Part of the fun when visiting a new country is learning a few of the local dishes. This gets even better when the chef is also the friendly neighbor.
According to our chef Victor, everything tastes better when cooked over an open fire and we have to agree, especially when washed down with a few cold Balboas.
The mainstays of Panamas comida typica is Plantain, Cassava, ñame and of course chicken pollo.
Patacones appear on every menu and thick slices of plantain, fired till golden then squashed and fried again. They are starchy, filling and a perfect accompaniamnet to Victor’s famous fish fry. The secret to the fish fry is his marinade.
Garlic & Culantro (Central Americas version of Cilantro) finely chopped then blended with salt curry powder and lots of lime juice. Score the fish so the marinade can penetrate and chill for a few hours. Dip in seasoned flour before deep-frying. When crispy and golden, drain and serve.
Sancocho de Jardin is also a Panamanian tradition, it means soup of the garden and most of its ingredients are found in gardens throughout Panama including the garden reared chicken.
The secret to a good Sancocho is the long cooking time, each ingredient is added separately and allowed to give up its flavors before the next is added.
Sancocho de Jardin
First bring a big heavy duty pot full of water to the boil add each ingredient in the order listed and enjoy.
- Two or three finely chopped red chillies (most chillies here are fairly mild) and a little finely chopped tomato.
- Half a onion and 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
- Chicken, skinned and chopped into chunks (feet, neck and head will often be included)
- 2 tsps salt. (to be authentic this should be a garden reared chicken, although it seems to work well with the store bought kind)
- Once the chicken is well cooked, add ñame (a ugly bulbous root vegetable, slimy when peeled and raw, yet delicious when cooked) also add a chicken stock cube and 4 culantro leaves roughly chopped.
- Once the ñame is cooked, serve immediately (overcooked ñame dissolves into shreds)
Serve up a big bowl with a pot of rice to hand as many people like to add rice to it.
When faced with a bowl for the first time you may be tempted to ask for a knife and fork, stick with tradition and use a spoon and your fingers. You will be back for more!
Thanks to Elaine and Daniel for sharing their home and introducing us to the best neighbors anyone could have. Thanks also to Victor, Ursula, and the rest of the family for making us feel so very welcome and sharing their recipes.
Hasta leugo mis amigos