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The country is full of well-known sodas

Anyone for a Costa Rican soda?

By Joaquin Dueñas*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

This is one Costa Rican dining experience that you don’t want to miss!

“Every new journey transforms the traveler.” That quote from Ghanaian author Lailah Gifty Akita is the perfect segue into any conversation about typical Costa Rican cuisine. While the food itself is always a treat, it is the cultural journey of eating at a soda that wields the power to transform the traveler.

Essentially, Costa Rica offers two very different kinds of dining experiences to choose from. On one hand, the standard sit-down restaurant concept is abundant in its offerings from fine 
dining and international cuisine to typical American fare. In fact, for the really homesick junk-food junky, a quick stop at Friday's, Applebees, Popeye's Chicken or Carl Jr.'s can help satisfy the craving.

On the other hand, for those seeking a cultural and culinary awakening, there is nothing quite like the experience offered at a soda. In Costa Rica, and in many neighboring countries, a soda is best described as something like a collision between a restaurant, a fast-food joint and a cafeteria. And, while the experience itself is a 
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
A typical casado
journey that all travelers should make, the true reward is in the hearty, inexpensive local cuisine that awaits them.

The first thing they will notice when entering a soda is that the décor is a little more basic than the typical restaurant with a kind of mix and match approach to interior design. But typical restaurant chic is not the only thing that isn’t on the menu. Neither is the food! No worries though, because a friendly Tico server will be more than happy to walk a diner through the options, which generally consist of chicken, pork, fish, beef or shrimp based meals.

Once settled into the warm and casual ambiance of a soda, the reason for the journey comes into clear focus as the menu-less fare begins to arrive. While sodas may lack the bells and whistles of a typical family restaurant, they double down on serving savory homemade meals made from fresh, local ingredients. In the kitchen, the typico selection of poultry, meat or fish is converted into a basic plate called a casado, which translates into marriage. That marriage generally consists of a mix of rice, beans and salad, as well as individual soda variations that might include fried plantain, mashed potatoes, fried eggs or picadillo, a chopped vegetable salad made with chayote, potatoes, herbs and spices.

Costa Rican sodas offer delicious, homemade food, at very appealing prices, and a visitor will not need to journey far to find one. While some sodas offer chalkboard menus to help their unaccustomed guests, forgoing the written word is an experience that will leave a visitor with a true appreciation of verbal communication and the naturally friendly disposition of Ticos.
-- June 5, 2016

* Mr. Dueñas is a businessman with a fondness for studying the local cuisine.

U.S. expats can get embassy benefit letter by email

By the A.M. Newspapers staff

There is good news for U.S. expats who might have to prove their income to acquire residency or even a mortgage.

The Federal Benefit Unit at the U.S. Embassy said it has simplified the process for verifying Social Security and other government benefits for Costa Rican immigration purposes. The government will accept email requests and make a follow-up telephone call to confirm the requestor’s identity.

The embassy said that the document commonly is called a proof of income letter,  a budget letter, a benefits letter or a proof of award letter.

The letter is an official report on money an expat might be getting from the U.S. Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, the Railroad Retirement Board or the Office of Personnel Management/Civil Service Retirement. Until now, a personal embassy visit was required.

The email document is being accepted by the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjeria, according to Javier Zavaleta of Residency in Costa Rica, who gave the first notice of the new procedure.
-- June 5, 2016

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