5 Funky Eats in Panama.
If you eat like me, you like to explore. You want to try something different. You are giddy when you are able to tell friends about a new funky place you recently discovered. When traveling, you want a find a place that offers you a unique experience. A place that only locals know about.
Panama City(PTY) is filled with restaurants that are overpriced and under deliver. My friends and I have frequented all of these places and we left each one bored. Yet, in PTY exist a handful of funky/quirky/unique and just down right strange places to eat. Few know of them, and even fewer truly appreciate them. But, here is where you need to go and what to look for:
1. Seoul. Recently, I asked my good friend why do we love this obscure Korean restaurant in Bella Vista. Here are his answers:
- All ethnic food in Panama is overpriced and overly formal. This is neither. (In reality, it’s only around $15/head for a shitload of food).
- It’s one of only 2 Korean places in town.
- It’s the anti-restaurant: Service stinks, decor is drab, no liquor, no smiles. But somehow, that’s what makes it charming!
- Not many people know about it.
- Culinary arts in Panama are extremely predictable. Food at Seoul is the opposite.
- Panama’s only (and small) Korean population fills it every time.
Most people will find this place strange. But if you are open-minded you will love Seoul”s quirkiness.
2. The Jolly Arepa Man. Head to the Banking District and look for the collapsible street side food cart. The jolly Colombian man cooks every night but Sunday. He is located in an alley between Beriut restaurant and a 3 story grungy apartment building. He and female helper prepare a traditional Colombian corn tortilla fired arrapas with your choice of chicken, pork, or beef for $2.00-$3.00.
The arrapas are not the main draw (there are several street vendors selling delicious arrapas). The main draw is the Colombian cook. He has a bit of an Emeril Lagasse-type energy. Every time I’ve been to his stand, he is chatting up clients as he simultaneously prepares the food. Be sure to ask him to tell his story while you are munching on a deep fried arrapa.
3. La Jarana. The Panama Report turned me onto this Peruvian restaurant. At first glance, it appears to be another generic, mediocre dining option in San Francisco. However, the ceviche is among the best in the city and the prices are a bargain.
4. Fish Market. If the first place Anthony Bourdain goes in Panama is the fish market, then enough said. You will discover the incredible variety of Panama’s Caribbean and Pacific fish. If you would like a more typical dining option, climb to the second floor restaurant for lunch. Otherwise, dine amongst the people by heading to the outdoor corner stalls and snagging a $1-$2 cecviche cocktail.
5. Mama Chefa. Do you wanna have a authentic Panamanian experience? Screw buying a Panama hat. Eat lunch at Mama Chefa’s place in Casco. You sit in her personal dining room and watch blaring Panamanian news ( which seems to be constantly reporting murders and tipped over Diablo Rojos). The whole time you’re rubbing elbows with local Panamanian government officials while eating typical Panamanian food. All for less than $3.
**** If you go to Mama Chefa’s house remember these things. 1. Only call her “Mama Chefa”. 2. Hug her. 3. DO NOT shake her hand. 4. DO NOT give her a customary cheek to cheek kiss. Hug her, and she will take care of you like one of her own.
If you know of other funky places to eat in PTY, do share by leaving a comment.