Anyone who knows me knows that I am a lover of all foods. By no means a picky eater, I will try anything once, and there are no foods that I can say that I refuse to eat. So, true to form, I’m exploring and embracing the Panamanian cuisine and ‘food culture’.
For the most part, I’m making most of my own food at home. Panama has a wealth of restaurants that could serve you anything you want, but I’m finding that it’s more fun to explore and create yummy treats for myself; it brings a sense of accomplishment. And it’s good for the budget.
As an alternative to restaurants and eating out, you can frequent the supermarkets as well as the public farmers’ markets. The fish market in Panama in Panama City is considered a landmark in itself, and I did make sure to visit it in my first few days here; though I’m not particularly a ‘fishy’ person, it was still an experience in itself.
The official farmers’ market is located on the edge of the city, and a bit of a drive. There are alleyways upon alleyways that form a maze of dirt roads lined with men and women selling the fruits and vegetables (and some beans as well) that are in season. Less of a drive, you’ll also see individuals selling fruits and vegetables along the side of the road all over the city; obviously there’s less variety, but the food is fresh and cheap.
I’m going to the supermarket once a week. There’s a great selection of foods, but the first thing I noticed was the price difference between local foods and imported foods. Right beside one another, a bag of carrots from California and locally grown carrots; California carrots cost $4 a pound, while the local carrots are $0.39 a pound. What’s the difference!? Who knows; I’m not paying $4 for 6 carrots.. and my Spanish isn’t good enough yet to ask. But getting the young man who bags my groceries to walk three block with the cart full of my groceries for only a few dollars is pretty awesome…and even more awesome when he’s willing to tie the bags and walk with me, umbrella-less, in the rain. A couple bucks for that kind of delivery service is more than worth it, and makes me feel pretty special too 🙂
When it comes to prepared food, typically, Panamanians eat simply; not a whole lot of spices, but everything is fried. Empanadas, fried chicken, and yuca (aka cassava) chips are common and plentiful. Every meal has fried plantains, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Seafood is also very common, since Panama is bordered by two oceans. Even so, “ropa vieja” is a beef stew that’s a common lunchtime food, eaten with rice and beans, which are also typical lunch side dishes.
Traditional Panamanian food could include ceviche, chunks of raw seafood (typically corvina, a white fish), that is ‘cooked’ in lime juice and onion chunks, and served cold. A more traditional drink, had by Panamanians living in the countryside, is chicheme (pronounced “chee-CHEM-eh”). Chicheme is made with milk and corn, and either some fruit or vanilla; the best way I can describe the drink is liquefied rice pudding. It was tasty and filling, but the mashed corn added a texture to it that I know would make the drink an acquired taste to many individuals.
If the fried plantain, raw fish, and liquefied rice pudding, and rice and beans don’t do it for you, I’ve yet to go a few kilometers without seeing those glorified globalized golden arches that mean you can get a big mac meal. There are also KFC’s and Domino’s Pizzas in abundance; and they deliver in Panama too! No Tim Horton’s or Starbuck’s however. Starbucks is rumoured to be coming to Panama in a few months’ time…a good excuse to visit again after my internship is finished.
My favourite place for food (if you can call ice cream food) is a small ice cream parlor around the corner to my apartment, called Antica. Homemade ice cream… best tasting stuff ever. At a dollar per scoop it’s a steal, and for this stuff I’d definitely be willing to pay more. In a steamy tropical climate, Antica ice cream makes it a real paradise. I’m sampling a different flavour each week.