks again,
      Ryan

      • I did boil them, just until they were a bit translucent. Next time I will try pan frying them in butter with onions! Any other suggestions?

        • So I’m guessing you just did the petals, and not the pods? If you haven’t tried the pods, they’re kinda bitter but I like them. I’d suggest in scrambled eggs, since it’s easy and that’s how they eat them here usually. Provecho!

          • Yes, I only used the petals, as I heard the pods were bitter. Lol! I will try the pods next time, likely in eggs!

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