Ceviche, Johnnycakes, and Chocolate: My Three Panamanian Food Groups

It should come as no surprise that, in a nation where over 75% of its borders are coastline, they eat a lot of seafood. While there is abundant grouper, snapper, and octopus, corvina is king. And the favorite preparation? Ceviche. Ceviche is a way of preparing fresh, raw fish by marinating (“cooking”) it in citrus juices and seasonings. It’s a preparation popular throughout Latin America, and I’ve found that each country gives ceviche its own twist. For example, in Ecuador the ceviche is made with lime juice and served with corn nuts. In Peru, the ceviche has more of a spicy kick. And in Panama, the corvina cevhice is particularly tangy.

While in Panama City, the hubby and I conducted a scientific study (yeah, not really) to determine where a person could find the best corvina ceviche. After careful analysis, we found that the best ceviche was at the Mercado de Mariscos – the Fish Market – where a Styrofoam cup sets you back a whopping $1.25. It certainly did not come on a fancy dish or with frilly presentation, and the smell of the fish market was a wee bit strong that day, but it didn’t matter. The ceviche was awesome. And, I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure the other restaurants where we tried ceviche had also bought theirs at the Mercado, quadrupling (or more) the price.

In Bocas del Toro in the Caribbean, johnnycakes are a staple and local favorite. We ate fresh, toasted johnnycakes nearly every day for breakfast, and then specifically requested lunchtime PB&J sandwiches also be made with them. I’ve never met a bread I didn’t like, and the Panamanian johnnycakes, made with coconut milk and baked over (and under) an open fire, were particularly exceptional.

If there’s one food I love even more than bread, it’s chocolate. In cooking school, I learned how to temper chocolate, aligning the molecules to create a better looking and tasting final product. At Las Lomas Jungle Resort and Chocolate Farm on Isla Bastimento, the lovely husband and wife team of Henry and Margaret took us back to the basics, showing us where chocolate comes from and how it is processed. See below for the picture gallery.

The hubby and I left Henry and Margaret’s environmentally focused chocolate farm inspired to grow some of our own food rather than just herbs (actually, the hubby was inspired to open up his own farm in Panama, but I told him one step at a time). Chocolate may not bode well in Chicago, but this spring I’ll be on the hunt for some small container possibilities. Any suggestions?

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