What’s to eat? As straightforward a question as it may be, it seems to be one of the most open-ended, and for me hard to answer. Can’t quite say why. Leads to further questions like “What are you in the mood for?”, “What do you like to eat?” “What do the locals eat?” and an array of other torturous questions for my over-analytical brain.
Panama has been awesome! But if you’ve known me any, it’s a no-brainer that number one on the agenda is “What’s to eat?” Admittedly, our first stop wasn’t all that impressive, some diner in the middle of Panamá’s club scene, between its over cooked steak and undercooled pancakes. The next day, we ventured out to El Trapiche, a restaurant serving up an expansive menu of typical Panamanian fare. Redemption.
I arrived to Panama with a list of favorites I remembered from childhood, and a few others Grandma added on. Trapiche didn’t check them all off but as I gazed at the menu- my stomach grumbling- the pictures and familiar menu descriptions enticed me: caramañola, patacones, ceviche! I know you probably just see Spanish but I was reminded of… home- mostly memories of G’ma’s return trips from Panama.
I came across the the most effortless offering: Fiesta Panameña. “De todo, in poco” or “a little of everything”. It was a sampler platter with a number of “typical” favorites.
Arroz con pollo. Usually a one pot meal with browned chicken cooked in a pot with, rice, sofrito- caramelized onions and peppers- olives and capers. My sister remembers raisins?
Tamal de olla. A loose corn tamale served up in a bowl with spice and chicken.
Ropa vieja. Not sure I like the name-“old clothes”- but it’s stewed, shredded beef.
Patacones. Twice-fried green plantain (relative of the banana). Fried once to soften, pressed, and fried again to crisp. Also known as tostones.
Buñelo. Goes by a couple of other names but is comparable to a cross between fried polenta and hush puppies- a torpedo shaped, fried cornmeal dough.
Caramañola. Among my favorites, another delectable torpedo of a yuca (cassava/manioc) dough, stuffed with beef and fried!
Yuca frita. The same tuber mentioned above, a bit fibrous, but less starchier, perhaps sweeter and tastier than any potato I’ve tasted. Fried.
Chicharron. Fried pork rind.
Washed mine down with a local beer called Balboa, it was the best one I tasted in Panama. It had a refreshing crisp yet I found almost nutty and creamy- think coconut or even Cap’n Crunch. Ha.
All in all the meal, wasnt bad. It was a welcomed welcome back to some familiar flavors. But it didn’t quite hit home. Strangely, I’d return though. I’ll let you know when I get back in the kitchen to zero in on the flavors I’m aiming for.