One of my favorite ways to get to know a culture is through its food, and so far Panama has been no exception. Though there do seem to be a few regional twists, there are definitely some common threads throughout the country, one of which being rice. Never in my life have I consumed a food item as often or in such high quantities as I have rice in the past month…
Rice is usually served with a meat, and don’t be surprised if it also comes with a side of locally grown plantains. At my house we have plantains one of two ways: As patacones, which are salty, fried rounds that taste kind of like fried potatoes, or as maduros, which is when the ripened plantains are fried with sugar to make a very sweet banana type of dish.
99% of the time my meal is 100% beige.
The households in my community eat almost no vegetables other than typical starchy roots such as ñame, ñampe, otoe, and potatoes. Though I eat a ton of fruit, it’s all stuff I find on the ground thanks to the bountiful tropical fruit trees. So far I’ve feasted on passion fruits, sour sops, mangos, mimones, bananas, coconuts, oranges, and at least two unknown varieties. That part is pretty awesome.
The locals do seem to take advantage of the fruits enough to use their juices to make chichas and duros. Chicha is a sweetened juice drink make with juice, water, sugar, and potentially other added flavors. Chicha also seems to be very commonly shared with neighbors or visitors, so I’ve been having a lot of it! Pineapple, passion fruit, orange, and agua de maiz (make this “corn water” by using the water left over after boiling corn, and adding milk, sugar, and vanilla) have all been fairly common. Duros are frozen little bags of chicha that make popsicles! Obviously I love these…
Since I feel like I’ve been eating way less healthy than I did in the United States, I fully expected to gain a few pounds, especially with all of our meals freshly
fried prepared for us. Oddly enough, just the opposite has happened,
and thankfully it’s not even because I’ve been sick (knock on wood!) I guess those long, hot days in the fields
are to thank for that.
It took me weeks of convincing (And sneaking food to the dog) to get my rice down to this manageable portion.
Though I have to admit that it’s nice to come home to a fully prepared meal, I am really looking forward to cooking for myself and experimenting with all of the local foods. Because I’ll be spending the first 3 months in my site with another host family, though, it looks like I’ll have plenty of time to collect recipes. If you have any favorites that don’t require refrigerated ingredients, be sure to send them my way!