One of the biggest newspapers in the United States just ran a love letter to Panama’s under-appreciated cuisine. USA Today writer Michelle Herrman writes that Panama City has “become a hot spot for young talented chefs making names for themselves with their contemporary twists on traditional dishes.”
Panama is recognized as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, based on its culture and the variety of local food. These days, the city is “buzzing [with] restaurants and bars, longtime establishments and traditional cart vendors.”
Herrman’s article is titled, “6 unique ways to experience the cuisine of Panama” and offers tips for exploring the cuisine, ranging from sampling Panama chocolate to experiencing the “culinary influence of Afro-Panamanian culture.”
The article is a deep dive into the cool aspects of the indigenous cuisine, as well as a taste of the talent flocking to Panama. She calls out many of the excellent chefs working in the city, such as chef Ariel Zebede, who runs A to Z, a “fully immersive, pop-up experience…with a multi-course chef’s table tasting menu.” She notes, “Zebede draws upon his Panamanian upbringing and time in restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles to put on an artistic culinary showcase. Panamanian specialties are served up with a twist, such as almojábanos, fried corn, and cheese treat.”
Another chef singled out is José Olmedo Carles Rojas, executive chef at Fonda Lo Que Hay in Casco Viejo and La Barca y Los Náufragos at Eco Venao in Playa Venao, who “plays up Panamanian foods with a sharable plate men” such as “Concolon Sexy,” a dish of pan-stuck fried rice, along with a smoky tomato sauce. “His dessert selections could incorporate a raspao, an icy treat in a choice of fruity syrup flavors and with condensed milk,” Herrman writes.
Food is no small business in Panama. According to the UNESCO site, the culinary industry employs 58,000 people and contributes 6.4% to the GDP, which credits the country with “a rich gastronomy history based on diverse cultures and natural resources displayed in the city’s 2,477 restaurants and food kiosks.”