I am so excited to share this guest blog post from my dearest, best friend Jodie Faux, a fabulous chef with a long career that included the famed Paggi House where she held court for 11 years. Follow her culinary adventures in Panama on Instagram.
Everywhere you look in Panama, the slogan Nos Vamos Para Rusia appears. Panama is going to Russia to participate in their first World Cup and everyone here is excited! So excited that when Panama bested rival Costa Rica for their qualifying berth, President Juan Carlo Varela declared the following day a national holiday. Since then, all of Panama has been waiting for June 18th when the Red Tide or The Canal Men, Canaleros as they are known here, have their first match in Sochi against Belgium.
My boyfriend and I moved to Panama last July in hope of investing in a small hotel and restaurant in the town of Santa Catalina which is on the central Pacific coast. Panama is the Central American country that forms a bridge between Central and South America. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean on the other. Panama is approximately the size of South Carolina.
Santa Catalina is a small village but is considered one of the premier surfing destinations in Latin America. The town is very rural. There are no ATMs, grocery stores, mail delivery, or house addresses. There are more people on horseback than there are in cars and dogs, chickens, and cattle often roam the streets. The beaches are stunning and not crowded. We love the peace and serenity here!
As a chef, I immediately immersed myself in the local cuisine. Like many Latin countries there are similarities. Ceviche, tamales, empanadas, rice and beans are all common here. Panamanians are not healthy eaters. Fried whole fish is a very popular local dish but vegetables are rarely seen. In fact, when we first arrived here during the rainy season, I despaired at the thought of ever seeing a variety of vegetables again. Tiny, pathetic heads of broccoli, bell peppers, and green cabbage were all that there was. Fortunately during the dry season vegetable offerings became more diverse, but it is nothing compared to the variety we are used to in the US.
Neither my boyfriend nor I were ever soccer fans, but we are enthusiastic about supporting our adopted country. We are learning the ins and outs of soccer in hope that we will know enough to follow along this June. A few weeks ago I noticed displays being set up at Machetazo in Santiago, which is the closest grocery store for us. Upon entering the store you are greeted with shelves stocked with stuffed mascots, pillows, mugs, hanging soccer balls and a mannequin wearing the coveted, official red shirt that the players will be wearing. I thought it would be fun to buy some shirts to wear until I found out they were $89 dollars each! Instead I am hoping that one of my contest tickets, handed out at the hardware and grocery stores, will win me one!
So what do Panamanians eat during futbol matches? For the most part the food is not dissimilar to ours. A lot of finger foods will be served such as chicken wings, chorizo on a stick, meat-filled empanadas, and petacones, which are fried, crispy disks of plantain. As with any event here much Balboa beer will be consumed, and the day after the match the jardines (open air cantinas) will be littered with empty cans. Seco, distilled from sugar cane and considered Panama’s national liquor, will also be consumed in vast quantities. The following morning most Panamanians will recover with their answer for hangovers- Sancocho. Sancocho is a soup made with meat and vegetables and is considered the national dish of the country. Usually it is served with rice and Aji Chombo, a bottled habanero sauce. Filling and comforting, Sancocho will have you ready for the next round!
Sancocho 4 servings
1 chicken cut in pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp oregano
4 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 large onion, diced
3 lbs starchy vegetables such as yucca and taro, peeled and diced
1 small squash, calabaza or pumpkin, peeled and diced
1 carrot, diced
2 ears of corn broken in to 1 inch pieces
Rub the chicken with some of the cilantro leaves and place in a large pot. Add enough water to cover chicken and bring to a boil. Add all vegetables and spices and bring to a boil again. Skim foam from top and reduce heat to a medium simmer and cook for about 45 minutes. Cook until vegetables soften and break apart. Add water as needed so the contents stay an inch below the water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Typically the bones are left in the soup so the bone marrow can be eaten. Serve with rice and Aji Chombo sauce.