How to Eat for Cheap: Costa Rica

I have a few articles about the Escazú Farmer’s Market and my third time around, my first solo mission, I think I have figured out a good market plan of attack.

I leave for the market with my tote bag, sunglasses, and a lot of sunscreen around 11am. Sunscreen is a must; the sun here is misleadingly hot and dangerous between 10am and 2pm (trust me).

When I get to the market, I survey. Start at one end and head to the other, checking prices, what’s available, what looks good… I’ll be honest, I usually walk back-and-forth a couple of times. I try to know what I’m looking for before I get there so I don’t get caught up in the language barrier or pressured by the friendly stand owners. I try to have the following on my radar (I can’t always find what I want):

  • broccoli
  • peppers
  • garlic
  • onions
  • dark leafy greens
  • potatoes
  • strawberries
  • limes
  • mangoes
  • avocados
  • homemade tortilla chips
  • coconut water

There are a ton of wonderful staples and treats at the market but I have a hard time finding some of my favorites. You can always count on finding large flatleaf, or Costa Rican, cilantro, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, onions, fresh squeezed orange juice or coconut water, lettuces, avocados, mangoes, and many small green orbs that could be either fruit or vegetable, all incredibly inexpensive. Usually there is at least one vendor selling strawberries for a relatively high price, but again, relatively high is not high in the states. Everything is cheaper at the market than the grocery stores, it is best to get whatever you can here then get everything else at the big supermarket.

One staple, one I can’t cook without and I fear I’m suffering withdraws, is garlic. I can’t find it anywhere. Our first grocery trip I bought a three pack, used one, then found that the others had sprouted. Now I can’t even find it in grocery stores. I have to cook with double the onion and salt, what’s a girl to do?

This Saturday I had limited cash, ¢6000 or about $12. I started surveying, keeping in mind that I need broccoli, some dark leafy greens, garlic (maybe this will be my day?), and some fruit. What I could get for $12 to last the whole week I hadn’t quite figured out.

This is what I got (now I don’t remember exactly the cost of everything, so pardon the rounding):

  • Two bags of homemade tortilla chips = ¢600
  • Carrots (~3/4 kilo) = ¢300
  • Broccoli = ~¢2000
  • Strawberries (1/2 kilo) = ~¢1100
  • Oranges = ~¢400
  • Mangoes = ~¢600

Total = roughly ¢5000 (about $10)

I was pretty proud of that. No garlic, no leafy greens, but I guess I will wait for the organic market next Saturday. – Jes

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