Costa Rica’s Iconic Caldosas Mix Ceviche and Barbecue Chips


Some recipes make a restaurant well-known. Others turn out to be consultant of a metropolis or a area. Only some have the flexibility to shift the axis of a rustic’s gastronomic tradition, turning into not solely ubiquitous throughout menus however galvanizing diners within the course of. In Costa Rica, that dish is the caldosa, a nationwide phenomenon launched by a baby.

Caldosas (actually “brothy”) encompass a bag of Picaritas — a rectangular-shaped, barbecue-flavored industrial corn chip — heaped with scoops of native ceviche, shaken a bit, and served with a spoon. Caldosas are the Costa Rican reply to Texas’ Frito Pie or Mexico’s Dorilocos, and they’re completely in all places.

Though the dish was allegedly invented exterior Zaragoza, within the Northwest province of Palmares de Alajuela, caldosas will be discovered on the seashores of Puntarenas on the Pacific Coast, within the vacationer villages of the Costa Rican Caribbean, and at nearly each stall in San José’s Mercado Central. On the street that results in Santa Teresa (probably the most visited locations within the nation), dozens of meals stands blanket the sidewalks with plastic tables, chairs, and indicators promoting “caldosas right here.” The dish is equally at house bought from the trunk of a automobile and on the nation’s most interesting eating institutions.

A man stands with a glass of caldosa and a spoon outside a restaurant.

Juan Miguel Pacheco exterior Fory Fay.

The place did caldosas come from?

The story begins within the mid-Nineteen Nineties, when an unknown schoolboy stepped into Fory Fay, a conventional bar and restaurant specializing in seafood and ceviche. The child requested the proprietor if he might pour some caldo de ceviche (ceviche juice) into his Picaritas bag, lending the style of ceviche with out the worth of a full order. “Within the following days, he saved returning, then bringing his buddies,” explains Juan Miguel Pacheco, who has been heading this family-run venue for over 20 years.

The Pacheco household noticed an instantaneous alternative. The restaurant might repurpose the juice on the backside of the ceviche, which it used to throw away on the finish of the day. Juan provides, “The mixture grew to become well-known, and we began calling it caldosa,” a reference to the caldo that went into the primary bag. Immediately, the restaurant attracts locals and vacationers alike. Pacheco says the enterprise sells over 2,000 baggage of Picaritas every week on the Palmares venue alone, and the snack has helped Fory Fay broaden with cevicherias in Zaragoza and San Ramón close by.

What makes ceviche and Picaritas chips so good collectively?

At Fory Fay, caldosas are available in glasses with Picaritas blended in, nearly like cereal in a bowl of milk. The ceviche broth contains tiny scraps of white marlin, plus purple onion, cilantro, inexperienced chile, and pico de gallo. In Costa Rica, ceviche is often a bit sweeter than in neighboring international locations, so it’s widespread so as to add tomato sauce, ketchup, and even ginger ale to the recipe. Fory Fay serves mayonnaise and ketchup sachets alongside caldosas, permitting clients to physician the combination as they please. For to-go orders, Pacheco continues to serve the recipe like the unique, scooped right into a bag of chips.

The candy and acidic broth enhances the barbecue taste of the chips. Nevertheless it’s the feel that basically sells the combination. The broth softens some chips, whereas leaving others crunchy, making a dynamic flurry within the mouth. However there’s some method to the right ratio of broth to chips. The chips absorb the liquid voraciously, so it’s greatest so as to add the caldo little by little to stop them from turning into too soggy too shortly. Stir the combination energetically to interrupt the chips into smaller items, which is able to assist keep some crunch and make all the things simpler to scoop up with the small spoon often provided alongside. Some folks desire to interrupt the chips by crushing the bag earlier than opening it.

Shelves of liquor bottles, sports paraphernalia, and knickknacks.

The backbar at Fory Fay.

A sign advertising Pilsen and Bar Fory Fay.

The signal exterior Fory Fay.

Why are caldosas in all places in Costa Rica?

Many Ticos love fish and seafood dishes, together with ceviche. However the dish is commonly too expensive for an on a regular basis indulgence, even in a rustic with plentiful components from an infinite coast. “Caldosas grew to become an reasonably priced reply,” says Miguel Barboza Retana, an area journalist and meals author. Caldo de ceviche, a byproduct that might in any other case go to waste, is so much cheaper than the fish that makes up the majority of ceviche correct. “That’s the principle cause for his or her reputation all through the nation.”

The dish’s progress wasn’t solely natural. After caldosas started popping up within the ’90s, Jack’s, the corporate that produces Picaritas, immediately acknowledged the potential and it started betting on the seafood channel. The corporate began hiring gross sales representatives to go to cevicherias (right this moment, there are round 200 of them on the streets), creating merchandising supplies for venue house owners, and selling caldosas all through the nation. Gross sales of Picaritas shot up by roughly 30 p.c, and cevicherias now signify 22 p.c of the corporate’s enterprise.

That advertising and marketing push hasn’t slowed down. In a savvy technique in the course of the pandemic, when many eating places closed their doorways, the corporate launched to advertise venues that continued to promote caldosas for supply or takeaway. Immediately, there are over 500 registered companies on the location, together with cevicherías, eating places, and bars organized by province.

With the rising success of caldosas, competing snack firms like Yummies and Frank’s have gotten in on the motion. Yummies, for example, is selling Ranchitas (just like Doritos, dusted both in cheese-jalapeño powder or lemon-pepper) as a superb substitute for Picaritas. Yummies has additionally developed different recipes past ceviche, like one layering black beans, guacamole, chopped lettuce, and different components with Ranchitas in a glass. Picaritas struck again by creating Chichalcaldosas, a recipe mixing chips with chicharron and pico de gallo.

Layers of chips and other ingredients in a bowl on a dark background.

The luxe caldosa at Silvestre in San José.

Nice eating cooks are serving caldosas too

Even nice eating cooks have tried their fingers on the pattern. Santiago Fernández Benedetto created his personal take at Silvestre, his fashionable restaurant in San José’s Barrio Amón neighborhood, which focuses on Costa Rican merchandise and traditions. Benedetto first experimented with the caldosa utilizing house-made corn crisps, snook, and octopus to carry a novel, up to date strategy to the caldosas. He has since launched new iterations.

Following Benedetto’s lead, different cooks have discovered their very own methods to improve caldosas, together with chef Sophia Rodriguez Mata, who examined out a model with palm hearts and pejibaye (peach palm) at her restaurant Khali, and chef Paulo Valerios who composed a model at Huacas.

This pattern doesn’t sit nicely with everybody. “I believe these gastronomic takes on the caldosas can distort the dish,” Miguel Barboza Retana says. However Benedetto factors out that when caldosas first appeared, some folks thought they had been an insult to ceviche. “Given the industrial snack on which they’re primarily based, caldosas may very well be thought-about ‘anti-gastronomic,’” Benedetto says. But they’ve since turn out to be well-liked bocas, or bar snacks, and Benedetto sees the newest, luxurious evolution of the dish as an homage to its widespread reputation.

In the end the dish is supposed to be playful. “I desire to consider the attraction that the dish gained, exactly for mixing textures in a enjoyable manner, taking part in with them,” he says. “Opening a bag of Picaritas is like opening a present, a reminiscence I’ve from my childhood. Caldosas have introduced that reminiscence again to many individuals.”

Pacheco has seen this primary hand. Folks come from throughout, he says, to go to the house of caldosas and style a little bit of their college days — reliving their youth by consuming one thing invented by a child.

A prep station with bags of Picaritas chips in a shelving unit beside prep tools and other food and drink items.

The place the magic occurs at Fory Fay.

The place to strive caldosas in Costa Rica

Fory Fay

The birthplace of the caldosa, Fora Fay is a small, wood-covered, roadside bar for bocas (bar snacks) and vibrant seafood specialties. Trophies and soccer memorabilia compete with liquor bottles for area on the cabinets. Though the menu at Fory Fay contains rice dishes, tacos, mondongos, and deep-fried fish filets, caldosas are omnipresent at each desk, served in glasses with Picaritas already blended in.
Rincón de Zaragoza, Alajuela Province


Santiago Fernández Benedetto highlights regional cuisines and the range of native components in artistic dishes at his restaurant set in a reworked home within the historic Barrio Amón. His evolving tasting menu is an invite to find the breadth of Tico gastronomy, from recent seafood to arroz guacho (rice and chayote topped with grilled hen and shrimp). Benedetto’s present caldosa mixes mussel ceviche with shell-shaped crispy corn chips.
Calle 3A #955, Amón, San José

Pescaderia Isla del Coco

You’ll spot this informal meals stall in San José’s bustling, crammed, historic Mercado Central by the large faux octopus sitting on high of the awning. Named after a nationwide park declared a World Heritage Web site by UNESCO, the stall serves probably the most constant ceviches within the metropolis, with chunks of fish in lime marinade garnished with onion, cilantro, and peppers. And if the ceviche is nice, you’ll be able to guess the caldosa shall be, too; it’s served in a bag of crunchy Picaritas, greatest eaten instantly.
Mercado Central de San José, Avenida Central, San José

La Macarena

On the street to Puntarenas, there are a lot of venues promoting churchills, the native model of shaved ice with layers of flavored syrup, condensed milk, powdered milk, ice cream, and fruit. Every stall tries to draw the eye of drivers with colourful balloons, large flags, and even Minions statues. However the indicators promoting large caldosas make many stops at La Macarena. The store prepares its caldosas with ceviche made utilizing the freshest fish of the day, typically including shrimp introduced in by native fishermen.
Avenida 4, Puntarenas

Rafael Tonon is a journalist and meals author residing between Brazil and Portugal. He’s the creator of the ebook The Meals Revolutions.


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