Panama

Panama City brings the world’s flavors to its tables

 

The New York Times

One hundred years after the opening of the Panama Canal — which continues to bring in immigrants of different ethnicities whose foods dominate Panama City’s culinary scene — a new Panamanian cuisine is emerging, one that looks inward while embracing its diversity.

Panama City, admittedly, has very few original dishes. You are more likely to dine on spanakopita or chow mein than saus, pickled pig’s feet or the chicken stew called sancocho. That’s changing. Everywhere you look, ambitious young chefs and entrepreneurs are adapting local ingredients to global trends, ranging from Southern barbecue to Japanese-Peruvian fusion.

The movement is being pushed along by Panama Gastronomica, an annual event since 2010 that brings in foreign chefs to Panama City to lecture culinary students. The late August conference is set within a larger, public festival that showcases Panamanian restaurants and products, ranging from food trucks like La Tapa de Coco selling Afro-Panamanian dishes to Proyecto Paila, a forward-thinking culinary collective, selling hot sauces made from the native ají chombo pepper.

“We have all the elements to inspire us: products, a beautiful country with history, a group of restless chefs from diverse backgrounds,” said Elena Hernández, president of Panama Gastronomica, who runs a cooking school. “It’s a historical moment in which cuisine has become very important.”

The Spanish chef Andrés Madrigal once helmed various Madrid restaurants such as Balzac and Alboroque. Last August, he opened Madrigal (Avenida A at Calle Fifth Oeste; 507-211-1956) in a beautifully renovated two-level building in the Casco Viejo historic district. Surprisingly 90 percent of the ingredients are Panamanian, like the little-known root vegetable otoe, but he’s putting his own spin on them, like creating an inverse cheese tart inspired by the Valle de Antón, a town in the crater of an inactive volcano ($8), with chocolate crumbles standing in for volcanic soil that’s topped with edible flowers.

At Humo (Calle 70 Este, at Avenida 5C Sur; 507-203-7313; humopanama.com) in the San Francisco neighborhood, the owner and the executive chef Mario Castrellón adapts American barbecue to Panamanian ingredients. You'll find brisket that has been smoked with nance wood ($17) and farm-raised octopus with sugar cane syrup ($11).

Much of the produce comes from Castrellón’s 4-year-old restaurant Maito (Calle 50E and Calle 79E; 507-391-4657; maitopanama.com) nearby, which has an organic garden of more than 1,000 square feet, growing culantro, ají chombo, ñame (a root vegetable) and micro sprouts.

The restaurant offers 10-course-tasting menus ($50) reflecting the history of the canal, incorporating the ethnicities involved in its creation and the plants and animals around it, in dishes like Ta-Bien, a banana-leaf-wrapped Afro-Antillean seafood stew-filled tamal, and wonton soup flavored with achiote.

“All of the people that passed through left us with a bit of their culture,” Castrellón said. “The Chinese gave us bistec picado. Antilleans gave us our tasty octopus with coconut. The Spanish our sancochado.”

Read more Latin American & Caribbean Travel stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
A detail of the carving on one of the ancient temples at Palenque.

    Mexico

    At last, a soaring look at Palenque’s Mayan ruins

    From seat 7A, I look down to see miles of dense rain forest blanketing the ground below me. I’m 10,000 feet above the Mexican state of Chiapas, coming in for a landing at Palenque, where an ancient Mesoamerican city flourished for five centuries, until its Mayan inhabitants mysteriously abandoned it, leaving their temples, homes and palaces to be reclaimed by the encroaching forest, not to be rediscovered for nearly 900 years.

  •  
Beaches in Puerto Rico are a little cheaper with off-season deals later summer and fall.

    Travelwise

    It’s deal time in the Caribbean

    Summer is winding down, and autumn soon will be upon us, with kids back to school and people who take their vacations in summer back to work. In the Caribbean, that means good deals in the offing as the islands vie to attract travelers in the off-season.

  •  
A vendor serves a selection of pan-sauteed grasshoppers at the Mercado San Juan in Mexico City.

    Quick trips: Mexico

    The culinary magic of Mexico City

    How integral is food to Mexico City’s culture? My taxi driver from the airport offered me a plate of her chicken tinga tacos. From a covered platter she kept inside her cab. She didn’t try to sell them to me. She wanted to give them to me, to welcome me with a taste of her native Mexico City. And maybe to show off a little for the food writer.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK



  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category