so i think i mentioned in my previous post that i spent the first 10 days of june in panama on a volunteer trip! i was part of the first ever ucl human rights brigade that went to the darien province (the most impoverished and abandoned region) in panama to provide a community there with legal assistance and education on their rights, working alongside panamanian lawyers. we went under the organisation global brigades, and it was a great experience – eye-opening and fruitful (not just in the sense that we were fed lots of sweet, sweet fruit :P), one that i really enjoyed.
our daily meals were lovingly prepared by a group of ladies who woke up at the crack of dawn (or earlier, actually – 3am!!!) every day to ensure that breakfast was ready for all the brigaders living in the compound when we woke up, and our packed lunches were ready to go when we left the compound for our respective communities. they mostly served us traditional panamanian food, and there were definitely way more hits than misses!!!
i remember this being one of our first few dinners and we all loved it so much that most of us went for seconds! the rice is amazingly flavourful and as you can see from the picture, has bits of shredded chicken, veggie, olives and raisins in it. i’m not sure what gives it its orange colour, but i’m guessing stuff like tumeric/paprika/cumin/saffron maybe? (from the spices i’m listing, you can probably vaguely imagine the kind of taste it had?) it was really really realllyyy delicious omg i miss eating it so much! and i also absolutely adore how it is such a colourful dish with such strong, vibrant colours. maybe i should google and try out a recipe for it heehee.
the pink stuff you see in the picture is what commonly accompanies arroz con pollo; its a beetroot and potato salad and i loved it not just because it is a gorgeous pink (my favourite shade too!) but also because it was really really yummy. its served chilled and the beets really add a very nice and subtle sweetness to the salad. its amazing how different a regular potato salad with mayo can taste just by adding some beetroot! even people who don’t normally like beets liked it, so that’s definitely saying something, i think?
on our last day there, some villagers also cooked arroz con pollo for us for lunch in this gigantic pot. i observed them putting all the rice into some kind of soup stock-looking thing and stirring the rice round and round (and round) in the huge pot till all the stock had completely evaporated/been soaked up by the rice (the rice is very dry when its done) – its probably what makes the rice grains themselves so tasty and flavourful.
we had these amazing fried pieces of dough for breakfast twice during our stay there and loved it so much that for our last breakfast at the compound, the kitchen ladies specially prepared it for us to have one last time before setting off (normally groups that leave really early – we ate at 4am before setting off at 5) :’)
they are soft and fluffy while being slightly crusty-ish on the outside, and we had them with honey (pretty much panama’s version of pancakes!). it was hands down my favourite breakfast item we had in the 10 days there. hojaldres are quite similar to roti prata (indian pancake-like fried dough, eaten with curry or sugar), but i think texture-wise, they are even more similar to you tiao/butterfly buns (fried dough fritters – are these singaporean? i’m not quite sure where they originated!). super yummy. definitely the breakfast of champions 😉
3. corn fritters
sorry for all the other distractions in the picture, i realised i didn’t take one that focused on just the corn fritters alone! the corn fritter is the thing you see next to the eggs in the foreground of the picture, with the cheese on top! i think they were just mass produced frozen corn fritters that were fried for us, but they were quite nice in their simplicity all the same, especially with the cheese that melted on top (from the heat of the freshly fried fritters).
something about them panamanian pineapples… omg, SO amazingly sweet and juicy. i was never a fan of pineapples (in fact i used to pick them off hawaiian pizza) until i tried grilled pineapples last year, and i started liking them. these were cut into huge chunky blocks and exploded in our mouths in all their glorious juicy sweetness with not a hint of sour acidity that pineapples can sometimes leave in your mouth as an aftertaste (it used to make my tongue sting which was why i never liked them).
my eyes lit up whenever i saw that we were having pineapples at breakfast heehee. we were also served watermelon and papaya which were not too bad, but the pineapples were definitely my favourite, the rest didn’t even come close!
5. fried whole fishanother typically panamanian dish. i first tried it on our first night in panama at a mall which we stopped at for dinner en route to darien province which was a bumpy 4 hour bus ride in the dark away from panama city and into the wilderness hahaha. when i had it for the second time (pictured above) at the fish market in panama city on our last day there, it was even better than i remembered it to be! the fish was extremely fresh, very lightly and simply seasoned, and fried to perfection. eating it off the bone reminded me of chinese-style steamed fish back home! the plantain chips are also a forever favourite. i could really do with some now… way better than regular potato fries!!!
so there you have it, my five favourite foods from panama! and in case you were more interested in seeing a panamanian pig (as suggested in the post title) than my panamanian food picks, here’s a picture of one:
OMG, are they not the hugest pigs you have ever seen!?!??!?!?! i was stunned… takes the phrase “fat pig” to a whole new level in my opinion…