Panama food combines local ingredients with some international flavors, inherited from their many visitors. The Panama Canal Zone has something special and this shows in the food.
From Panama, with flavor
Thick jungles, ocean breezes, small orange monkeys clinging securely to little girls heads, and toddling boys being carried by their father's to see the US ships pass by. This was the scene in the 1940's and 50's when my family was growing up in the Panama Canal Zone. Even though I have never stepped foot in Panama, the sights and sounds are, and have always, been an important part of my life. My family left Ireland for Cuba, and eventually settled in Ancon, Panama, Canal Zone. This is where my father learned to cook.
Fresh fruits and sea foods were the staples at the CZ table. Spanish, Cuban and American foods mingled deliciously together. A meal called Johnny Mazzetti, is one such favorite. With so many different families, and ships passing through the Canal, herbs, spices and seasonings found unique homes in the natural availability in the jungle and the ocean.
Walking through the streets had an interesting arrangements of farm stands and carts. Just about anything you needed could be found along the roadway. Tropical fruits nestled with freshly brought in shrimp. One of my first sea food meals I was taught was ceviche. An obvious choice when making a tropical theme dinner.
Breads, such a Micha, where made in small bakeries. The smells wafted out into the neighborhood, and the delivery boy smelled good enough to eat. Plantains, pineapples and mangoes could be found in just about every home, from the family section to the bachelor apartments. Empanaditas, sancocho de gallina, and coconut rice graced our small table when I was growing up in the States. These foods have a long a cherished history with many Canal Brats, especially my family. It is wonderful that I was able to share in a rich food history. I might not ever see the ships slowly passing through the gates of the canal, but I can feel very much at home when I eat sopa borracha for dessert.