In addition to the incredible experience of traveling the world and seeing all the sights… Jeni and I are also extremely excited about all the great foods and flavors we will be able to taste. This will incorporate another subset of blog entries entitled simply FOOD. It will not only focus on some of the best restaurants in the world, but also on the unique flavors and tastes of all the local areas.
However, early on in our trip we have reservations at many of the most famous places on the culinary map; AND some that are less known but are pushing their way to the forefront of fine cuisine.
Our last night in Panama City, we dined at one of the latter.
Donde José is a 16-seat restaurant at the Northern tip of Casco Viejo (and located just a block from our hotel). We had the second seating at 9PM which worked well since we had taken a late morning boat tour of the Panama Canal, and would not have made the earlier seating due to the boat tour.
We were fortunate to dine at the Chef’s Table, so Chef José Carles was there to meet us as we entered and was there throughout the meal explaining the courses and answering all off our questions. Chef Carles formally worked at Attica in Melbourne (we hope to dine there in February) before returning to his home city of Panama City and creating meals using ingredients endemic to Panama. If you enjoy food, don’t pass up a chance to dine at any Chef’s Table!
All of the ingredients are from Panama, pretty much all the dishes have some kick and spice to them, and most of the dishes were totally foreign for foodies who mainly subsist on Contemporary American and classic French dining. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least!
The 9-course meal evoked memories of the chef’s childhood meals with his grandmother as well as incorporated many of the flavors from the multitude of ethnicities found in Panama. This included the above pictured “Chinese-panamanian” course which was a local take on the steamed bun. I was not aware that Panama has one of the largest (if not the largest) number of Chinese descendants and immigrants found in Central America. Many Chinese immigrants arrived in Panama to work on the railroads as well as the Panama Canal.
Our favorite course of the night was actually the vegetarian dish pictured above. It was a dish consisting of mixed local greens and edible flowers. Everything was crisp and fresh – and worked very well as a pseudo-palate clenser.Wacho-style was a Panamanian-style “risotto” which consisted of rice, some of which was intentionally stuck to the bottom of the pan – giving it a crunchy texture. It was topped with a whole soft-shelled crab.
All-in-all, this was a meal full of new flavor profiles, several of which we hope to expand on as we continue our travels (and meals) in South America. Plus, the concept of using ingredients indigenous to the country will be showcased in our upcoming meal at Central in Lima, Peru. We cannot wait!