As many savvy travellers know, one of the best ways to experience a new country and its culture is through its food. The same would hold true for Panama, whose many influences on the plate reflect perfectly the melting pot of Spanish, African and Caribbean influences in its people.
Panamanian food is accessible, flavourful and speaks to its surroundings more so than it does to any haute cuisine/Alta cocina principles (though this is changing in some remarkable ways). For the most part, true reflections of the local flavours are to be found at the fondas, the roadside food stands that are commonplace across the country. For those who like their dining in more comfortable surroundings, one of the best and most authentic eateries is Diablicos, found in the Casco Viejo – old town Panama City. We strongly suggest you work up an appetite walking around the charming old town first as Panamanian Food is largely fried and, at Diablicos, plentiful to boot.
Step out of the humidity and cool off with a Balboa, a locally brewed beer that is refreshing yet flavourful. As is oft the case with new experiences, they are best when shared and this is definitely the case here as the menu boasts too many local favourites for any one dish to hold your taste buds’ attention longer than it takes for your eye to stray longingly to your neighbour’s meal. Start off with Ceviche de Corvina, the local fish of choice, served in deep fried plantain cups. Corvina, which is plentiful in the local waters and is related to the white sea bass, has a soft white flesh and delicate flavour that makes it a fabulous candidate for ceviche. Carimañolas de Chicharron are another local favourite not to be missed. These golden crisp yucca croquettes are fluffy inside, yielding a delicious and mildly spiced pork stuffing – perfect for sharing.
The mainstay of our meal, however, was the restaurant specialty Pescado a la Chorrillera – literally fish done chorrillera style, entailing the deep frying of a whole well seasoned fish. This is served with a green banana mash, yucca chips and a fruit based salsa. Though we are feeling fully satisfied at this point, we cannot resist the Torta de Guineo – a plantain based cake, and, despite the heat, we enjoy a delicious cup of the locally grown coffee – not to be missed. For an added cultural kick, visit Diablicos on a weekend and be treated to a folkloric show, replete with live music and traditional dancers. Buen Provecho!
By: Mario Stojanac and Mary Luz Mejia