A lucky group will embark on the Oceania “Island & Icons” voyage this August 2014 aboard the luxurious Riviera. And while cruising to stunning ports of call including the Greek isles of Santorini, Zakynthos and Corfu is spectacular in and of itself, it’s the voyage’s hostess that adds a tremendous dimension to this already stellar, Bon Vivant conceptualized ten-day tour. Christine Cushing, one of Canada’s most respected celebrity chefs, TV personalities, cookbook authors and Mediterranean food experts, hails from Greece. It is in many ways, her culinary and spiritual home.
I’m an island girl at heart, and the simple things in life make me happy. Sunshine, beautiful beaches and sparkling turquoise waters leave me smiling and feeling peaceful. Adding delicious food on top of that means that all is right in the world for me! There is something that is so incredibly satisfying about trying wonderful new foods and restaurants while on vacation. I don’t mean some chain restaurant that you can find back at home. I’m talking about that little hole in the wall/road-side stand that locals love to frequent. That, my friends is where the REAL magic happens.
On my last trip to Jamaica I was determined to eat as much Jerked food as possible. Mission accomplished. Our first adventure away from our quaint little resort led us to the popular Pork Pit in Montego Bay. The staff that we made friends with suggested we go there if we wanted to experience true Jerk Chicken and Pork. The trek uphill in the blazing heat was well worth the prize at the end of the journey. We followed our noses up a narrow wooden staircase that opened up into a wonderful airy open spaced restaurant. We could see the different jerked meats being cooked over large grills on top of coals, and we instantly became excited. We walked over to a small window and placed our orders. Two of us opted for a classic- Jerk Chicken with a side of rice and peas, and one got an order of Jerk Pork with fries. We also opted for the delicious flavours of pop that you can only get in the Caribbean. Nothing says tropical like delicious ice cold pineapple soda. After receiving our sides and tickets with our selections, we were told to head over to the main man with the meat. He expertly selected our meats and chopped them up and placed them in our containers, and with a wink told us to enjoy.
Finally- it was time! We all smiled, and dove in. Pure perfection. Nothing was dry or old, and you could taste the passion that was put into the food. The jerk seasoning had the perfect balance of heat and flavor, and the meat was literally falling off of the bone. The rice and peas was delicious, and had the exact amount of coconut that is needed to make the dish just right. The fries were light and crispy and melted in your mouth. Side note- ketchup in Jamaica is much sweeter then North America. While it is delicious, be careful to not put too much to drown out the flavours of the other food! After eating in almost complete silence (it was just too good for words!) we met an interesting character who went by the name of Bruce Lee the Spider man. He was smitten with one of my friends, and offered to draw her portrait for free since she was so beautiful. She bashfully declined, but was presented with his signature and phone number in case she changed her mind. Bellies full, and in fantastic moods, we said good bye to the Pork Pit, and vowed to return for another fantastic meal.
By Ruby Reis
Panamanian food is quietly undergoing a revolution. For the last 10 years, chefs like the much-lauded Charlie Collins, Mario Castrellon and Alfonso de la Espriella have been working tirelessly to change the way Panamanian food is perceived and consumed. This is a cuisine that seamlessly fuses Afro-Caribbean, Spanish, French, Asian, American and indigenous culinary traditions into a delicious melting pot that reflects the climate and geography of this land-bridge between two continents. And it’s a cuisine that local chefs are working hard to present to locals and visitors alike with the kind of pride it deserves.
If you’re looking to put Panama on the plate the next time you visit Panama City and its surroundings, here are some must-tries for the culinary wanderer:
- Chef/Owner: Mario Castrellon
Philosophy: “We’ve had an ongoing fascination with Spanish food here, Italian, French, Japanese and so on. It’s time to put the focus back on Panama,” explains one of the city’s most talented and impassioned local chefs, Mario Castrellon.
Don’t Miss Dishes: At Maito, there’s an updated take on tasajo- a salted, smoked then fried piece of steak that in this case is shredded like pulled pork and served atop Caribbean fry bread called hojaldra. A dainty fried Cornish hen’s egg crowns the smoky amuse. One of the table’s favourites is the intriguing “cheesecake” dessert made with local vegetable isinglass; a seaweed that’s usually blended with milk and spices and consumed as a drink by those of Afro-Antillean roots. Cinnamon, sugar, and ginger combine to produce a light, not-too-sweet intriguing cheesecake topped with a strawberry compote, that we all swore was made with yoghurt!
Panamonte Inn– Boquete, Panama
- Executive Chef: Charlie Collins– the “go-to” chef for the last three Panamanian presidents and cook for celebs ranging from Sean Connery to political figures like George W. Bush.
Philosophy: “We were raised to believe that everything imported was of better quality than what we had in our country. This is one of the reasons why you see so much American cuisine influencing us in Panama, but that’s changing. We know better now.” says Collins
Don’t Miss Dish: Boquete river trout filets with a watercress salsa over young corn gnocchi and Panamanian sofrito. Bonus points for forging close ties with nearby, organic farmers, fishermen and food producers who provide Collins with pristine ingredients.
La Trona- Panama City- Calle 48, Edificio La Trona – Bella Vista – Panamá
- Chef: Alfonso de la Espriella
Philosophy: He makes the kind of food he’d like to eat, in Spanish that’s known as “cocina de autor.” After working abroad with greats like Laurent Tourondel, de la Espriella has concluded that his culinary mantra is firmly rooted in the “less is more” camp.
Don’t Miss Dish: Locally caught yellow fin tuna that gets its heat from the country’s well-loved aji chombo, or chombo chilie. Seared on the outside only and sliced so that its fleshy, pink exterior shines like jewels, chef crusts the fish with the aji and serves it with local zapayo- a type of pumpkin or squash.
By: Mary Luz Mejia