Shortcuts, Shaved Ice, and Seabass in Styrafoam

I just returned from Panama, known mostly for it’s namesake Canal. We had the opportunity to visit at the MiraFlores locks (one of 3 lock systems) and the great fortune that a large ship was going through the locks when we arrived. This epic engineering feat is worth the trip. To provide context – it would take ships 3 months to cruise around South America to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and via the canal – it takes them 8 hours, so we’ll call that a shortcut.  But it is not without great cost; the passage fee can literally be hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the queue can be 3 weeks, as the ships vie for their spot in the line, largely determined by the fee they pay. Alas, that’s how we get our electronics, food, clothes, from overseas. So bravo for the canal.

But second to this manmade wonder of the world, we were in search of the most local street food. It turns out to be the equivalent of an American snow cone that they call Raspao, or shaved ice. I had my choice of grape, strawberry, or guava syrup. And while not advertised, small cans of condensed milk were on the cart’s shelf, so I nodded for him to top me off. While the end product was average, I can only describe the experience as nearly artisan. He didn’t scoop out the ice from a cooler, instead this happened. Your welcome! I paid $3, but this is likely because I was in the most touristy part of Casa Viejo, or Panama’s old town, at a very prominent town square. I’m thinking you can probably get them for $.25 wherever fewer gringos are grazing.

The other local street food we came across was the outdoor ceviche market at the waters edge, adjacent to the full blown fish market – where locals and chef’s both shop. This was a treat. If you can make it past the vendors assertively “inviting” you in to their shop, instead of the other 8-10 available, and find your way to a open seat, there is plenty of charm to be had. We chose the last vendor on the route – as our bellies were growling, and the beer looked cold.  We were served by a lovely local, who spoke as good of English as anyone did on the entire trip (so… not) , and ordered up the ceviche. We chose seabass, shrimp, and then went for the octopus stuffed in plantain shells. I will tell you now – the ceviche was fresh, properly balanced, but didn’t blow us away. Then the octopus came, in what I can only describe as a plantain that had been sliced, mushed together, shaped into a small cup, and then fried. The octopus itself was in a spicy, bright, rich, and tangy red sauce – that I’ll be sure to attempt to replicate in the SBK. It was the standout of the Panama trip – in what we all can agree – was sublime.

I also decided that if you can’t wear a fedora in Panama, well then there is no place in the world you can. Thanks, Jack.



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