If you ask any Costa Rican to describe his country, the answer you will always get is: pura vida! Indeed, it is with joy and happiness that Ticos welcome you to their country to the sound of pura vida. And these bolitas de coco really represent this way of life.
This expression, very popular and positively associated with Costa Rica, literally means “pure life” or “good life”. It is the symbol of a simple and happy life philosophy: enjoying your life time on Earth, taking advantage of every moment life gives you, all in a spirit of perseverance. Those two words, used by everyone, are also synonymous with a way of life in a country where people take the time to enjoy life, and with a constant smile on their face!
Although pura means “pure” and vida means “life”, the term can have several translations and interpretations, as “full of life”, “this is the real life”, “this is the life “, “awesome” or also be a greeting or a goodbye.
Indeed, Costa Rica is definitely the country of happiness.
Actually, with an index of 64.4, Costa Rica has the highest HPI (Happy Planet Index) in the world. According to a recent study by the New Economics Foundation, a British institute that ranks 143 countries according to their happiness index, it is in Costa Rica that people see life through rose-colored glasses and that is apparently where we should all move to!
And obviously, Latin American people are especially happy as the top 10 of happiest countries includes, besides Costa Rica, Colombia (3rd), Belize (4th), El Salvador (5th), Jamaica (6th), Panama (7th), Nicaragua (8th), Venezuela (9th) and Guatemala (10th). People are also rather happy in Vietnam which ranks second.
There are a lot of coconut balls recipes worldwide but the bolitas de coco combine two interesting ingredients: condensed milk and biscuits.
The biscuits traditionally used for bolitas de coco are galletas Maria (Marie biscuits), the same ones that are used for Portuguese salame de chocolate or bolo de bolacha. Graham crackers are also often used as a substitute for this recipe.
Galletas Maria are actually originally from England. This cookie was invented by the biscuit manufacturer Freans Peek in 1874 in honor of the marriage of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia to Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. They became popular throughout Europe, especially in Spain where they became a symbol of the country’s economic recovery following the Civil War, after mass production by the manufacturers thanks to a surplus of wheat.
The origin of the cracker is an interesting story! If you think Graham cracker was originally invented to make melted chocolate or jam sandwiches, then you are wrong!
It was invented in 1800 by a Presbyterian minister named Sylvester Graham. Mr. Graham, who constantly advocated a vegetarian diet and good sleep invented this cracker to put the world on the path of God and tame the carnal desires of everyone. He was convinced that lust could cause diseases such as tuberculosis, spinal ache, epilepsy and madness.
Originally, Graham cracker was a bland biscuit with ingredients that its inventor considered “healthy” as he believed that a strict vegetarian diet would help calm carnal urges. He constantly pleaded for a meat-free diet, rich in fiber as a means to fight against all these desires.
Sylvester Graham might turn in his grave if he knew how different Graham crackers and morals are today!
So… Before wishing you to be happy as a Costa Rican and live life to the fullest, I only have two words for you: pura vida and enjoy those bolitas de coco!
This recipe is validated by Chef Randy Siles Leandro, first Ambassador of Costa Rica’s National Plan for Sustainable and Healthy Gastronomy. Randy is the owner and creator of OS restaurant, cofounder of Autóktono and founder of Academia Artesanos de la Gastronomía in Costa Rica.
- 2 cups sweetened condensed milk
- 8 oz. shredded coconut
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 30 Graham crackers biscuits (or galletas Marias), pulverized
- Heat the butter and condensed milk in a large non-stick saucepan over medium heat.
- Add 6 oz of grated coconut and stir well.
- Remove from heat and stir in the pulverized biscuits.
Put the saucepan back on the heat and stir until the mixture is very thick and detaches completely from the bottom and sides of the pot.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Form small balls of about ½ oz each.
- Roll them in the remaining grated coconut.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.