Mama Toucan's is a fresh produce market, grocery and deli all in one space, just off the main north-south highway in the small Costa Rican Pacific Coast town of Dominical. It's unusual to find a store of this high quality and usefulness anyplace, anywhere in the world, in my experience, so we were completely surprised to come across it in a sleepy town of less than 400 people that only got it's main street paved late in 2018!
As well as selling organic fruit and veg the shop also carries vegan staples (nutritional yeast, Braggs ACV and aminos, TVP, etc.) for self catering at your hostel or apartment, a great many locally produced items such as kombucha, wine and cheese, and also a deli serving well priced snacks that we took for a picnic on the nearby beach. And on top of that, they also make their own vegan ice cream.
To give you a fuller idea of what's waiting for you at Mama Toucan's, here's a couple of videos we shot there. The first gives you a look at the shop and deli...
...and the second video was shot as we sampled some of the food from the deli.
We've heard it said by those living in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, that they want a Mama Toucan's there too as they've currently nothing like it (and neither does any other Costa Rican town we've visited). We echo their sentiments, as we haven't got anything like it in Toronto, either!
First up in the list of reasons why we think it's great; the service is excellent. It's as if the owner, Christopher, looked at what the service industry in North America is supposed to be like (and very rarely is, in my experience), and decided to live up to the ideal. The staff are confident, knowledgeable and skilled, much as they are at the café next door and restaurant over the road (Mono Congo and Phat Noodle, more about these 2 gems in later blog posts), they had all the answers and were a joy to deal with.
Second, the grocery is intelligently stocked with product from over 450 suppliers, there's every basic that a health food chef, vegan or conscientious shopper could want. Much of the fresh produce is organic, and when it isn't it's sourced from farms producing to organic standards, all of it free of 'artificial flavors, colours, preservatives, chemicals and bad vibes.'
Christopher talks good sense about the need for eating organic food in Costa Rica. The country has an international reputation of being something of a natural paradise so most tourists automatically think this means the locally grown fruit and veg are going to be of a high standard, and as good for your body as seeing a beautiful animal in the wild is for the soul. From our previous trips we'd discovered that this is far from the truth, though, and in fact Costa Rica is the number 1 user of pesticides in the world which means the fruit and veg you buy locally may taste better than the versions of it you have at home (because it's not traveling so far it doesn't have to be picked weeks before it's ripe, hence the enhanced taste) but it's certainly no less soaked in chemicals.
"Add to this the fact that much of the fresh produce people buy here comes from roadside stalls that take the brunt of traffic pollution, and it makes sense to eat organic," said Christopher. "There are some farmers, of course, who can't afford to get the organic certification. That's ok, as long as their fields are a certain distance from neighboring farms that use pesticides, and from the pollution that hangs around the roadside areas, then we'll consider selling what they grow."
I really appreciated hearing somebody talking the truth about this matter, for once. In my experience, vegan and health business owners are obsessed with being overly reasonable about just about any other businesses in their realm, regardless of how much damage that business is doing. Which is lovely for their own karma, but what about customers who are looking to them for advice and direction?!
Of course, I'm sad for those who are involved in the pesticide riddled, big-fruit trade, but unless we start an honest conversation about what it really costs to farm in huge plantations as companies like Del Monte and Dole do (poisoned workers, destroyed landscapes and much more) then I don't think we're going to make things any better. So to hear Christopher say what we already knew, that even in Costa Rica you need to eat organic, made me happy. Here's a young person operating an admirable business, and not forgetting to tell the truth along the way. Inspiring.
We needed to quench a big thirst (we'd just been for a 3-hour rainforest hike at the nearby Hacienda Baru and it was a clear, hot day) so started with a cold apple juice...
...and then grabbed a pizza, some spring rolls and a salad for our lunch, all vegan, well presented and tasty with a decent range of textures and flavours.
Meals from the deli goods are well priced, about the same as the regular mid range restaurants on the Costa Rican coast but of a higher quality in my opinion. This is probably partly due to the varying influences that Christopher and his mentors were exposed to whilst working at top-end restaurants and hotels around the world. I often find this, the best restaurants I've been too are rarely the most expensive, instead it's the places where the managers and chefs have world experience that stand out.
An added bonus of deli food is that you can eat it wherever you want. We snacked straight away outside the shop...
...and then finished it off on the beach, 10 minutes walk away. It's worth showing you a couple of photos of the route to the beach, and the beach itself, as it'll give you a bigger idea of just what an amazing experience it is to eat such high quality food in one of the best beach locations, anywhere.
Some guide books say Dominical is a chilled surfer hangout by day but a dangerous, druggy sort of place by night. We stayed in the area for 8 days recently and would say that whilst that may have been true years ago, it's certainly not now. The surfers are still there but it's always chilled, always calm and friendly, and the beach is every bit as unspoilt and peaceful as my photos make it look.
As of January 2019, Mama Toucan's have started serving vegan desserts as well as ice cream, another tasty reason to pay them a visit!
Please consider checking Mama Toucan's out if you're in the Dominical area. I want you to have a great trip in this most beautiful of areas, and getting your picnics or self catering supplies here will go some way to making that happen!
Check out Mama Toucans on Facebook!