Panamanian picks (or pigs?)

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!!!

here are my five favourites:
1. arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) – a panamanian classic!Image

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.
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2. hojaldres
Imagewe 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
Imagesorry 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).

4. pineapples!!!
Imagesomething 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 fishImageanother 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:
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two:
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and three:Image

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…

btw for those who are curious, this is panama:
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🙂

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Flat Iron, London

what better way to celebrate release from the evil clutches of exams than feasting on some good food? my friend suggested trying flat iron right after our criminal law paper and we were all so happy that she did, because it was really really good stuff.

got a little lost walking to beak street from school (our brains were fried from the mad rush that writing – or should i say scribbling – 4 essays in 3 hours is) so by the time we reached flat iron at 2pm, we were all super starving. but our hunger pangs were very quickly satiated by what they put on the table once we arrived:Image

POPCORN!!! we all thought it was such a cute/novel touch! along with the mini choppers for knives hahaha.

anyway, the menu at flat iron is really simple and straightforward. there’s steak for £10, and a range of sides and sauces to choose from to have with your steak.

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we planned to save space for dessert so we didn’t order much – just a steak each, and a side of roast aubergine to share!

the steak. was. SO. GOOD.

(sorry these are bad pics i know 😦 the lighting wasn’t very optimal for good pictures with my phone camera!)Image

the meat was perfectly done – every bite was amazingly juicy, flavourful, moist and tender and even though i had mine done medium, it was not AT ALL dry or tough. so so so good. i’m  nearly salivating just thinking of it. srsly. really really good steak. my friend who normally doesn’t take meat was saying she probably wouldn’t be able to finish her beef but once she took the first bite, all such thoughts were banished and her plate was as squeaky clean as all of ours were at the end 😉

we found the portion just nice though i think some might find it on the small side, especially hungry boys! the greens that came with the steak were really fresh and had a nice, light dressing, and the aubergine was a hit among the 4 of us. it was simple but very delicious! apparently the creamed spinach is something thats very popular there as well, but i only found this out after we had our meal so that’s something i will have to try next time!Image

we also tried fred’s sauce, but it was nothing to shout about. personally i think you can give the sauces a miss because the meat by itself is super delicious and really doesn’t need much to make it even better. in fact, the sauces might even mask the natural sweetness of the meat?

the restaurant isn’t very big and i think the only reason why we didn’t have to queue is because we had a late lunch (2pm). they don’t take reservations and the queues are apparently snaking at dinnertime so if you’re planning on going, either go early or go late!

there’s no service charge too, so its really just £10 for a really good steak.

will definitely be heading back when i’m feeling carnivorous…

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Flat Iron
17 Beak St
London W1F 9RW

Koba, London

so lecture was cancelled on thursday, which gave me the chance to head out for lunch with 2 of my homiez, followed by a trip to the natural history museum! yay!

why it was an amazing afternoon:
1. the sun was SHINING
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2. nothing beats traipsing around a relatively empty museum on a weekday afternoon with not a care in the world
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3. lunch was YUM:

despite having been to charlotte street on multiple occasions, i never noticed koba which is located just off charlotte street on rathbone street. we had planned to have korean food for lunch and had kim chee at holborn in mind, but it was my korean hallmate who suggested that we try koba instead. i am so happy we had that conversation about good korean restaurants over hall breakfast that morning, because it was YUMMY.

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we were all excited when we got seated at our table and checked out the lunch menu because it was really extensive – many places tend to have fewer items on their “set lunch” menus, but koba is different. they seem to have nearly everything korean that you would possibly want to eat (at least for me) and it was the kind of menu where there was something for everyone, which is great!

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their specialty seems to be their barbequed meats and so it was the “beef lunch barbeque” that I opted for. it came with a side dish with the usual mixed korean appetisers, soup, salad, a baby bowl of bibimbap (it was REALLY baby-sized; more on this later) and meat to be barbequed; there was plenty to eat and i was a very happy bunny.Image
i’ll start with the bibimbap – it was delicious and the ingredients were fresh and generously heaped on top of the rice. the amount of chilli sauce that the waiter added was also perfect – it was very tasty and satisfying. my only qualm was that when they described the bibimbap in the menu as a “small pot bibimbap”, they really meant it – it was TINY and if not for the fact that i was taking small mouthfuls to savour it, it would probably have been gone in 2-3 mouthfuls! but i’m not complaining;the star of the set is probably meant to be the meat anyway.

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moving on to the beef, they gave a very generous 12 slices with the set. they were sliced thinly so if you are looking for something thick, its probably better to order it off the a la carte menu. they bring it to the table raw, and the waiter helps you cook the slices on the stove in front of you. Image
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the slices were tender, juicy, marinated well, and had a slight taste of the barbeque, just as they should have! seemed like good quality stuff and so my fears of quality of the meat being compromised since it was a set lunch were unfounded. the salad provided a good balance to the “heat” of the barbeque – the vegetables were fresh and crisp with a light japanese-type (though in this case, i should probably say it was korean) dressing.
i felt that what i ordered was really quite value-for-money, which is always important for students attempting to keep to a budget 😉

my friend ordered the bulgogi (she was dying to get the barbeque set too, but was recovering from a funky stomach illness from eating oysters at brighton – DO NOT EAT RAW OYSTERS BY THE BRIGHTON PIER; you have been warned. In fact I am heading there tomorrow and will be staying far away from them wahahaha but okay, I digress. Back to the korean food.) and she was really satisfied with it too! the serving was generous, and it came with appetisers and soup as well.
here is a picture of her taking a picture of her food before tucking in. #ASIANALERT

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my other friend ordered bibimbap and got a nice full-sized bowl (unlike my tiny one – but at least they did mention that it was a “small pot” in the menu), which she was pleased with.

total bill: £28.70 for 3

ambience: neat, clean, modern, bright, airy, generally very pleasant. OH YES and very importantly for korean restaurants that have hot plates/barbeques – there is surprisingly NO heavy smell of barbeque hanging in the air; we walked out of the restaurant smelling as lovely as ever 😉

who i would recommend this to: anyone looking for a place that serves reasonably priced korean food, with an extensive special lunch menu. the tables are well-spaced out and the restaurant does not feel cramped at all. a possible venue for larger groups and a relaxing lunch. there was a steady stream of customers and the tables were filled throughout the time we were there, but it seems like getting a table shouldn’t really be too much of a problem since they are efficient with their service and turnaround time is not long, at least when we were there.

will i return? YES. my new go-to korean place for now. compared to assa (where i used to go for my korean fix), i felt that the environment was nicer: bright, airy, nice-smelling (one does not walk out of assa without the smell of food lingering on your clothes for the rest of the day – best to visit it on a day you’re planning on doing laundry hahaha). if you’re craving some hotpot goodness then assa might still be the place for you though!

PS. the koreans at the table next to us were making loud, satisfied noises (accompanied by satisfied stomach-rubbing – or maybe i was imagining this part) and that is always a sign of good food right? natives giving their stamp of approval!

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Koba
11 Rathbone St  London, Greater London W1T 1NA
020 7580 8825
– 
rach 😀