Long Live the Caldosa
Costa Rica’s answer to Frito Pie.
The first time I had a caldosa was in Monteverde in 2018, from a little kiosk by the side of the road. Tropical farmer and chef José Gonzalez, who had the restaurant Al Mercat in San José at the time, ordered one for me. It might not have even been called a caldosa then and José just asked the guy in the booth if he had ceviche and to just dump some of it into an open bag of Picaritas, a commercial, rectangular corn chip with barbecue dust that’s not entirely unlike Fritos.
Since that time, the caldosa has quickly become full blown a national phenomenon. Or at least it seems that way. On my last trip to Costa Rica, I saw them being advertised everywhere. There were cars selling them out of their trunk in Playa Grande. There were stands selling them in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Restaurants were selling them. Grocery stores were advertising them alongside bags of Picaritas.
The recipe was allegedly invented in the 1990s by a schoolboy who asked for caldo de ceviche, essentially the juice at the bottom of a ceviche, aka leche de tigre, poured into his bag of Picaritas. It was at a bar and restaurant called Fory Fay in Palmares, in the Alajuela province northwest of San José. Every day the boy came by asking for this and eventually they started giving him a few scoops of ceviche in the bag too. Eventually, the boy brought his friends and they started doing the same.
After that, the owner of Fory Fay, Francisco Pacheco, started selling the concoction for sale as a Caldosa, which roughly translates to “soupy,” because it was more liquid than ceviche. Others soon started selling it in Palmares and in nearby San Ramón, and now, suddenly caldosas are everywhere. There are now multiple variations of the recipe. There’s a thing called Chichalcaldosas, which are a bag of Picaritas with chicharron and pico de gallo mixed in with it, as well caldosas with ceviches made of pejibaye or heart of palm.
The caldosa is not entirely different than Frito Pie, a recipe that was born in Texas. There, a bag of Fritos is opened and over them is a scoop of bean or beef chile and garnished with things like cheddar cheese, onions or jalapeños. You see them at sporting events and sometimes restaurants.
So, to make a Costa Rican caldosa, first you need a bag of chips. Picaritas are the most common, and they also have a spicy jalapeño version. Competing chips include Ranchitas, which are more like Doritos and dusted in cheese powder, and the spicy Jalapeños. Both of these are also trying to get in the Caldosa game.
The ceviche used is a common Costa Rican ceviche, which is often sold out of a jar. It’s small scraps of white fleshed fish, such as tilapia or sea bass, with some chopped purple onion, cilantro, green chile and tomato, plus lime juice and salt. It’s mixed and then refrigerated or placed in a cooler, and left to sit for 45 minutes plus.
When the caldosa is sold, the ceviche is scooped out and spooned into the bag of chips. As the name suggests, it’s generally soupy. There is usually more liquid than ceviche. Most vendors offer to squirt additional mayonnaise, ketchup and chile sauce with it.
I generally appreciate the addition of crunchy textures added to Peruvian ceviches, which might come in the form of fried calamari or cancha (toasted corn kernels). However, a caldosa is a bag of crunchy textures with the additional flavor of ceviche, so it is almost like a reverse ceviche. It’s a low brow summer snack that’s great to eat by the beach or pool.
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Join Itamae Miami's’s Valerie Chang and I next May on a tour of Peru through Modern Adventure. For 7 days and 6 nights, we will move from Lima to the Sacred Valley as we try to understand what makes Peruvian cuisine so special. We’ll visit some of the country’s top restaurants and bars, explore Andean farms and markets, cook in earthen ovens, tastes piscos and local wines, and much more. There will even be a partial hike of the Inca Trail en route to Machu Picchu. It will just be a small group and space is extremely limited. Bookings can be reserved now. Here’s the full itinerary.
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