Trying to discover the origins of Costa Rican culture is always a very difficult process. Traditions, such as recipes for delicious foods, are passed down within the family. And everyone always seems to have a different tale to tell when it comes to the hows and whys of things. That’s exactly the story when trying to find out the creation of Gallo Pinto, the delicious mixture of rice and beans generally served with your breakfast while on your Costa Rica Vacation.
Gallo pinto means “spotted rooster” in Spanish. Take a look at your next breakfast during your travel, and notice the multicolored specks of red pepper, cooked together with black or red beans and rice. This speckled appearance resembles a “gallo,” the homegrown roosters running around many Tico homes. Some say that the name comes from the old-type ritual of putting the rice and beans together on a tortilla (everything on a tortilla is called a “gallo”). Once again mixing the rice and beans with peppers together in this manner looks like the feathers of the spotted roosters in the area homes and farms.
Research shows the first mention of Gallo Pinto actually appeared in the book Mamita Yunai, written by Carlos Luis Fallas. This historic novel tells the tale of old-time banana plantation workers—both Costa Rican and Nicaraguan—who first mixed rice and beans together for their meals.
In Nicaragua, a story is told of Don Alfredo, a rich farmer who had a very healthy speckled rooster who he fattened up to eat. Don Alfredo went about the street bragging about this bird, and inviting everyone he saw to join in the meal with him. As the day approached, he realized the rooster might not be big enough to feed all those he invited to dine. Panicking, he asked his kitchen staff to cook a huge pile of rice and beans to supplement the meat. When the villagers arrived, they were disappointed with what they were served. Afterwards, they mocked the repast, asking each other, “Did you enjoy Don Alfredo’s Gallo Pinto?”
What makes Gallo Pinto so special and tasty is the fact that most of the time the rice and beans are mixed with the perfect spices. It is said that that’s the real story of Gallo Pinto: Someone realized that taking the leftover rice and beans from dinner the night before, and mixing them together with herbs, could make a tasty accompaniment to the eggs served with eggs for breakfast.