Hola! As I’m sure all you loyal ES-ers noticed, I was totally MIA last week. Thanks to all you contributors for picking up the slack while I was off chillaxing in the Caribbean. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how mad I am to be in front of a computer and not on the beach right now. I’m also sure no one feels the slightest bit bad for me. If it’s any consolation, a large section of my forehead is peeling off as I type (it’s not easy being this white!)
OK, enough about non-edible topics. Let’s talk food. A bunch of people had told me that Central American food outside of Mexico can be disappointingly bland. This was not remotely the case in Panama. Sometimes it was really simple, like plain black beans over plain white rice with a simple slab of beef or chicken, but it was always tasty and there was almost always some spicy chili sauce on the table to add. On with the show:
Carimañolas are a Panamanian specialty. Boiled yuca, stuffed with ground beef and deep fried. Effing delicious. It’s like a fried mashed potato bite with a juicy meatball inside. Proving once again that anything can be improved by deep-frying it.
Far and away our favorite thing. We kept going back to this tiny little counter place to pick up more of these “tortillas.” They’re little deep-fried balls of cornmeal, kinda like hushpuppies but even greasier and more filling. I thought it was weird that they were called tortillas but I guess when you think about it that just means “little cake” so it works. By the end of the week we were totally regulars with the lady who sold these.
Mas fotos despues del jumpo…
Yes, that is a Cuba Libre in the background. Some of you may have seen this in other locales. 50-cents for a pre-made rum and coke in a can. Actually I should probably say something resembling rum and something resembling coke. Not delicious; not nutritious; most definitely amazing.
We had a couple of nice ceviches, including a great shrimp one. Yes! I love shrimp ceviche, even though I still don’t quite like cooked shrimp. I don’t get it, don’t ask me to explain.
And this ceviche has octopus too! Hells yeah!
There are a lot of Afro-Caribbean people in Panama and that’s probably why the food has a bit more flair than some other Central American countries. This fish (no idea what kind…just ‘fish’) was slathered in some kind of curry spice blend and topped with these juicy, cumin-y onions that we saw a few more times. Oh, and coco bread, a simple, fluffy biscuit made with coconut water, is everywhere.
The fish was so tender it literally fell off the bone…no fork required.
Another Caribbean-influenced Panamanian specialty – Ropa Vieja – shredded flank steak doused in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s super-moist and not chewy at all, exactly how you always want shredded beef to taste but rarely does. And yes, they serve everything with coleslaw. Did not see that one coming, but it provides a perfect cooling-off point between spicy bites.
Didn’t find out about these badass Panamanian sandwiches until the last day, but damn am I glad I did. Hojaldres are fried flour fritters — think fry bread — piled high with roast pork, veggies and mustard.