One of the things I enjoy about traveling is the wide variety of foods we get to try. I knew absolutely nothing about Panamanian food, so each meal has been a learning experience. Sometimes we just order something, having no idea what it's going to be; other times we're misunderstood and end up with something altogether different then what we expected. Most of the inexpensive restaurants here seem to by cafeteria style, with large containers of rice, lentils, chicken, maybe a beef stew, greasy spaghetti, cassava, and some fried foods. There are many other things as well, but these seem to be the common ones. There is also a delicious chicken soup called sancocho, which is mild and slightly thick from chunks of cassava. (You can try it at home using this recipe, substituting potatoes if you can't find yuca or cassava!) It's apparently the national dish of Panama. Sandwiches can also be ordered at many of these little eateries. The food here is not at all spicy, but the meat dishes are flavorful. Many vegetables don't grow well here so they don't feature prominently in the diet, but fresh, tropical fruits are abundant.
One things I haven't seen a lot of is street food. In Mexico, it seems there are always little carts selling tacos, tamales, churros, and more, and I thought I'd find more of that here. Today we went on a walk to Avenida Central, a main shopping area nearby. It's an interesting area, one we've been told to avoid after dark. An earnest old woman came up and communicated to us sternly that we must keep our eyes on our bags and our children, and that it's okay during the day but not at night. Most of the street is closed to traffic and filled with people. Shops of all kinds line both sides of the street, and outside people sell their wares on tables and blankets. It seemed like you could find just about anything you might want there, and it was most definitely off the beaten tourist track. It was here that we found our street food: old men pushing carts, young men grilling skewers of meat, hot dog and hamburger stands, carts with a large block of ice being shaved for raspados, ice cream, fruit juices and more. We ate lunch as we walked along the street, sampling different things as we went along.
|None of the kids were too fond of the young coconut meat, which was still tender. They all tried it though, and I didn't mind that they didn't like it because I got to eat the rest!|
|Pearl was the only one of the kids who enjoyed the mango. She gnawed for quite a while on the pit, getting off every last morsel of flesh.|
|He was so excited with his purchases! The fish looked absolutely unappetizing to me, but he, Raphael, and Pearl ate it up. It came with a slice of a citrus fruit that was green on the outside, orange on the inside and very, very sour!|
|He very kindly gave Pearl the head. That was after he hand-fed her the eyeball. She munched happily on the head for quite a while. I'm glad my kids are developing such adventurous pallets.|
|We shared several cups of jugos, or juices. They all seem to be freshly juiced, but then mixed with water and sweetened. We tried piña, a fruit and veggie blend that included carrots and beets, and my favorite, naranja con raspadura. I know that naranjas are oranges, but the juice is a dark color and tastes much like honey and I wondered what raspaduras are. I looked it up last night and learned that it is unrefined cane sugar, full of all the natural minerals that get stripped out when they make it into white sugar. Here is a fascinating post about how raspadura is traditionally made here in Panama. Cost per cup- about sixty cents.|
|Another refreshing treat on the street is batidos, fresh fruit milkshakes. They are blended with fruit, ice, milk, vanilla, and sugar. They are about $1.50 each.|