On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I spent the better part of an afternoon driving through some of the most absurdly steep, narrow and pitted gravel roads you could imagine. After a little while, I stopped, stepped into a hole in the wall soda — the country’s equivalent to a diner — and ordered a club sandwich and fries. Dismayed to find the ketchup at the table to be disconcertingly sweet, I reached over to a nondescript bottle labeled “Lizano Salsa.” I lifted off the cap, took a whiff and dumped it on top of my fries. The next day I found a grocery store and proceeded to buy five bottles of the stuff to bring home.
Chances are, you’ve never seen Lizano Salsa in your local grocery. In Costa Rica, however, it’s ubiquitous. It was created in 1920 by a man from Alajuela, who, after trying Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, thought he could do better. His recipe, made from a combination water, sugar, salt, carrots, cucumbers, onions, cauliflowers and peppers, sounds like a mess on paper but the result is a delicious, thin-pouring savory-sweet sauce akin to HP Brown Sauce. Only better. Lizano is sweet, very tangy, a little smoky and has subtle lingering spiciness on the finish. It’s almost like an intersection of Worcestershire, BBQ sauce, ketchup and hot sauce all in one.
As such, it’s great on almost everything you’d want to slather in sauce. Chicken, fish, ribs, burgers, eggs, fries, tacos, you name it. It’s essential in making Gallo Pinto, Costa Rica’s take on rice and beans, and I’m told it makes a damn fine marinade.
Despite being around for nearly 100 years, Lizano has not seemed to catch on in the U.S. — I have yet to see it in an American supermarket, though you might have luck at a specialty food store. Of course, you could score a whopping 700mL bottle on Amazon for just under $6.