Savoring the Delights of Panama

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Since childhood, I’ve been a very discerning eater. I pride myself on being a good judge of great food. My recent trip to Panama was fantastic, but the trip to Panama for my taste buds was even more heavenly. Through my gastronomic experiences in this trip, I was reminded of the wisdom and kindness omnipresent in our world and the importance of cherishing a trip with the family.

Aguadulceno — Wisdom and Preconceived Assumptions

aguadulceno

My trip to Panama began with a couple of restful days at home in Panama City. My mother’s flawless home-made cooking was a welcome change from the perfunctory nature of subs, sandwiches, and burgers. On the third day, my parents, sister, and I headed out, by car, to the archipelagos of Bocas del Toro. It was a five day trip, with two days spent travelling. On our first day, we were headed to David. After the five hour mark, both my sister and I were hungry and wished to stop for some much-needed and well-earned rest. For the first half hour, we desperately searched for a McDonald’s or some other fast-food joint. Fed up with our futile efforts, my father made the somewhat autocratic decision to stop at a small and unassuming little restaurant called Aguadulceno. My sister and I, having grown up in the Western world, were quick to voice our protests. The restaurant looked filthy, dilapidated, and disgusting. As we made our way inside, with my sister and I fuming, my father ordered for all of us. The restaurant, as it turns out, specialized in barbecue chicken. (equivalent to the Indian Tandoori chicken) To our utmost surprise, the chicken turned out to be succulent and utterly scrumptious. The dish, with its rich taste, characterized by juicy tenderness, stood in stark contrast to the restaurant’s unappealing appearance. As my sister and I reluctantly admitted our father’s good choice and wisdom, we were both left thinking of the same age old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Om@Home — Wherever We Go, We Find Indians

omhome


After several days on the road, we finally reached Isla Colon in Bocas Del Toro. We were very graciously greeted by the staff at the Palme Royale Hotel and were courteously informed that an Indian dinner had been arranged for us. We were quite skeptical of the notion of a legitimate Indian dinner because Indian food on a far-off island in Panama seemed like a recipe for disaster. Unsure of what the staff had meant,  we carried on with our usual routine and grabbed a quick bite at a local restaurant before dinner. As we sat down to enjoy a game of cards, we heard a knock on the door. It was the owner of the island’s only Indian restaurant, Om@Home. An Indian born Canadian, she had migrated to Panama after marrying a Dutchman. The quantity of food she had brought in was simply astounding. She had prepared a complete three course meal for us, replete with crispy poppadums, warm samosas, tangy aloo-chat, mouthwatering chicken tikha masala and butter chicken, creamy daal, appetizing mixed vegetarian curry, excellent palak paneer, and finally delightfully tasty chocolate cake. Ahh, just describing the amazingly delicious variety of dishes has made me feel truly famished!

We were flabbergasted by not only the abundanance, but also the genuinely wonderful taste of the food. You might be thinking, it’s just Indian food! But to us, to find great Indian food in an island in Panama was truly shocking. Besides the food, we were pleasantly surprised by the manner of our host. She graciously served us and refused to accept payment. To her, the fact that we, as Indians, appreciated her culinary talent was much more than any monetary reimbursement. According to her, very few Indians frequented the island and she rarely got a chance to have her Punjabi food critiqued by Indians.  It’s truly amazing to see the extent of human kindness and to learn of the little things that make each of us happy.

Cerro Punta Restuarante — The Highlight of Our Trip

cerropunta

After a delightful sojourn in Bocas Del Toro, we made our way back to Panama City. On the way, we stopped at a hill station called Cerro Punta. As we made our way into a randomly chosen restaurant for some quick tea, the weather took a turn for the worse. As the rain came gushing down, we couldn’t help but imagine being in India during the monsoons, longing for some deep fried bhujia and some masala chai. As we looked at the restaurant menu, one thing was clear: no masala chai and no bhujia. We still took a chance and asked the owner if there was a possibility of getting something fried. It turns out there’s a very popular dish in Panama called patacones or fried bananas. Although we didn’t get our bhujias, the exquisitely delicious patacones more than adequately compensated for our unfulfilled desires. And although we didn’t get our masala chai, the filtered coffee at Cerro Punta Restaurante was more than adequate.  In the end, it wasn’t just about the food, it was the moment: spent with the family, relishing a superb meal.

If there’s one thing I’ll remember from that trip, it’s to never make assumptions. Every single experience above left my family and I pleasantly surprised. In short, my trip was simply savory!


About Merwan Hade :
Merwan Hade is a Senior, Computer Engineering major. He loves to read, write, watch movies, and play Cricket, Golf, and Tennis. He is appreciative of most things in life, but despises the phrase, “Oh my God, that’s so retarded.”
View all posts by Merwan Hade
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1 comment

  1. Zeal says:

    Feb 13, 2011

    Reply

    Delicious!

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