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Good Panamanian cookbooks and recipes?

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Back in the late 80's, I was lucky enough to spend a year living in Panama City, working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research institute (STRI) as a research assistant. While there, I fell in love with the food. The best tamales I have ever had (and very different from Mexican tamales). Fantastic ceviche. Wonderful, filling soups. Some of the best Chinese food I have ever had, believe it or not, since many Chinese helped build the Panama Canal, so there is a large Chinese population. Wonderful fresh breads similar to Cuban breads. Wonderful fish dishes with coconut from the San Blas Islands. A sort-or tamale casserole called tamale de olla.

I have not been able to find either a good Panamanian cookbook or a good Central/Latin American cookbook with a decent selection of Panamanian recipes. I have found a few recipes here and there on the internet, but none I have really loved.

Does anyone know of any good cookbooks with Panamanian recipes? English preferred but my Spanish, although rusty, is good enough to do OK with a Spanish cookbook.


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I have this one:

Cocina Panameña

We lived in Panama for four years back in the late 70's. In fact, my third child was born in Gorgas Hospital in the Zone. We lived on the Atlantic side (Colon) for the first year, and then moved to the Pacific side. Like you, I loved living there and have far too many fond memories to count.

I have several cookbooks that I collected when I lived there, but now refer most often to Cocina Panameña. It's in English and Spanish, and I recommend it.

Here's another: Recetas de Mi Suegra. Smaller, but also with good information about the dishes, produce, etc., of Panama, and also in both English and Spanish.

We came back to the US in 1980, so you were there not too much after us. Did you go to the Restaurant de las Americas in Panama City? I hear it's still there. We loved the Corvina Almondine. And how about the Balboa Yacht Club? Legendary. Absolutely legendary to sit there and watch the boats tie up while they waited to transit the canal. It was an open-air bar, close enough to the water that you could throw a stick in, if you had a notion. Large ceiling fans kept the humid air moving as best they could, but never enough to make you forget you were in the sultry tropics. Lots of places claim to be "the crossroads of the world," but the Balboa Yacht Club really was. There was a bulletin board where folks posted notices requesting deckhands for everything from just transiting the canal (you needed four rope-handlers and people with small sailboats, yachts, etc., often had only two, so you could sign on with them for just a day's transit), to captains looking for professional deckhands to sail off to some exotic location on the other side of the world aboard a ship likely named the "Something-or-other Maru." It was hard not to expect Sydney Greenstreet to walk into that bar at any moment. The building burned not too long ago, and I felt as sad in my heart as if I'd lost a close friend.

How about the batidas in the shops along Avenida Congrejo? And the Panamanian ceviche is still my personal favorite, although I know the Peruvians say the Panamanians "cook" their ceviche too long. Shopping at the Chinese roadside produce stands will always be a favorite memory. You'd load up the car with just-picked tomatoes, squash, etc. And pineapples, mangos, melons. When you got into your car, the entire vehicle was perfumed with the aromas of the fresh fruit.

How about the Mongolian Barbecue out at Ft. Amador? And riding the train through the jungle from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side? Did you know that baseball great Rod Carew was born on that train?

And up to the Indian markets in the mountains and highlands around Davao, David, Chiriqui.

Poking around the "boot" of the old part of Panama City, and watching the Spanish dancers in the ruins of Panamá Viejo.

Hopping a flight in a 4-seater light aircraft over to San Blas Islands to haggle for some molas. Exploring Nombre de Dios and Porto Bello and Ft. San Lorenzo, and imagining what it must have been like for the early Spaniards hauling gold to the waiting galleons.

Yep. I loved Panama.

A whole lot.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

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I found a website that might interest you: Recetas del Caribe

"Recetas del Caribe" was the cookbook published by the Ft. Kobbe Officers' Wives' Club in the 1950's, and is one of the cookbooks in my collection.

The website belongs to a woman that is reproducing the book online, page by page. She found the book in a trunk of things belonging to her mother. My copy of the book is falling apart and is now held together with rubber bands, so I appreciate having copies of the pages online.

Interesting blast from the past.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

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Wow, it's nice to hear from someone else who lived there. I was there in '87-88. An interesting time politically, I was there for the coup attempt in the spring of '88. And thanks for the cookbook recommendations. I have Recetas de mi Suegra on my Kindle. I need to get the one you recommended.

I worked at the STRI lab on Isla Naos, so I went through Fort Amador on my way to work every day, and have been to the Yacht Club several times. I loved how they would wrap the palm trees on the causeway I used to go to lunch at the little restaurant at the YMCA in Balboa several times a week, because I made almost nothing as a lab assistant, and it was cheap. Excellent tamales, the big square ones wrapped in banana leaf with lots of culantro (not cilantro!) and a big piece of chicken in the middle. They also had excellent chicken fried rice, which the Panamanians who went there inexplicably doused in ketchup.

As far as other cheap restaurants, there was a place on Via Espana that had fantastic soup and pressed sandwiches, similar to Cuban media noches, that the bank workers downtown frequented. There was a great Argentine place that served whole corvina grilled with TONS of garlic, but I can't remember the name of the place.

For nights out, several of us often went to El Trapiche on Via Argentina for dinner (tamale de olla!!) then next door to Manolos for coffee and churros (apple filled were my favorite). I also remember a place called Las Tinajas, where they had women dressed in the Polleras doing traditional dances - it was beautiful and the food was very good. There was also a really good German restaurant that was a special occasion thing, but I can't remember the name of that one either.

Of course, anyone who visited Panama had to go to Las Cascadas just once for the experience. The food sucked but it was worth it to see the spectacle of Las Cascadas and to read the terribly translated menu.

When we would go to the countryside, I loved to get the fire roasted cashews in the little paper bags. And I agree about the produce. We would make a weekly trip to the big fruit and vegetable market.

The street food - hojaldres and patacones in the little places on Avenida Central. The pipas (immature coconuts) that you could get for a quarter - the seller would lop the top off with a machete and stick in a long paper straw, so refreshing on a hot day.

Porto Bello was gorgeous. And the flight to San Blas scared the crap out of me, landing on El Porvenir. I loved going there though, staying at the Hotel San Blas on Wichub Walla, in the little thatch huts. They made the best spiny lobster and coconut rice.

My typical weekends, when I wasn't working, consisted of at least one day lying on the beach at Isla Taboga. The round trip ferry was just a few bucks and there was cheap beer at the restaurant hotel.

So do you have any good favorite recipes from Panama?

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