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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🙂

The French Riviera & its glorious food

one million apologies for the updates drought!!!

life has been one mad rush since exams ended (and I posted about my celebratory end-of-exams meal) – 2 of my bestest friends were in town, and not only did we explore London together, we also had a short escapade in the French Riviera!!! when we got back, 1) housing woes struck (#2ndyearproblems) 2) I had less than a week to pack my entire first year life into boxes/luggages and move out of hall 3) I went to Panama on an 11 day volunteering trip!

met my family in london after panama, and am now typing this post from a hotel room in beautiful Rome. true story. like I said, life has been a mad mad rush since exams ended, but I suppose its a (largely) happy problem.

its been so long; where so I begin?! guess i’ll start with foodie adventures with some of my favourite people in the world in beautiful South of France 🙂
IMG_20130522_161843unfortunately i don’t think I remember all of the names of the restaurants we ate at; i really should have noted them down somewhere 😦 next time I will!!!

my favourites out of all the food we ate in france:

1. smoked salmon cream cheese pizza: we had this for our first lunch of the trip, which was at beautiful eze village. it turned out way better than any of us expected i think! its been a while but i still remember how it was one amazing, gooey mass(/mess hahaha) of cheese-y goodness. on top of the regular cheese that goes on the tomato base on the pizza, the thin crust was loaded with cream cheese and finally topped with salmon. SO. GOOD. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2. seafood risotto: i LOVED the meal we had at this restaurant near our hotel. unfortunately i can’t remember its name but if any of you really want to go if you happen to be travelling to nice, its along the main shopping/restaurant stretch near place massena and it’s the only restaurant there with a tripadvisor sticker in its window!!! (which is why we chose it) (i am truly a believer in tripadvisor stickers when i travel– i think they’re normally the sign of something at least average to above average!!!)

the servings were huge and service was really friendly! we had seafood risotto, spinach & cream cheese ravioli and a beef pasta thing. they were ALL good, but if i had to pick a favourite, i’d probably pick the seafood risotto! it was of the perfect consistency – neither too dry nor too wet, and there was a delicious prawn-y taste in every bite. the rice was also done perfectly for risotto, not too hard or too soft, and the seafood was sweet, juicy & fresh.

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20130522210242160 2013052221224591920130522_210015(photobombing waiters are always welcome hahahaha)

3. azzuro gelato: read that it’s the best gelato in nice on tripadvisor and though we didn’t try many others, i’m still inclined to believe so after trying it!!! its by a nice little square in the old town and they have a HUGE range of flavours but don’t worry – you can get cones with up to 10 scoops if you can’t decide 😉 i had the tiramisu and something with berries (something like raspberry ripple but i can’t remember exactly what it was anymore L) and they were both really good. very creamy and smooth! i found some of the flavours (candy-bar inspired ones) which I tried before deciding on the 2 I chose were too sweet though! j and l got nutella, pistachio, chocolate etc and we were all happy kids. so happy that we returned the next day to get more heehee20130524_13270920130524_132937OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. pastries from random boulangeries: france was croissant heaven and we had amazing croissants, brioches and other similar pastries for breakfast every day!!! they were so. good. and so cheap too. most of the legitimately local bakeries you find in the old town/along random streets sell them for between 1-2 euros and we didn’t have any bad ones over the few days we were there. who needs fancy & overpriced stuff like paul in singapore/london??? J was particularly pleased with her plain butter croissants – going back to basics is always best (Y)20130523091801725OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsuper yummy chocolate brioche ahhh take me back now please!!!

L giving legit local bakeries her stamp of approval:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAchocolate croissant in all its amazing buttery & flaky glory

5. crepes: we had amazing crepes for lunch on the day we were in st paul de vence! we sat in this little cave-like opening off a quaint little alley and enjoyed an apple cinnamon crepe and another savoury buckwheat one with goat cheese, fig stew, ham, and pine cone kernels (??). the apple cinnamon one was good, but I didn’t find it particularly special or unique since you can get that at creperies worldwide. i REALLY liked the savoury one though. i know it looks pretty ordinary in the picture but it was really delicious. loved how the crepe batter was buckwheat and the yummy goats cheese that went well with the ham, while the pine nuts added bite and the figs just made it perfect!!! j and l found the taste of the goat cheese a little too strong for their liking though.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

6. Jean Luc Pele, Antibes: stumbled into this shop while roaming the streets of antibes. we were taken in by their fancy, hunger pang-inducing shop display – check it out!!! j tried their macaroons, l had a giant macaroon, and I decided to go for something chocolate-y since chocolate seemed to be their specialty. they were all good! the macaroons were above average (though my ultimate favourite macaroon maker is still pierre herme (more on that later)!!!) and what was really cool was the CHOCOLATE CAVE in their shop. we didn’t even realise it was chocolate on the walls and ceiling (too busy stuffing our faces with sweet treats) until we started scrutinising the writings that were carved into the walls. worth a visit if you’re in antibes!
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CHOCOLATE CAVE!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgorgeous treatsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

7. beef carpaccio at café bianco in nice: we read about this restaurant run by a french man and his Japanese wife in easyjet’s travel magazine on the flight to nice, and were so pleased when we discovered that the restaurant was right round the corner from our hotel. it’s a simple and quaint little place where the daily menu is written on a little blackboard that the wife takes to your table for you to check out. we had an amazing cheese toast as appetiser, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
and the beef carpaccio as main:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAit was a huge plate for each of us but we finished every bit of it – sliced and lightly seasoned to perfection! L isn’t a fan of beef (especially raw beef!) so she opted for a fish + zucchini spaghetti thing from their a la carte menu. what was interesting about it was that there wasn’t actually any noodle in it at all… after a few bites we realised that the “spaghetti” was actually all shredded zucchini/cucumber/similar veggies. it was reallynicely presented but besides how fresh the fish was, i personally felt that it didn’t taste exceptional! in fact, it kind of tasted like an asian stir fry (japanese influence?) with quite a heavy sauce that I thought didn’t go that well with the lightness of the fresh fish! but we enjoyed the meal thoroughly nonetheless!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
oh yes and the wedges were to die for:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(at this point I must interject and just mention a tiny detail – I never got to finish this post in rome; I am now on a cruise ship on the Aegean sea! we left Istanbul this afternoon and will be in kusadasi tomorrow morning! really exciting times, and LOTS of good food on board. a post for another day!!!)

8. our dinner in cannes. one of my favourite dinners of the trip, besides the fact that the waitress was completely racist and unprofessional, making faces behind our backs (which she thought we did not notice) and exchanging snooty glances with her colleagues. it was totally uncalled for and we were so mad and super close to just walking out but thankfully we didn’t because the food was great! the olives we started with were really sweet and juicy, followed by this mysterious bread + cheese + dip combo which they brought to our table though we didn’t order it and didn’t see any other table having it (we decided that they must have noticed how disgusted we were with their service and the free food was a peace offering HAHA) which was so. good.
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for starters we had an amazing salad (with huge pear slices, walnuts, parma ham, cheese, really fresh salad leaves & tomatoes)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand an interesting fish soup! It was surprisingly not too fishy, and we could actually taste bits of fish in it.. quite interesting and reminded me of the fish soup i’ve had in norway! the mains were not particularly exceptional, though the fries that came with the beef were quite interesting! really thinly sliced potato strips that were perfectly fried. the oil used was definitely fresh and the fries weren’t dripping with oil – legit FRENCH fries (Y).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdessert was unsurprisingly, amazing – profiteroles and a yummy panna cotta in all its wobbly goodness heehee.
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(are you drooling yet???)

9. last but certainly not least, the one thing nobody should ever leave france without having – PIERRE HERME MACARONS. 20130525_140622i know of people who prefer laduree (I beg to differ!!!), but my family has always thought pierre herme does them BEST since having them in paris a few years back and being completely taken in by their interesting flavours like mandarin + olive oil, truffle & coing + rose! i now have to make treks to Selfridges before heading home over school breaks to get my hands on these sweet treats so my sister and mum can get their fix. we inhaled 7 macarons right after lunch (and before stopping for tea in a cookie café) and i had what is probably my favourite macaron flavour ever – green tea & black sesame. 20130525_140201OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IT WAS SO GOOD – the ultimate combination in my eyes (i can never resist having those 2 flavours of ice cream in Japanese restaurants heehee)! they even had white sesame seeds on the top and ahhh it was so so good, though i know the pictures don’t exactly make it look particularly mouth-watering! the other flavours were also yummy, and i think on a whole pierre herme in france is even better than pierre herme in london – seriously good stuff.
just casually snapping pictures of food in place massena (typical asians and proud of it wahahaha):
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okay i think this post has gone on long enough but before i go, i shall leave you with some of my favourite snapshots of our amazing little escapade – good food and great company, what more could you ask for? 🙂

view from the top of eze village – 20130522112833091

antibes beach –
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in nice – 20130524122307367

sunset in cannes – 20130524201346886

till next time 🙂 bisous!!!

ps. back in london after the cruise with the family and will be heading home to singapore really soon! more travel posts to come; watch this space 😉