A couple of weeks ago, I was very lucky to nab some time off work along with some flights to Panama, where I headed to for four days to meet up with a friend. Panama lies just an hour’s plane ride away from Colombia. Home to a buzzing capital and some absolutely beautiful beaches, I couldn’t wait to see what Colombia’s next door neighbor had to offer.
Panama city itself is a real melting pot of races, and food wise this means there are cuisines from all corners of the globe. In my brief stay in the city, I munched on some New York bagels for breakfast, a traditional Panamanian plate for lunch, and enjoyed a cracking Italian pizza for dinner. Not bad for a days work!
Moving away from the city, on my second day we made a short trip to the Caribbean side of the country and headed to an island called Isla Grande. The change from the cosmopolitan city to the completely tropical Caribbean was amazing to see. Landscapes shifted from high-rise apartment blocks to completely green hillsides and a gorgeous clear sea. The food was just a spectacular as the view, something I discovered when we headed for lunch to the classic spot Restaurante Adriana, frequented by lots of surfers who head to the island. The menu was simple and consisted of the day’s freshest catches..luckily for me, this happened to include lobster. My order was not a difficult one!
Langostino al ajillo (lobster in a garlic sauce) came accompanied by arroz con coco (coconut rice), a salad and the typical patacones (fried plantain rounds). Simple, fresh, and completely delicious, I devoured every last bite on my plate. The lobster was so flavorsome and had the absolutely perfect texture. I was determined to get the recipe for the ever-so-simple yet truely incredible garlic garnish, but I was told by the owner Adriana that “es un secreto” (it’s a secret). Despite being able to guess it’s main components (garlic, parsley, onion), part of me thinks no matter how hard I’d try it would never turn out half as good – probably best it stays a secret in Isla Grande!
Leaving the Caribbean it was by no means goodbye to the beach, as the next day we set off for the Pacific side, to a beach called Playa Venao. After a long 5-hour car journey over there, it was lunchtime – again! Stopping off in the nearby town Pedasi to eat, you can guess what was on the menu, and after claiming I fancied chicken, I quickly looked around, saw the sea, and laughed at myself. Chicken in the city? Sure thing. Right next to the sea with some of the freshest fish and seafood in the country? Well…probably order yourself a fish dish then!
We went all out and even ordered a starter of almejas (clams) in broth. A really tasty dish, these clams came in a dark, salty sauce, and were the perfect thing to whet our appetite. And then came the main attraction – pulpo a la criolla, or squid in a tomato sauce.
The squid came with an option of rice, patacones, or fried yucca. I opted for the yucca, as I absolutely love the stuff. If you’ve never tried it I highly recommend you do. It’s a starchy root vegetable with an almost sweet flavor. Served like this, as chunky chips, they are divine and a great side to mop up the tomato-y sauce. Yet another successful almuerzo down, we headed off to the beach.
A few more days of sun, sea and and seafood and it was soon time to head home. I really fell in love with Panama and everything I was able to see of it. The city had a cool vibe, with lots going on, and the beaches and coast were some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. With it being so close to Colombia, I definitely want to head back at some point and explore a bit more.