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Jungle-to-table Dining at Dolphin Quest, Costa Rica

By Reagan Fountain


Food in Costa Rica

When I first heard about the opportunity to visit Dolphin Quest, a family-run lodge in Golfo Dolce, Costa Rica, with #UNLITTER, I expected it to be a fun vacation of sorts - a nice change of scenery paired with some adrenaline-inducing activities. However, the impact was much more profound than I would’ve ever imagined.


I thought I would be leaving with a handful of cool travel anecdotes to share, but I was left with a far greater gift: the roadmap to inspiring and teaching others to lead a more connected and fulfilling existence through a mutualistic relationship with nature.


Group of people enjoying dinner in Costa Rica

Dolphin Quest and #UNLITTER share the desire to show people a more harmonious way of living that benefits us AND the Earth. The immersive, hands-on nature of the three garden-to-table meals lovingly prepared for us each day and the harvesting tour (highlighted at the end of this post) served as a testament to the array of nutritional and environmental benefits that come from a more intentional and sustainable way of living. 


These experiences taught us the most significant change we can make to help ALL beings (not just humans) is through the one thing that connects us all: FOOD. 


Food buffet in Costa Rica

Upon landing in San Jose, our first taste of the country was a five-hour drive to Golfito in a freezing cold van. However, our bones and hearts were instantly warmed (and our bellies eventually full) with our first glimpse into the friendly culture: a traditional Costa-Rican breakfast. 


Eating fruit in Costa Rica

The initial dish of fresh papaya, pineapple, star fruit, and watermelon that greeted us upon exit of the van would’ve been more than enough. Still, we had no problem making room when the nice man preparing our food ushered out another plate for each of us: 


Breakfast in Costa Rica

Our second course consisted of: 

  • Rice and beans

  • Scrambled eggs (which I pawned off to my non-vegan friend, Madi)

  • Grilled plantain

  • A generous wedge of a giant avocado

  • Lizano salsa (which happens to be the ONLY thing my dad requested when I asked what he would like me to bring back for him)

  • And a flavorful mix of pickled vegetables 


Costa Rican pickled vegetables

Immunity Shots


Each day, after waking to the calls of howler monkeys and being summoned to breakfast by the blowing of a conch shell, we began our mornings with four immune-boosting shots made with various medicinal plants and superfoods grown on the property. 


Costa Rican immunity shots

We enjoyed seeing the leaves of the different plants and reading the laminated fact sheets detailing the superfood ingredients in each drink. Learning about the benefits, micronutrients, and antioxidant properties of our food proved to be much more interesting than scrutinizing a label over carb and calorie count. 


From back to front (and from what I can remember) the bottles contained:

  • A clear shot with the appearance and consistency of water, but with a far more bitter taste (good for digestion)

  • Homemade pineapple kombucha 

  • Turmeric, ginger and lemon shot (there may have been more ingredients) to help reduce inflammation and cholesterol and support cardiovascular health 

  • Another homemade kombucha 

  • Noni shot (blended with pineapple and banana to make it palatable) 


Our friends at Dolphin Quest described the Noni fruit as having a smell and taste similar to that of dirty socks or throw up.” 


However, it’s so nutrient-dense and full of healing properties that even the disturbing flavor profile description isn’t a good enough excuse not to try it. We got it down with a quick cheers and a chug. It actually isn’t that bad when you plug your nose. Still, we were happy to use the vinegary kombucha as a palate cleanser. 


This smelly superfruit also makes for a killer alternative shampoo, as long as you're okay with being a mouth breather while massaging the strange fruit into your scalp. 


Breakfast 


Although different from what we were used to, the warm bowls of carrot-cake-flavored oatmeal and fresh fruits in front of us surprisingly didn’t trigger cravings for sugary, processed cereal. Rather, a radically different idea drifted through our minds altogether: “Why can’t every day start like this?” 


Maybe it’s because this was my first breakfast at Dolphin Quest, maybe it’s the fact this meal fueled us for a rainforest hike to a breathtaking waterfall, or perhaps the oatmeal was simply THAT delectable… whatever it may be, this simple dish has found itself a worthy slot among my favorite breakfasts of all time


I tried not to look too eager or irrationally ravenous as I adorned my plate with: 

  • Oatmeal (carrots, raisins, cinnamon, banana and lots more yumminess)

  • Three slices of grilled zucchini 

  • Fresh papaya and pineapple 

  • And one adorable baby banana  


Richie, the main chef, clearly knows he’s onto something with that oatmeal, as it remained the common denominator among our morning meals, along with the powerhouse duo of pineapple and papaya. 


That being said, they continued to surprise and delight us with the addition of: 

  • Seasoned rice and chickpeas 

  • Grilled tomatoes 

  • Mangosteens picked fresh from the tree 


Lunch 


Food plate in Costa Rica

One of my favorite meals included: 

  • Sautéed greens with sesame seeds

  • Chickpeas and rice

  • Green Lentils 

  • Green papaya curry 

  • Fresh papaya 

  • A wedge of avocado 

  • A salad of various herbs/ greens from the garden served with sliced cucumber and homemade papaya citrus dressing 

  • Vegan Ceviche made with young coconut meat


At this point, everyone started to get very excited about our daily means and even felt inspired to start our own gardens of fresh food when we got back home. 


 After just a few days on the island, we began to noticed indicators of an increased state of well-being we didn’t realize was possible. Our eyesight improved, our energy levels elevated, and our moods, digestion, skin, sleep, and health were just better overall. 


When speculating over which factor had the most influence over our group’s improved vitality, we intuitively knew the answer was FOOD. 


Having realized this, the following morning we served ourselves with a renewed sense of gratitude for each ingredient: 


  • Freshly fried plantain and root veggie chips

  • Wedges of a custardy fruit reminiscent of banana cheesecake 

  • Fresh papaya 

  • A stick of sugarcane (a fan favorite)

  • Green papaya curry 

  • Lentils and rice 

  • Another amazing salad topped with fresh tomato 

  • Stewed greens w/ sesame seeds & red bell pepper 

  • Mangosteens


Costa Rican mangosteen

If you’ve never had mangosteen, that alone is reason enough to go on this trip. You could hedge your bets and hope you get lucky one day at some bougie farmer's market in the States, but I’d wager the Costa Rican mangosteens growing in Dolphin Quest’s backyard would be far more satisfying. 


Dinner 


While the premium food-photo lighting may have set with the sun, I assure you that our moonlit dinners were just as delicious, nourishing, plentiful and beautiful as our daytime dishes. 


Costa Rican food

Jazah and Reymar, who had been away visiting family for the 4th of July when we arrived, filled us in on Dolphin Quest’s history while we filled our bellies with: 

  • Veggie fried rice 

  • Black bean patties 

  • Two kinds of roasted potatoes (the yellow one was my favorite)

  • And, of course, no meal is complete without one of Richie’s famous side salads 


Harvesting tour


Thankfully, I’ve saved the best for last. Even better than desert, this bit is far sweeter: the harvesting tour. 


Empty coconuts in Costa Rica

It’s one thing to have incredible, jungle-to-table, plant-based food prepared for you each day. However, if our initiation into the world of sustainable living and eating would’ve ended there, the lessons we’d learned would eventually fade into the distance along with our imminent departure. 


Knowing we craved to learn about the fruits as much as we craved to taste them, Olman, a Dolphin Quest employee born and raised in Costa Rica, had an enthusiastic story for each plant and was eager to share everything he’d learned in his years growing up alongside the jungle. 


Harvesting fruits in Costa Rica

We drank the water and ate the meat from fresh young coconuts, watched Olman expertly wield a machete, like Luke with his lightsaber, to get us fresh sugar cane, and raided tree branches for a cornucopia of tropical fruits. 


Among them were yellow rambutans, which look like spiky yellow balls on the outside. When peeled, a small and fragrant white-fleshed fruit with the texture of a grape is found inside. They were so addictive I decided to go on a solo harvesting tour later that day to gather more to share with the group. 


We were shown how and when to harvest each plant, the health benefits they provide, and confirmed that they were all, in fact, delicious. 


Most importantly, the harvesting tour not only showcased the unique qualities of each plant, but told a story of how they came together to form the platefuls of flavorful food we ate each day. 


Ironically, Dolphin Quest unlocked the keys to our hearts through our stomachs. After living on a bountiful diet of nourishing, delicious food, we understood that this way of eating doesn’t sacrifice flavor. 


If anything, the organic produce tasted far better than the American alternative. I’m sure the fact that one is pumped with pesticides, wrapped in plastic and bought from the supermarket, and the other picked from a natural garden in the jungle, may have something to do with it. 


The Lesson Learned? 


Without plants, there are no people. 


We are the inhale to their exhale, the oxygen to their CO2. 


We are all connected. If our planet suffers, we do too. 


After all, if you don’t help the trees, how can they help you? 



All images by Reagan Fountain


Writer Contact: 

Reagan Fountain

Vegan Food Instagram: @Vegoutlook 

Personal Instagram: @Reagan.Rileyy 


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