Eating Down South: The Panama Experience

Thursday, January 04, 2018

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The initial thought when Panama comes to mind is its inter-oceanic canal and a place where the informal commercial importers, traditionally referred to as higglers, would once frequent. Today, Panama has outgrown those stereotypical notions and is now known as one of the top destinations for food and shopping in the Americas. It is said that while people initially come to Panama to see the canals, they stay for the rest. Luckily for us Jamaicans, a visa is not required to visit; well not yet, at least!

Panama's cuisine is largely influenced by its diverse population of Hispanics, Native Indians, Americans and Afro-Caribbean migrants and is internationally known to be ultra-exotic.

A typical Panamanian meal usually includes lots of pork, coconut rice and beans complete with local fruits and vegetables such as yucca, squash and plantains. A popular dessert, which I highly recommend, is Pastel Tres Leches. This is a rich, creamy pudding-like cake made with three kinds of milk; a true favourite.

The fish market located at Avenida Central is informal street food at its best and a must-visit when in Panama. You will be entranced with its mesmeric displays of local fish and seafood, as well as the many stalls of restaurants. You have the option to choose from the display and have them prepare it or go à la carte. A local favourite is the ceviche. It is made from finely chopped raw fish, shrimp or conch mixed with onions and cilantro and marinated in lime juice: absolutamente delicioso!

Panama City's Casco Viejo is the historic district and is second to the canal in terms of tourist destination. It hosts world travellers, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians and a wide variety of restaurants and cafés; it is also where the president of Panama resides: at Palacio de las Garzas. Casco Viejo boasts historical monuments and museums as well as an impressive variety of day and night dining: Cafe Unido, Tantalo Kitchen, Fasa Suse Coffee House, Forever Yogurt and La Rwanda Dorado, to name a few. For sushi lovers there is a sushi restaurant on every street. This may seem surprising; however, the name Panama in local indigenous language means abundance of fish, so in actuality, it lives up to its name. Nacion Sushi Restaurant is highly recommended.

One of the culinary gems I explored was the Maito, which was voted Latin America's Best Restaurant of 2017. If you are up for ostentatious food served with arrogance, this is the place! The food was plated beautifully and the flavour combinations delectable. My taste buds were satiated with their degustation menu - the chef's suggestion was certainly unforgettable: Tuna Carpaccio. The Tuna was sliced paper-thin and parctically melted in your mouth.

Cochinita Pibil - a light grilled tortilla with the most delicately pulled pork.

Flambé Salmon with mango chutney —fresh salmon fillet flambé, done tableside, was visually tantalising, served with artisan mango chutney that bursts with the flavour of fresh mango.

Entraña Argentina Skirt Steak with the chimichurri freshly made — simply refreshing!

Papaya y chocolate — a delicious Panamanian pie of papaya with chocolate

So, if your next travel plans include a need to explore a destination with indigenous cultures, Spanish Colonial historical sites, vibrant city living that mimics a “Miami-style” mingled with city skyscrapers, high-end shopping and a variety of dining options, this is surely the place: a bridge between two continents. Take a look at Panama!




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