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Jan 12, 2010 09:03 AM

No Reservations - PANAMA

Thought it was a good start to the season. Didn't realize there was such a Chinese influence in Panama. I even enjoyed the somewhat hokey bits about Noriega. And holy cocaine!

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  1. Panama >> railroad >> Chinese railroad workers.

    The railroads in Panama were precipitated by the gold rush (as was the Transcontinental in the US). The Panamanian railroad predates the US effort by a decade or so. They imported Chinese laborers for the project. Not sure how many (if any) remained, but they were there in the mid-19th Century.

    1. I was kind of hoping to see a blend of cuisines at the Chinese restaurant they ate at. But all we saw was Cantonese food.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Miss Needle

        That's because most of the railway workers both there and in the United States came from that area of China. And the reason for that is because it is coastal. No need to recruit inland, when there were plenty of people right there who could hop on the ships.

        1. re: CorneliusSneedley

          I don't think I'm quite understanding you. The Chinese have been to many places and have adapted their culinary techniques to the different regions they are in. For example, there's Korean-Chinese cuisine. The Korean-Chinese version of jia jiang myun is different from the Chinese version as the Chinese adapted it for Korean tastes. I'm surprised we didn't see char siu being served with coconut rice or empanadas filled with hoisin-glazed roast duck.

          1. re: Miss Needle

            I would guess you don't see it because they don't do it. Char siu bao in China isn't always that different from Char siu bao in Monterey Park. It depends on who frequents the restaurants. I would imagine that given the high population of Chinese immigrants [per the show] there wasn't a need to modify things to appeal to other people's tastes.

            1. re: jenn

              I think it would be erroneous for one to assume that an episode of No Reservations depicts the culture as it really is. An episode just gives us the smallest taste of what the country is about. Like Bourdain, I know nothing about Panama (with the exception of when I asked somebody from Panama what is uniquely Panamanian in terms of food and he replied some sort of corn cake). From the episode, it seems that there is only Cantonese influence in the Chinese food. But just from reading fodors, it seems that the Chinese in Panama have taken to using local ingredients such as snook and corvina. And it seems that one of the "best" Chinese restaurants there is one that specializes in Mandarin cuisine.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                hmmm, maybe we need to send you to Panama with a video camera and we can post your report and we can all learn more........
                I am not sure if I would rely on Foders to evaluate Chinese food in Panama. I find they are not always on top of things when you take the food out of the country.

                the corn cake part is surprising---I think of corn cakes, aka arepas, and Venezuela....

                1. re: jenn

                  If you guys all chip in and pay for it, I'm game. : )

                  Yeah, I'm sure Fodors is not completely accurate -- and I'm not saying that Bourdain is inaccurate -- just saying he only shows a part of the puzzle.

                  Other nations also have their corn cakes -- Mexico with their sopes, Colombia with their arepas, El Salvador with their pupusas. I'm assuming the Panamanian corn cake is unique to the country. I've never had one.

                  1. re: jenn

                    Panamenian corn cakes are called a Tortillas and it's similar to an arepa but it's deep friend and cruncy. Eat for breakast with cheese or eggs and also with steak or liver with onions.

                    1. re: jenn

                      Back in the 1800's Panama, Colombia and Venezuela were part of the Republic of New Granada...our tortillas (that's what they are called) are similar to the arepas, but are very crunchy....

                2. re: Miss Needle

                  Peruvian also has a lot of Chinese influence. I agree with you that the cuisine does get adapted in each region.

            2. To be honest I found the food content in this episode to be underwhelming. Seems that like many countries Panama has no real food identity of its own. Rather it's just a mish mosh of various cuisines brought by people from their native countries that happened to settle down in Panama.

              I really wonder why they chose that specific Cantonese restaurant to highlight on the show. It didn't appear to be anything special. Certainly nothing you can't find in any major city in america.

              As far the travel portions of the show, the Noriega segment was informative but kind of a snore. And the jungle expedition where he goes to hang out with the indiginous people he's done too many times already.

              9 Replies
              1. re: mliew

                I agree with the original post, an entertaining way to start the season. Not the most exciting food-wise but I thought the locations he visited were interesting.

                1. re: mliew

                  Okay but " has no real food identity of its own. Rather it's just a mish mosh of various cuisines brought by people from their native countries that happened to settle down in Panama" that can be said about the US as well can't it? Its what you do with it that counts.

                  For me the funniest part was that they editted it out of order. Look at Bourdain's arms when he is in Panama City--whoa said my husband, new tatts! Now look at his arms when he arrives at the little village--hey! where went the new tatts?

                  Silly mistake.

                  That said, just because something is a variation on something someplace else doesn't mean it isn't yummy. I'm happy to know that I can find good things to eat in Panama if I should find myself there.

                  1. re: jenn

                    I don't think they were meant to be tattoos, but a henna-ish ink of some kind.

                    1. re: jlbwendt

                      I think jenn was just pointing out that we saw him with the ink BEFORE we saw the scene of the woman applying it to him. It gave me a double-take as well.

                    2. re: jenn

                      I lived in the Panama Canal Zone back in thelate 60s - early 70s through high school. I still yearn for the Panamanian foods and tastes.
                      The ceviche shown was authentic. Yes, corvina is the local fish of choice. The brief glimpse of the fried plantains did not do justice to the street food. The Chinese food I used to eat there was not so generic. Anyways, I hope Chowhounds will visit Panama will use other guides for dining than this episode of No Reservations. I am a huge fan of this show and Anthony Bourdain, but I was sorely disappointed with this episode.

                      1. re: ritabwh

                        We went not too long after the show aired. Just spent 1.5 days in Panama City. But we went to both Marea and the seafood market. Marea was funny b/c it was inside a gigantic mall, but the food was still excellent, ceviche in particular. We ate at the restaurant upstairs at the seafood market and had a very good meal, with the exception of the only bad (mealy) patacones on the entire trip. Stopped at the same ceviche vendor downstairs on the way out- the shrimp ceviche was just incredible.

                        We also had a wonderful dinner at Manolo Caracol on our last night in Panama. No menu, 12 courses, $25 each. Great fun.

                      2. re: jenn

                        Oh I would definitely agree that the US falls into the mish mosh category and I wasn't trying to imply that just because its borrowed from somewhere doesn't mean it can't be good. All I was saying is that based on the food the Bourdain showed on that episode it didn't seem like there was anything particularly unique about Panamanian cuisine. Perhaps this is a wrong assumption but certainly if you just watched the TV show it comes off that way.

                        1. re: mliew

                          Panamanian cuisine, I'm from Panama and moved 2.5 years ago to DC area in US, until I moved out of my country I realized the difference in our cuisine in compare to our neighbors (Costa Rica & Colombia). We do have fusions of Central American, South American & Caribbean Cuisine, African & French..

                          Before making any more comments I will watch first the episode of No Reservations in Panama and will come back to finish my post =)


                          btw I'm traveling to Panama in June since there's going to be a first (serious) Gastronomic Festival and also with Chef Melissa de Leon & a Culinary tour. I'm very excited for this kind of organization in my country (usually it's a mess any type of event I've assisted in the past).

                      3. re: mliew

                        I don't think the point was highlighting that particular restaurant, i think it was mostly highlighting the fact that there is a large Chinese community in Panama (me being part of it). I live in New York now and everybody is shocked that I’m part Chinese from Panama where there are a bunch of Chinese people.