Our Day at a Costa Rican Farmers Market
This past weekend, we took our weekly journey to the local feria. A Costa Rican farmer’s market is the best place to find good, local produce and even products like honey, cheese, and fresh squeezed juice, but there’s another highlight too: it’s cheap! They’re also really easy to find – go to almost any town or city in Costa Rica on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday and you’re likely to find one – just ask a local.
I’m an agriculture geek so I love seeing the small farms get together, 20 variety’s of mango, and picking out the perfect papaya while speaking to the farmer who planted the tree in the first place. It’s the perfect way to get to know the country’s fruits and vegetables (a lot of farmers will give you samples of a fruit if you’ve never had it!), practice your Spanish, and experience a part of the culture. While foreigners tend to shop at places like WalMart, Mas x Menos, of Fresh Market, those prices are simply out of reach for many Costa Ricans and don’t do anything for local businesses. These weekly markets are a way of life for most families in Costa Rica and it’s where you can get a sense of rural life even while in the city, eat the best and freshest ingredients, and get the most for your money.
With that in mind, we ventured to the Zapote Feria in San Jose. Armed with a list of (mostly vegetarian) meals for the week, the equivalent of $20.00 USD we joined the crowd under the tarp roofs and began browsing the outdoor aisles for the best, brightest, and most budget-friendly ingredients there.
Our Grocery List (Prices in local colones)
- 2 avocados ₡1.000 / $1.88
- 5 tomatoes ₡550 / $1.03
- 2 chayotes ₡200 / $0.38
- 3 yellow onions, 1 red ₡600 / $1.13
- small ginger root ₡100 / $o.19
- 4 heads of garlic ₡300 / $0.56
- 1 head of cabbage ₡200 / $0.38
- 2 heads of corn ₡250 / $0.47
- 4 potatoes ₡450 / $0.85
- large bag of green beans ₡400 / $0.75
- 18 bananas ₡450 / $0.85
- 4 red peppers ₡500 / $0.94
- 1 head of red lettuce, basil, two types of cilantro, and celery ₡1.000 / $1.88
The grand total for this week’s produce: ₡6.000 / $11.27
This was a good day at the market and the result of a little planning. Our pastry staples like rice and beans, lentils, chickpeas, rice noodles, eggs and tuna mean that this produce can go a long way for two people. In fact, it’s Wednesday, and we still have more than half of this left! We make everything from scratch and try to use as few packaged products as possible, going organic when we find it. We eat fresh fruit daily, and get our proteins early in the day, with small light dinners and very few desserts (a bit of dark chocolate, or some banana bread). We do cook typical Costa Rican dishes (gallo pinto, picadillos of chayote, cabbage, green beans, etc) but we change things up by making greek salads, fajitas, stir fry with peanut sauce, homemade pizzas and other less common dishes. 90% of the food we make can be cooked stove-top as we got used to not having an oven when we lived at the beach, and it keeps electricity costs down in our current house. We’re on a budget, and this is what we’ve found works for us! For less than $25/week we can afford all of our produce plus the other basics: milk, eggs, some chicken breasts, butter, and bread.
Another great thing about visiting a Costa Rican Farmer’s Market is the chance to try some local food. We went late (a good way to get lower prices since the farmers are just trying to get rid of their last products!) so we were ready for lunch by the time it was all packed in the car. We tried a delicious”Taquito” that was really more of an asian pork and cabbage eggroll, some fresh cut french fries, and two cold, creamy glasses of homeade horchata and “crema.” It hit the spot, and at just $4.00 for everything, we couldn’t complain.
What about you? Have you ever been to an open-air market in another country? Costa Rica? Your home town? Do you make a habit of it to keep costs down, or is it a special way to get outside and interact with your community? We would love to know about your experiences with ferias and farmers markets around the world!