Back in November, in what already seems like an age ago I holidayed in Panama. A slightly odd choice of holiday destination but after the well trodden paths of Vietnam, Cambodia and India I was keen to try something a bit different and as my first foray into Central America Panama seemed a good place to start.
Panama is a beautiful country, typically Caribbean on the East and more diverse (a mix of colonial, European and Asian influence) and cosmopolitan on the West Pacific coast. We explored Panama City, Los Bocas and Boquete so a good mix of City and Old Town, Inland Jungle and Highlands and the chilled vibe of the Caribbean Coast.
Panamanian food is very mixed – steak features prominently, both local and South American cuts, lots of fresh seafood especially lobster which seems to be in abundance, plantain comes as the veg of choice be it fried, grilled, frittered (called patacones) or mashed and lots of arroz y frijoles (beans and rice).
Menus were very Western friendly and by that I mean they tended to err on the Mexican, Caribbean and American themes – lots of nachos, tacos, steak and chips and grills. Whilst you wont find the complexity of flavour I experienced in India, the commitment to identity of Italy or the variety of Vietnam, in Panama you can be assured of wholesome, well cooked, fresh meals.
For this blog post im going to share my tales of a few meals which i particularly enjoyed. (I wont tell you about one dish in particular which i didn’t really like – i ordered it by accident when my rusty Spanish caused me to get confused over the word rabito which means pig tail which i found very bony and fatty!).
I’m saving some stories for another blog as am keen to try some recipes myself! For instance, hojaldres which i ate with eggs for breakfast in Boquete – little savoury fried puff pastry discs, light and crisp to dip into runny egg yolk – a brilliant alternative to toast – which i would sum up with this word….yawn!
Anyway, back to my favourite Panama meals.
Firstly was our initiation into Panamanian food at The Coca Cola Cafe (see i told you it had Americanisms!) in Panama City where i ordered a house dish of Fried Fish with Rice. I was presented with tomato rice – sweet, spicy and topped with a tomato sauce packed with flavour. Next to this was a deep fried fish which is called corvina – similar in size to bass, fried whole – it was lovely and crisp on the outside with a delicate, flaky bright white flesh on the inside. Naturally this came with a side of grilled plantain and was a lovely first meal to get us going for our trip.
Iv done some research since getting back and Corvina is a typical food fish found in Central and South America. I am pretty sure that every time we ate fish out there it was corvina.
The next meal i want to tell you about isn’t Panamanian at all – we went Japanese! Los Bocas is a coastal town on the Caribbean side and is exactly what i would expect – beautiful colourful wooden buildings – each different from the next along the main street, music playing, sun shining, everyone is chilled and happy. The restaurant we went to for dinner (twice!) was called Raw and served the best ceviche i’ve ever tried! Bass topped with red onion, avocado, tomato, spring onion, chilli and black sesame seeds in a sweet and sour lemon and lime marinade accompanied by crisp tortilla chips was a bowl of delight and one which i would happily eat every day for the rest of my days!
One of my favourite meals was in Boquete at a cafe called Big Daddy’s. Their signature dish is fish tacos which are served with either fries or good old rice and beans. The fish was grilled and served in soft tacos with avocado mayonnaise, tomato salsa, cheese and jalapeños. Again this was a meal I ate twice as it was so tasty – punchy salsa, creamy mayonnaise and perfectly grilled fish (likely corvina again) all snuggled up in a light soft tortilla – i must try something like this at home!
Im not sure how Panama’s take on it’s neighbours’ dishes ranks against authentic Mexican Tacos, regional Argentinian steak and Caribbean stews but it was thoroughly enjoyable and as the offering was so varied and produce always fresh and cooked well I would recommend Panamanian food to you all!