5 Funky Eats in Panama

April 8, 2010 by:
5 Funky Eats in Panama

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.

eop-evan-headshot1Panama 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.

Evan Terry Forbes

Evan Forbes 122 post in this blog.

Evan Terry Forbes is an Author, Entrepreneur and Hall of Fame Traveler. He writes entertaining books about how travel has changed his life. In so many beautiful ways. Currently, Evan is traveling with his retired mother for 1 year through Europe and Asia. This book will be called, Travels With My Mother - How Travel Transformed A Mother-Son Relationship. Read his books here.

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9 Comments on "5 Funky Eats in Panama"

  1. char on Thu, 8th Apr 2010 8:51 pm 

    when you said funky, I though for sure we would make the list, but I see that the place has to represent another kind of funky, guess La Musa is too upscale for your funky, jeje… loved it though! Want to try every single place in the list, even though my doctor already told me to stop eating so much street food…

  2. Ken on Thu, 8th Apr 2010 9:23 pm 

    Noodle shop “La Especial” El Dorado
    Pupusas small fonda next to the Transistmica Social Security buildings.
    Indian curry shop at Vista Hermosa

  3. Casco Viejo Hotel on Fri, 9th Apr 2010 7:08 am 

    Some additions:

    - fried fish lady in the heart of the chorillo ghetto
    - men who sell turtle eggs and churros (what a combo!) on avenida central (casco viejo)
    - samosa king at indian store in paitilla (only on weekends)
    - red string cafe (frederico boyd) – great date spot
    - darna bread cafe (punta pacifica next to organica)

  4. Russell on Fri, 9th Apr 2010 2:15 pm 

    The Jolly Arrapa Man? How can you ignore the best one outside of Bogotá? just down from the Alhambra cinema, on the corner of Via Espana and the KFC, they open from 5 and go till about 2AM, expect a long wait, but they give you a ticket number and are worth it!!!

  5. Jonny B. Goode on Tue, 13th Apr 2010 11:01 am 

    King’s Food indian buffet around the corner from Popeye’s in Patilla as Casco Hotel comments is definitely a hidden gem for indian food in Panama City. It is only available on weekends and very informal but 5 bucks will put you into a nice little indian food coma.
    I have to caution against supporting the turtle egg industry in Panama. The turtle eggs sold throughout the year come from the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles that are protected under several international conservation agreements including the binding Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC) to which Panama is party. That being said, there is one location in Panama where this practice is somehow sanctioned (unbelievably so) by ANAM and this is Isla Canas in the province of Los Santos. Though it is otherwise universally illegal to harvest the eggs enforcement of this law is severly lacking. I’m not sure if the sale of turtle eggs is restricted specifically by Panamanian law or not but one would assume that if harvesting is illegal then the sale would naturally be illegal as well.

  6. Angie on Fri, 23rd Apr 2010 3:13 pm 

    Seoul is my families best place. Its exactly like you said, ugly, horrible service, even to the point where sometimes they just tell you to turn around cause they are closed (specially if they dont know you) but the food is awesome. Order bulgogy (pork) with lettuce, which you put the bulgogy inside of and wrap and eat (lots of fun and delicous), rice, small fishy things that are awesome, kimchi OF COURSE, and well all the other little plates… awesomoe best place in panama.

  7. Jason Castro on Mon, 28th Jun 2010 1:02 pm 

    “It’s the anti-restaurant: Service stinks, decor is drab, no liquor, no smiles. But somehow, that’s what makes it charming!”

    You just described every restaurant in Panama.

  8. Pilar on Tue, 4th Oct 2011 5:19 pm 

    -”La casa del Ham Pao” inside Centro Comercial El Dorado, I always eat the Chicken Noodle Soup or the Shrimp Fried Rice.
    -”Lugos Bar” in Plaza Ágora, Transistmica… good patacones, cold beers and a dance floor if you are into dancing some Latin music ;)

  9. TACA Regional on Mon, 26th Dec 2011 3:27 pm 

    Nice recommendations. Fish Market is a must when you visit Panama City.
    @TACARegional

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