Saturday, January 12, 2008

Full belly Panamanian Style

I just came back from a fabulous trip in Panama. Why Panama people ask me? Usually, at this time of year, 'tis the season for Canadians to head down south to feast, drink, relax and recharge our batteries at popular carribean destinations like Cuba, Mexico or Dominican Republic.

Panama sounded different, appealing and mostly... refreshing. Family and friends had raved so much about it last year after their cruise trip along the famous Panama Canal, which is actually an astonishing piece of engineering art (it's not just a canal, like most would comment, it's a historical masterpiece dividing the country into two geographical sections and a booster for Panama's booming economy). Never have I heard of Panama being a popular winter get-away spot for Canadians and so I thought it would be great to check it out and be one of the first nordics from Quebec to explore it. To my surprise, we were a flock of Quebecers on the plane heading towards that intriguing country. It's becoming one of the hottest holiday destinations for most Canucks, where you can feast like a king and a queen. Although, most meals served at all-inclusive resorts often have a mix of international flavours (which could be a drawback for a foodie like me who likes to taste authentic local foods), I was glad to see that a few of the dishes I tasted were created to give guests a taste of typical Panamanian cuisine.

The food was even more authentic and exotic at local restaurants outside the resort. Panamanian food is very similar to Colombian food which consists of plantains, potatoes, fish and corn-based breads. Mashed plantain served at the resort was incredibly creamy and flavourful, with a lot of texture and a slight tinge of sweetness.

Fish with cilantro, roasted beef and pasta with hot chili, from the resort's buffet

Carrot, beet and potato salad with spicy Jalapeno salad dressing.
Aside from enjoying the gastronomical delights, I was taken aback by the country's breathtaking vegetation. Everything is so colourful and vivid, just like these photos clearly illustrate. According to a good friend of mine, originally from India, the banana flower, also known as the banana blossom or the banana heart, shown on the top left hand corner, is pretty much edible. In India and Sri Lanka, it is either served raw with dips or cooked in soups and curries.

It all goes without saying: a country that gives you a full belly deserves a second visit.

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