Oh, wie schön ist Panamá – Janosch
(Oh, how beautiful is Panamá – Janosch)
If you grew up in Germany or Austria in the 1990s, this book title might sound more than familiar as it has been in a staple children’s night read for many of us: one day the little bear and the little tiger head out to look for Panamá, the land of their dreams and desire. Why? Because one day – living in a house on a little river – they find a washed-up box which says “Panama” and smells bottom-up like bananas. And they love it. And simply start their journey. And I started mine in May 2015.
Dori loves Panamá – and that’s why
From the cristal clear turquoise Caribbean sea to the coffee farms and cloud forests of Chiriquí, Panama can be as chilled out or as thrilling as you want it to be – I have experienced the country of roughly 4.1 million people to be just that: an unexpected mix of lost world adventures, amazing outdoors and yet a cosmopolitan vibe: basically a confluence. The people I met, the experiences I gatherd and the roughness of a destination, I expected to be “anyway just like Costa Rica”, surprised me at its best. The energy fed me throughout my journey and I got to see some parts of my world, yet my life in new ways.
Panamá – another suprise – has a super nice motto as a country – pro mundi y beneficio – meaning “for the benefit of the world” and even if I can not speak for THE WORLD here, my 2 week adventures has benefited both my spirits and my well-being a lot.
So, the question remains – is Panamá a ligit hunting ground for a paleo?
But given the fact that rice is seen by my Panamanian friend as a staple part of a proper meal – arroz verde, arroz con pollo, arroz con coco … – I was a bit worried upfront and started googling around.
Wikipedia describes Panamanian cuisine as “mildly flavored […] common ingredients are maize, rice, wheat flour, plantains, yuca (cassava), beef, chicken, pork and seafood” – the reality was that I was able to happily pass on the first three grainy options and dived heads into the remaining ones, with my eyes and taste buds open for new flavors and ingredients.
Panamá’s seashore surroundings provide a variety of fish and seafood – and even a Bavarian landlubber like myself can resist the fresh ocean delicacies.
A RANDOM FACT:
At the age of 28, I ate the first whole fish in my entire life: a fried red snapper at the San Blas Island, a mid-carribbean paradise (cause where else?).
Even though most meals will be accompanied with rice or some kind of carbohydrate-laden side dish, like arepas, empanadas or tortillas – natural food is key and the people I met where all about good, but real ingredients which is an excellent start. Also restaurants are happy to adapt to dietary needs and I meanwhile experienced a lot of healthy and delicious eateries both in the capital as well as more rural areas, like Boquete or Santiago.
Before I dive into my top three local dishes/ ingredients, have a look at my top paleo restaurant picks for Panama in 2015 to get a feeling for what is served up on the grain-free front.
Panamanian Paleo Foodporn
With bananas and pineapple being the main export goods of Panamá, I want to share three unforgettable food choices I tasted during my time on-site.
Red Snapper/ El pargo rojo
Red Snapper, as mentioned, was the first whole fish I have ever tried in my life – and even though here in Munich I am drawn towards seafood, I would always go for it again.
The chef simply fried it – without a batter, basically just with the fish’s natural skin and I suspect him to simply chuck the fish into a bunch of oil. Which probably made all the difference, as it tasted delicious from head to tail – and even though it took me ages to properly direct it, I can only recommend this natural way of preparing the fish.
Health benefits: a 3-ounce serving of red snapper has only 109 calories, and provides 22 grams of protein – which can result in eased weight control, as protein rich dishes make you feel satisfied for longer periods of time. The high amount of omega-3 fatty acids may help lower your risk for heart disease and high blood pressure – a paleo approved winner.
El mango/ Mango
Of course, I knew mangos as an overpriced and never-perfectly ripe fruit in our European supermarkets – the occasional artificially tasting mango juice in cocktails was probably the most natural way I got to taste this fruit in the past.
But wow did I miss out within my past years, as the mangos I ate in Panamá are the bomb – after I learned that they actually grown on huge trees all over the country, I almost got obsessed with the sweet-but-tangy taste and the juiciness above all. I do not even bother about doing something with it – give to me raw and I am in paleo heaven.
Health benefits: mangos are said to help a a decreased risk of macular degeneration, a lower risk of colon cancer, improvement in digestion and bone health. Plus they might even generate benefits for the skin and hair – which makes to crave them even more.
El plátanto/ Plantain
The star of my Panamanian foodie adventure is definitely the plaintain – also known as the bigger brother of your usual table banana. They are also harder and can not be eaten raw – in Central America and the Carribean, plantains are one of the most common side-dish/ snack ingredients.
I especially fell in love with patacones – a way of eating platain as double-fried smashed banana disks – a starchy, but grain-free guarnición with can be ordered anywhere to my luck.
Browse through my recipes and find my healthy-fied patacones en Philips Airfryer, which I even made back in Munich because I just love the slightly sweet taste and the convenient dip-in-any-salsa-shape.
Health benefits: despite a higher calorific content than your usual banana, you can benefit from their higher vitamin content and even kick butt when it comes to potassium – a micronutrient beneficial for your blood and heart rate as well as your overall well-being and level of energy.
The verdict: Panamanians love to eat – I experienced them to be very open and hospitable, which made every meal and every bite enjoyable for me. Whether eating on the beach, a BBQ in the valley or a lunch on a boat on the Panamá canal – this destination is paleo approved and the natural surroundings and ingredients will not even make you think about a BigMac.
Seal of approval well earned. Gracias Panamá!
Really good places to go for a paleo friendly bite:
a lovely little bar to hit for fruit juices and smoothies, acai bowls and ensalada de frutas. one of their newst additions to the healthy menueare the acai bowls with fruit, granola and a choice of sweetner, e.g. honey or agave nektar. Lalo’s also offers a great home delivery service on top, so no excuses.
Paleo taste-tested and approved: chia pudding with almond milk and fruit (sin avena/ without oats) – as you can see, the girls help you out with staying grain-free
Location: at Balboa Boutiques, Panama City | +507 203-4526
an amazing salad bar concept, perfect to grab a lunch from the extensive menue, preferrably in a meal deal with plantain chips. if your are looking for a healthy lunch option delivered to your house of office, they got you covered.
Paleo taste-tested and approved: a customized (large) salad with romaine lettuce, cucumber, carrot, peppers, shredded chicken and an amazing load of AVOCADO
Location: all over the place with 11 locations in Panamá, e.g. Costa del Este, Punta Pacífica, El Doraldo
a nicely set eatery featuring an authentic rural style both in its location in the historic center of Panamá and its menue – Casablanca features a wide range freshly prepared mains full of paleo friendly choices – all mains are easily combinable with grain-free sides, like patacones or steamed vegetables. choose from numerous meat and seafood dishes as well as salads and selected gluten-free soups.
Paleo taste-tested and approved: langostions a la planca con vegetales, filet mignon dijon, ensalada césar de pollo and patacones a la morgan
Location: Casco Viejo, San Felipe, Calle 4, Ed. Hotel Colombia | +507 212 0040
if you are into surfing, Playa Venao along the pacfic coast of Panamá is the place to be – the amazingly beautiful hotel El Sitio provides the perfect spot to relax after a day in the surf, but do not expect the food to be as laid-back and easy as your attitude might be. The restaurant & bar crew works magic and whilst staying at the hotel for 3 days, our minds were literally blow away by both Panamanian and international selections of local meats and freshly caught seafood. Especially the breakfast options are amazing – the Israel born chef even serves an authentic shakshuka, I fell in love with #paleofoodporn at its best.
Paleo taste-tested and approved: shahshuka (without bread), ceviche, camarones scampi, filete de res, sesamo crust atún, coffee and the view 😉
Location: Playa Venao, Azuero, Panama | 507-832-10-10