A painting in food: the rice is the texture, the beans the pigment. The softer the bean, the stronger the color. Like a brush on canvas, the beans color the rice, a mix of endless black and white of carbs.
This is why it’s called “gallo pinto”, or painted rooster. The quintessential tico food- as simple as it may seem- is a cultural symbol and a very nutritious one at that.
Its origins are obscure, but the dish is considered a product of the conglomeration of cultures during colonial times. Beans have been a staple in the America’s since before the continent was discovered by the Spanish, who brought rice. The way pinto is prepared can find its roots in African cuisine. Some believe its first version appeared with the arrival of African slaves into the continent. Yet, this is all theory. Nicaraguans claim it as their own, and Costa Ricans can’t shake off the urge to fight them back.
Regardless of origin or preparation—whether cilantro or sweet peppers are in the mix, or just plain rice and beans— there are some nutritional benefits about gallo pinto that you should know about.
To learn more about my personal favorite breakfast (or dinner, or everyday food) I talked to nutritionist Marianela Gonzales.
She told me that the number one beauty of gallo pinto is that it’s all natural, unprocessed food. Yes, this is a full meal that hasn’t suffered human intervention. In the same shape, it sprouts from the ground, its served on a plate. Experts believe that processed foods are detrimental to our body since our system doesn’t recognize the elements that processing adds such as preservatives and emulsifiers. These “add-ons” are what can affect our digestion and the overall workings of our organs.
The other great news about gallo pinto is that it’s considered a full meal, and a complete vegetable protein. Marianela explained to me that although gallo pinto’s protein input is lower in comparison to animal protein, it’s quality is top notch. The simple science behind this: The amino acids of rice, when mixed together with the amino acids of beans, unite to create a complete molecule of protein that is almost exactly equal to a molecule of animal protein. A feast for vegetarians and vegans. Also great for the ones who are gluten intolerant.
Marianela usually recommends between a dose half and one cup of daily gallo pinto, and always bits of advice to give your children gallo pinto for breakfast instead of something processed like cereal.
A tico breakfast is a well-rounded, nutritious plate that can fool you by its simple looks. Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, natilla, cheese and coffee. Eliminate the natilla and cheese and you have an unprocessed earthy, hearty meal.
So whether you live in Costa Rica or you are only here for a bit, take the gallo pinto home with you. Your stomach and heart will thank you.
Fun Fact: The Caribbean side of the country has its own version of gallo pinto, simply called “rice and beans”. It differs in preparation and adds coconut to the mix.
by Goldy Levy