Being vegetarian should be so easy here. As I’ve said before, rice and beans are the staples! But often times, when you go to the real “local” restaurants (called Sodas), those beans might have been cooked with pork. It’s common in Central America for the “rice and beans” to be made with pork. It’s probably the reason why I could never get beans when I was in Cuba. Because they knew I was vegetarian and they knew there was pork in the beans they had available for serving. But the Cuban culinary experience is a whole other story and you can read a little about it here.
Now you’d think this pork issue would just happen with the beans but that isn’t the case. Often times on Sunday afternoons, I meet up with friends at a local beachfront restaurant to hear one of my friends play Brasilian music and enjoy the sunset with a few beers. It’s a great way to begin the new week. The restaurant has many good options for vegetarians and so I ordered a salad there and made sure I read all of the ingredients that were included. So as I was sitting there enjoying my salad, listening to my friend’s beautiful music, I bit into a piece of bacon. I didn’t actually see the bacon because it was all diced up and hidden below the greens. I called over the server and asked him why there was bacon in the salad. “There’s always the bacon in the salad!” he replied. “But it’s not listed in the ingredients on the menu!” I replied. So now, when I order the salad, the servers remember me, smile and say “Sin tocineta” (without bacon).
Another thing I have learned is that if you go to a Soda where they don’t list the prices on the menu and you look like a tourist, know that you’re going to get jacked on the price. That’s really the only way to put it. Technically, a “casado”, which is the typical meal here that consists of rice, beans, plantains, some sort of meat or eggs, a small cabbage salad and for some strange reason, french fries, shouldn’t cost more than $5 with a non-alcoholic beverage. But if you’re in a Soda that doesn’t list their prices, just know you’ll probably be charged almost twice that amount and know that the Ticos sitting at the table next to you are paying half of what you paid. That’s just the way it is.