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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🙂

Little Diner, Singapore

i had been wanting to try this place for the longest time after hearing from a friend that they serve red velvet pancakes. red velvet and pancakes??? i’m personally not a huge fan of red velvet (don’t really understand the hype that always seems to come with it), but  the idea of the 2 combined sounded rather novel and enticing nonetheless.

made a trip to this new york-inspired diner found at a rather nondescript row of shops just before 6th avenue on good friday. my mother remarks every single time we drive by the row (which is often since I stay a stone’s throw away) that the restaurants there always seem to be struggling, with few customers each time we’ve passed them. the shops change hands frequently and I didn’t even know this place had popped up there! i really hope it stays though, because it was a satisfying meal and i will certainly be going back for more!

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we ordered 3 items from the brunch menu (that is served only on public holidays & weekends) – the epic breakfast platter (a special), delancey red velvet pancakes & cereal-crusted french toast.

the cereal-crusted french toast was a real crowd (they say 3’s a crowd :P) pleaser – the toast was ultra thick and of just the right moistness – the texture reminded us a little of bread & butter pudding. It was sufficiently covered in sauce while not being completely soaked, and the cereals added a nice bite. we loved every bit of it!!! for some reason, the pictures make it look rather cloyingly sweet (I think its the bright red of the berry coulis) but it wasn’t the case at all!

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Super cereal-crusted french toast: showered with powdered cinnamon sugar, whipped cream, berry coulis & maple syrup.

the red velvet pancakes were good, but none of us are particularly diehard fans of red velvet so we weren’t exactly raving about them. the pancakes were done really well though – of the right thickness, fluffy, and with a nice red velvet flavour, nothing too overpowering. they came with frosting that looked like a scoop of ice cream (what is red velvet without cream cheese frosting?) and it was good stuff! i think more toppings (mixed berries would have been wonderful) would have made the dish better though! although i understand that they were probably trying to stick to traditional red velvet – just cake and frosting, i got a little sick of what i was eating about 3/4 into my pancake (and so did my friends!). can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to have the whole serving of 3 pancakes to myself! but they were still yummy, so don’t let my less-than-stellar review deter you from ordering them; i do think they are still worth a try!

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delancey red-velvet pancakes: showered with cinammon sugar, cream cheese frosting & maple syrup.

the final thing we ordered was from the specials menu – the epic breakfast platter. given that it was priced higher than the other 2 items we ordered and its name (“EPIC”), we were expecting something either huge or super extraordinary. unfortunately it was neither, though it was a very delicious traditional fry-up. the sausage was made of kurobuta pork, and it was juiciness, crunchiness and tenderness all in one roll – good stuff!!! as for the bacon, it was fried to perfection and the thick slices of toast went great with the scrambled eggs. the potatoes were also very well done and so was the grilled tomato. it was not too oily and overall a very enjoyable and satisfying plate!

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E.P.I.C breakfast platter

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The super yummy kurobuta pork sausage

besides the great food, the service at little dinner is also amazing. check out what greeted us at our reserved table when we arrived – such a simple but sweet touch! the staff were also extremely sincere and friendly, happily chatting to us and patiently acceding to our numerous photo requests (the waiter helping us take a picture even re-arranged stuff on the table several times to make the shot look better hahaha! that was at the start of our meal and we were sold on the place from that point onwards ;)).

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here is the brunch menu:
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they also have some specials everyday written on blackboards in the cafe.

total bill: SGD58

who i would recommend this to: people looking for a casual place for a relaxing meal. the interior of the place is rather simple but that’s what makes it laidback; it is the kind of place i’d go to on a sunday morning with my newspapers and without having to dress up. the service is great and staff are really friendly, so you feel at ease while having a leisurely meal.

will i be back? i hear the lunch/dinner menu at little diner is also very good. their burgers are supposed to be delicious, along with their pastas and fried chicken. the risotto balls also caught my eye! would love to go back and try it one day; maybe in summer! 🙂

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faces of satisfied customers:20130330125718106
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Little Diner
789 Bukit Timah Rd
S(269763)

and just because my friends and i are silly like that:
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love these girls hahahahahaah.
oh, its good to be home :’)

The Breakfast Club, London

i LOVED the breakfast club. food and ambience-wise, it definitely lived up to my expectations (which were extremely high having heard so much about it). but what didn’t just live up to my expectations but EXCEEDED them, was the queue. despite the fact that we made a trip there on a weekday afternoon at 130pm (a time we assumed would mean a thinning post-lunch crowd), we had to queue out in the cold for a good 30-40 min before finally being let into the warmth of the cosy little place. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
some of our fellow queue-mates gave up and left the queue halfway, but i’m glad we didn’t  because i thought it was worth it!!!

check out all the accolades they have – i always trust a tripadvisor rating 😉OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

the interior of the cafe oozes hippie vibes and has this lovely charm and a funky eclecticism about it. the atmosphere is laidback and super chill, and the staff are friendly and rather efficient!2013031515551495520130315155503833 

we knew what we wanted almost immediately as we had plenty of time to inspect the menu placed in the shop window while waiting in line outside.
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i had the pancakes with berries and OMG I thought they were the best pancakes EVER. i know my friends concurred because louisa proclaimed at the end of the meal that she was really full and satisfied but could do with more pancakes 😉
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they were of just the right thickness and were drenched in the perfect amount of maple syrup. the edges were crispy but the insides were soft and fluffy, and the cream that topped the stack was just amazinggg – light, fresh, and very tasty! they were also really generous with the berries which is something i loved; i hate it when restaurants are stingy with their toppings and you end up with either a lot of plain bread/pancakes etc without any toppings left, or too much toppings left because you scrimped and saved on the number you ate with each bite of the main (am i the only person who does this???). i am already looking forward to the next time i get to go back to have these pancakes; its going to be hard deciding between trying something new and having these again! maybe pancakes with banana and bacon next time? ~DROOLS~

louisa had the poached eggs with avocado on toasted bread and it was super yummy as well.
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the avocado was divine – it was topped with chilli and lime which brought everything together amazingly well. the avocado pieces were of the right size, not too pureed and not too chunky, and the texture and consistency of the mixture was great with just the right amount of bite. it was also neither too wet nor too dry. they were really generous with the avocado toppings once again, with a huge pile heaped onto the toast! lou did mention that she would have preferred the egg to have a runnier yolk though.

janus ordered the typical boy meal – the full monty.
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it came piled high on a huge plate like a breakfast mountain. i think it had potatoes, beans, sausages, mushrooms, black pudding, toast, eggs, a tomato, and bacon. like i said – BOY MEAL hahaha. surprisingly, it wasn’t too oily – in fact, we didn’t find a pool of oil collecting below all the food on the plate as i had imagined. i didn’t have much of this as i was pretty much preoccupied with my pancakes, but i did pick at the beans, sausage, black pudding and egg.
the scrambled eggs at the breakfast club aren’t the creamy/milky type so if that’s what you prefer, don’t go for the scrambled eggs here. they are of the drier variety, but pretty good nonetheless. as for the sausage, i thought it was quite nice as the skin (is that what its called?!) was crispy and the filling was soft, but louisa didn’t like it because she prefers firmer sausages. the bacon was yum and we all quite liked the black pudding, and janus said the potatoes were good! the serving was HUGE and janus couldn’t finish it despite being a growing, hungry boy. he also thought it was all quite messy and would have preferred the food to be more separated. but then again, isn’t that what a huge traditional fry-up is all about? in his words “its like… you find egg in your beans and beans in your egg” (he is not a fan of beans btw, hence the despair).

since we had queued for so long, we each went all-out and ordered a smoothie each too. 20130315144155749
clockwise starting from the light pink: the big breakfast, green is good, blue monday

green is good & blue monday were much lighter than the big breakfast and you will understand why once i tell you what went into the big breakfast. green is good had spinach, mint, mango & apple and it was a very light and refreshing mix, perfect to accompany a heavy breakfast. as for blue monday, it had blueberry, strawberry & apple so if you are a berry fan, this is the one for you!
i had the big breakfast and should have guessed from the name and the list of ingredients that it could probably constitute a meal on its own – strawberry, banana, oats, honey, yoghurt and milk. i finished it all despite it being very thick and extremelyyy filling because it was so goooood but next time, i’ll probably share it with someone.
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happy at the breakfast club!!!

total bill: oh dear, i can’t remember the exact sum but i think it was around £35-£40

ambience: relaxing, hip, funky, eclectic, cosy, warm, friendly

who i would recommend this to: anyone who loves and appreciates a good, hearty brunch in generous servings, and has enough time to spare to queue for a table! there is a queue outside this place at almost all times of the day (though when we left at around 3pm, there were empty tables – perhaps this is a good time to head there! for tea/ a late lunch) and i heard that on weekends, the queueing time can be as long as 1.5h (which even i am turned off by)! but if you have some time to spare, just take the queue as part of the experience – salivating as you peer through the window and see people feasting on their hearty meals, letting the anticipation of sinking your teeth into some good food build up 😉

will i return? YES! loved the vibe of the place and the food was really very satisfying. there are so many other things on the menu i would love to try! and the best part is, they serve breakfast from 9am to 5pm 😀 and if i’m not wrong, they even have some breakfast items that remain on the menu even after 5pm!

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The Breakfast Club
33 D’Arblay St  London, Greater London W1F 8EU
020 7434 2571

-rach