I am not a religious person, far from it, but I was raised Jewish in New York City. I think part of why I left New York was to see how the rest of the world lived. Today was a sweet remembrance of my youth. Mort and Barbara Rabkin invited Mayra and I to join others for a celebration of Rosh Hashana, the beginning of new year in the Jewish calendar. This is the beginning of a series of annual holidays that are important in the Jewish tradition.
I loved the food, chopped liver, roast lamb, kugels galore and Mort’s rye bread. Need to dig out some recipes.
Rosh Hashana is a joyous event, food, song and dance. I can assure you that it is being celebrated in other parts of Panama also. I was discussing with Gabi Klaf how different Panama is than Costa Rica. Panama has a large economically and politically active Jewish community. Panama is the only country besides Israel that has had two Jewish presidents in the twentieth century; from 1964-68 Max Delvalle was the first vice president of the Republic and later President. Eric Delvalle Maduro was president from 1987-1988, the end of the Noriega years.
There is a large Jewish community in Panama City including schools, synagogues and the largest kosher markets outside of Israel. I have spent some time in that community in the capital and although I am very much an outsider to a far more observant group I have always felt welcome.
It seems by accident I have come back to some of my roots and traditions, I like it. I want to thank Mort and Barbara for the opportunity.
I waited a long time to visit Big Daddy’s. When the restaurant poll was done I was surprised to see them score so high, number four. I decided to go and eat there. Still I procrastinated until my friends Dan and Randy intercepted me on route to their table in Baru and suggested I join them at Big Daddy’s; I did.
We went for a late lunch, early dinner on Tuesday June 7. As we entered they introduced and identified me to Elizabeth, the co-owner, because of this, perhaps in spite of this or just because, we had excellent, five star service.
We each ordered different dishes, Randy a Filet Minion sandwich, Dan a Chicken Sandwich and I had fish and chips. I wanted to compare them to what Craig serves as Las Ruinas and Elizabeth warned me that their fish and chips was totally different, it was.
Where the Fish and Chips at Las Ruinas inspires memories of Camden Town in London, the Big Daddy’s Fish and Chips reminded me a fresh version of Mrs. Pauls, a frozen fish fillet sold in the US. It was good and many people will prefer it, but not me, I like the greasier memories of Camden Town. I liked the Cole Slaw side dish, a lot. But there was barely enough to satisfy the desire, maybe bigger side order portions would be an addition?
Big Daddy's Fried Chick Sandwich
Big Daddy’s Filet Minion Sandwich above.
Both and Dan and Randy loved their food and are frequent customers.
I returned a second time on June 28 for lunch, this time with Mayra. The service was again excellent with both Elizabeth and Larry coming out to be sure we were satisfied. Without prompting Mayra ordered the fish and chips and I tried the fish sandwich, grilled not fried.
I asked for salad instead of a fried side dish, I received two small cups of cole slaw, the slaw was very good and two cups was a decent portion.
Mayra loved the fish and chips and the portion was way too much for her complete. She liked the fact it was not greasy and was fresh fish. Mayra has never been to Camden Town in London.
I found the fish sandwich uninspiring, good, but not great it was overwhelmed by the roll. We both agreed it had no flavor, it is not something I would repeat. For me 0-2 on food to rave about, 2-2 for good fresh food. I have been outvoted 3-2 by those I went with they all really enjoyed Big Daddy’s, me not so much.
Name: Big Daddy’s Grill
Location: Main Street in Boquete north of Los Establos
Hours: Tues- Sat 12 noon – 9pm, Sunday 12 – 8 PM
Short Description of the food: The food is quality, fresh and very much a luncheon style of cuisine. As the menu and sign indicate, grilled and fried are the theme.
Ambiance: The location is perfect for walking traffic in Boquete. There are three, two seat tables outside overlooking the street and about six more, larger tables inside. The inside is comfortable and set up for counter orders despite the fact we were given table service. Big Daddy’s is a diner, not a bad thing, something not found in Boquete before. 2/5
Price: My Fish and Chips cost $8.50 and was a fair portion, I substituted Onion Rings, an extra $.75, which was waived because they were delivered undercooked.
Randy’s Special Filet Sandwich was $7.95 plus $.75 for Onion Rings, also waived.
Dan’s Chicken sandwich from the menu was $5.95
The fish sandwich was also $7.95 and a good portion of fish on a fresh bun from Sugar and Spice Bakery. Servered with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce.
People have complained about the prices at Big Daddy’s. I have been here five years and the prices reminded me of US lunch prices, but more recent immigrants explained that I am still remembering gasoline for $1 a gallon and Snickers bars for $.25; the past.
It is hard to compare their food to a typico, which is far less expensive. Typico portions and prices are much lower and they rarely have even similar menu items. It is also hard to compare it to a fine dining restaurant, nether the food nor the ambiance are equal, but the prices are lower. Big Daddys offers good, fresh well cooked food at a midrange price point. 3/5
Bathrooms: The bathrooms a re 5/5 clean, water, toilet seat, paper towels and toilet paper.
Kitchen Cleanliness: The kitchen is clean. 5/5
Big Daddy's Kitchen
Service: As I said in the introduction we were treated like royalty. The second time service was also excellent from Elizabeth and a waitress. Food was delivered rapidly and was hot. 5/5
Jubilado Discount: I asked for the discount on the second trip and it was given without hesitation. 5/5
Summary: In My book Big Daddy’s is a nice place to have lunch. I will return if I have the desire for high end fast food. It is not much more expensive than McDonalds in David and certainly much better. It is also not inexpensive, I can buy lunch at Lourdes next door for under $3, but it is different. Big Daddy’s offers a fair value for the price, portions are not New York sized but certainly adequate. Big Daddy’s is not a “fine dining” experience, it is a fine diner experience.
In reviewing Restaurant Baru I made three separate visits, once before the Jazz Festival on Friday 25 Feb, another at about 10pm on March 4 th and a third, but not final trip on Saturday March 5th at about 7pm for dinner. I don’t usually do this but because of all the discussion about this restaurant on Boquete.ning.com I felt once was not enough.
Name: Restaurant Baru
Location: Across from Central Park in Bajo Boquete, probably the best tourist location in Boquete. Right next to the Municipal Palace.
Hours: They open 11 am, seven days a week and the kitchen closes at 10pm, the bar remains open till midnight Monday -Thursday and later on weekends.
Short Description of the food: The menu ranges from complete dinners to Pizza and other bar food. One our first trip we did not eat, on our second we had a pizza, our third trip was for a real dinner and drinks.
I would love to say the pizza was great, it was beautiful. it was served promptly and I had high hopes. Perhaps my mistake was ordering the combo; canned olives, ok, canned mushrooms, ok, pepperoni ok, but sliced hotdogs for sausage ruined the experience. Still we were hungry and ate half, Stone who was sitting nearby, gladly wolfed down another slice and the rest became breakfast. As an old fraternity guy, a breakfast of cold pizza and warm beer is familiar turf. I have substituted other less toxic beverages but I still like cold pizza for breakfast. This pizza, hot dog removed, was a good tasty day after breakfast. I would say the pizza is equal to that at La Posada, but since I know the pizza chef came from La Posada, I have no idea how theirs is now. I still prefer the NY style at Riccos but that is a personal choice. I prefer the environment at Baru hands down over the non environment at Riccos, that makes the pizza more than equal in the total equation. I mentioned the hot dog to Stuart the co-owner, and he said the used Salchica, a local word for hot dogs, he believed is was sausage and would investigate. I suspect the hot dogs will be replaced with Chorizo, sausage in the future and I was thanked for pointing out my objection.
When we returned on Saturday we ordered the Corvina Macho and Filet Stroganoff and a rum and some water. When the waiter returned he delivered two waters and two rums, he advised us drinks were two for one, not bad for $1.70 plus tax and tip.
As you can see the presentation was excellent, a side salad and we both selected mashed potatoes. Now some confessions, I ordered the filet medium and it was delivered medium, not burnt or raw. The second confession, both were beyond good, they were excellent. The service excellent, the food excellent, the prices more than fair our total bill for four rums, filet of beef and fish was $18 including tax and tip, that bill did include the jubilado discount given without objection or argument, tax and tip.
Ambiance: If you were a visitor to Amigos in the past Baru will feel both familiar and alien. The configuration of outside beer garden, inside front bar and a dining room will be familiar. The spiffy new look, spaced tables and well staffed environment will be a surprise. Where Amigos was a warm place by funky construction, Baru is a warm place because the staff and customers overcomes the shiny new everything.
Price: Prices are very reasonable, Beer is $1.25 including tax and tip, a bit more than some other places but Baru provides an ambiance that cost real money. Our medium combo pizza was $7.90 plus tax and 10% tip.
Warning this is one more restaurant that ads a 10% tip into your bill. Unless you want to tip more, don’t leave a tip, it’s covered.
Bathrooms: New clean and complete, they have water, toilets with seats, paper, soap, the whole enchilada. Very much a Panama City, international experience this is an evolution for Boquete.
Kitchen Cleanliness: I did peek in the kitchen was clean and was humming along.
Service: Our service varied a bit the first trip we sat out in the beer garden and I had to flag a waitress, to be fair there was not an empty seat and she confessed it was her first day working. Drinks came in a reasonable time but we did not have enough time to order food before our Jazz event. On out second later night trip the restaurant was almost full and we arrived just as the kitchen was closing. We were greeted immediately by a smiling waiter with drink menus. We did manage to get in a pizza order, the last of the night with some smiling help from management. Stuart is hands on and we were impressed. Our third trip was smooth as silk, good service and food delivered in a reasonable time considering again they had a full house.
Jubilado Discount: Given with no question just give your card to the waiter when you request your bill. They also accept credit cards.
Summary: I started by saying we visited three times and that this would not be our final trip. This restaurant is excellent, the biggest negative is on a weekend it is packed and noisy in the front, but if you want a quiet dinner there is the back room. Baru is a good addition to the Boquete community. The staff is working hard at providing both good food and good service. Management is there, hands on, asking for feedback, what a pleasure that is. If Baru maintains it’s quality it will earn a golden coffee bean as one of the Best of Boquete. I need to fnd some golden coffee beans soon.
Name: Sugar and Spice Bakery
Location: Avenida Central Boquete
Hours: Thursday – Tuesday
Short Description of the food: Sugar and Spice is without question the best bakery in Boquete. In addition to bread and pastries, they also serve a light menu of sandwiches and soup. Since they use their own bread they have a hands down advantage on all their sandwiches. We went after the Tuesday morning meeting and discovered a parade of familiar faces coming in for lunch. Mayra ordered soup and I tried a chicken sandwich.
The food was very good, my sandwich as good as I have had outside my own house in Boquete.
Ambiance: It’s a bakery and you can see the baking in progress as Richard works the dough. The rest of the staff is properly equipped for food service. There are three tables inside and two outside. We choose inside to avoid the noise of the continuous traffic. This not posh, it is comfortable and very much a lunch atmosphere.
Price: Prices are reasonable, my sandwich was $3, that makes it competitive with the now non-existent Subway for far better food.
Bathrooms: There is one bathroom which is in the back which is clean and has all the essentials including a real towel for drying your hands.
Kitchen Cleanliness: The kitchen is right in front of you and I watched chicken being torn from the bone to make sandwiches and others going into the oven. Nothing is hidden and everything is clean.
Service: This is counter service and we were served in about five minutes.
Jubilado Discount: I never asked
Summary: I have been buying bread from Richard as long as he has been open and I will keep doing so. THis was the first time we ate in the restaurant and next time I am craving a good sandwich in Boquete I will be back.
Name: Restaurante Las Orquideas
Location: Diagonally across from the Boquete Police station, just north of Restaurante Machu Picchu
Hours: Breakfast M-S 7am-10:30AM, Lunch and dinner 11:30AM – 8:30PM , Sundays 7am- 4PM
Short Description of the food: Typico. Right there I need to explain that there are several types of typicos in Panama. This is a sit down, listen to what is available, no menu, typico. It is not a cafeteria, the food might be preprepared, it needs to be, the service is so fast but you will not see the kitchen. We had lunch and the options included soup and a main plate, Mayra ordered the Beef Rib soup and a plate of the day. There were options offered and we each took rice, beans and a green salad. In addition Mayra selected grilled pork and I took grilled beef.
Sopa de costilla de res beef rib soup. This was very good with one meaty rib. It reminded me a little of Cocido a soup I loved in Tucson.
Cerdo asado (BBQ pork) with rice, salad and beans
Beef with rice, salad and beans
Ambiance: As you can the from the photo above you are not paying for ambiance, just good food and fast service. We ate out side on the small patio, I preferred that to the interior. We were not alone, this restaurant has a very mixed cliental of English and Spanish speakers. A way of saying local people and new immigrants.
Price: The soup was $1.25, the main lunch was $2.75 including iced tea. I have spent that much for iced tea in the past. We have not yet visited for breakfast but I intend to try it next time I eat breakfast in town.
Bathrooms: Clean and complete with toilet paper, toilet seats, running water and paper towels. When we were there the soap dispenser was empty.
Kitchen Cleanliness: I never made it into the kitchen and it was not visible without an invitation
Service: Fast and efficient. A tip is not included in the bill which like the menu was a scrap of paper. We tipped 10%
Jubilado Discount: I did not ask, because I would not even consider asking on a meal for $2.75
Summary: Mayra, a bit more of an authority on Tipicos than I am, rated this one as good, not the best but good. I am waiting for the first one she calls excellent, it hasn’t happened yet. I enjoyed my lunch and now six hours later I am still satisfied from lunch and will eat a light dinner. That is typical of what I have seen in Panama, a stick to your ribs lunch and light, often late dinner.
Restaurante Las Orquideas goes on the list a recommended for traditional Panamanian food at real Panamanian prices.
This past Saturday I received a telephone call from a neighbor and friend on Jaramillo, another neighbor was slaughtering a pig and had fresh pork for sale. Loving the challenge and having had some experience in carving up a dearly departed hog, Mayra and I went on a short ride to acquire a shoulder and side of pork. This happy hog lived his life without drugs, hormones or any form of un-natural influences and we wanted to find a fitting Panamanian culinary salute for his demise.
We quickly separated the ribs, the meat and the skin. Our first mission was the skin and that would need to wait one day for Fathers Day, June 20th. Fathers Day, like mothers day, is a big deal in Panama. When they can, families gather to celebrate and we were going to Bugaba, rural, very rural Bugaba, a District near the Costa Rican border where Mayra’s parents live on a dairy farm.
Mayra suggested that the pork skin would be a welcome addition to what turned out to be a massive Fathers Day feast. On Sunday I watched and photographed the process of making both chicharrones and smoked pork (puerco ahumado).
The first step was separating meat I left attached to the pork skin from the skin, apparently I left a lot of meat.
The meat was seasoned with salt, some sweet peppers and a little vinegar and placed above a smoky wood fire in a smoke house for several hours. Nothing more to it, fresh pork, fresh smoke, great taste.
The skin was placed into a large kettle and put over a wood fire, then cooked covered for some time to allow the moisture in the skin to steam the skin.
The top was removed and the skin continued to cook in the rendered lard.
Mayras father took the task of stirring to keep things from burning. The result is below, a real Panamanian health food, hot, chewy chicharrones, rendered and bathed in their own fat. The only warning is eat at your own risk because I’ll bet you can’t just eat one.
I wondered why in a land of fresh fish, Bacalao, salt cod is considered a special food in Panama.
The history I have found varies with the source, one source in Spanish explains that is the Spanish spread round the world they needed an easy to store form of fish to eat for religious purposes on Fridays. Another source I found is from Three Sisters Cooking School in El Valle Panama. I believe they are more correct, describing that during the age of discovery, salt cod was a very inexpensive, easy to store protein source that could be feed to slaves and laborers working the fields of the new world. Cod was abundant in the northern Atlantic, Salt is abundant in the Caribbean and the trade in salt became important. Salt cod or Bacalao became and still is a part of the diet here and in much of the caribbean.
I was curious about the use of bacalao and asked Mayra to prepare a dish using it.
We bought our bacalao in Price Smart, they have a mountain of it and from what we could see, the best quality we could find. It was not inexpensive, about $4 a pound.
The first step was to soak it for 24 hours in fresh water to remove some of the salt.
The preparation Mayra used was to build a cod sandwich. Using a dutch oven she first added a small amount of cooking oil.
The layers, first thinly sliced potatoes, the thinly sliced tomatoes, then thinly sliced onions, followed by a layer of shredded, soaked bacalao. Then she followed with another layer of each vegetable, ending with potatoes.
It was cooked stove top for about 30 minutes and served as all things in Panama seem to be, with white rice.
I did not enjoy it at all, but it is good to know there are thousands of different ways to cook Bacalao, my source cited above claims the Portuguese alone had three recipes for each day of the week. Add about every other culture that borders the Atlantic and you find a mountain of recipes to go with the mountain of cod. Just Google Bacalao recipe or salt cod recipe and be ready to relive history.
I am not a gourmet. I leave the art of being a gourmet in Boquete Panama to the Boquete Gourmet Blog and my friend Melissa, the Cooking Diva. I do however like food, good food. As I have aged and matured my tastes have changed, still I have my comfort foods, none are gourmet. In the past I have confessed to adoring pizza, add fried chicken and good green chili chimichangas, none gourmet in any lexicon. I have never considered any Panamanian cuisine as a comfort food. As I learn more I am discovering some surprising things about the cuisine of Panama. The foods eaten in Chiriqui Panama are in direct relation to what grows in Chiriqui and exploring the foods from the ground up is an adventure I want to try.
With the help of my friend Mayra, a Professor of Agriculture in David, I am going to write a few pieces about local fruits and vegetables. The goal is simple, discuss how to grow them successfully here in Chiriqui, how to harvest them and finally provide at least one good recipe for each that we have cooked ourselves. When Mayra starts to write about this it will be more detailed on the the cultivation, for me it’s about the food.
Our trip to Puerto Armuelles left us with a pile of Plantanos, Plantain in English, a local staple.
Plantain is not native to Panama or any of the Americas, it is native to Southeast Asia. The Plantain and the sweet banana known to most people in North America and Europe are the same genus, Musa. The banana has a higher sugar level and is usually eaten ripened. the Plantain is used in all phases of ripeness, green it is a starchy potatoes like vegtable, mature it is sweet and used for deserts,
The Plantain plant and all other bananas are large fast growing plants that put up an enormous stem and fruit once per stem. Leaves can be two meters large and are used in cooking in many countries.
The banana plants above are growing high on Jaramillo, wet and not tropical, more of a rain forest for half the year.
All bananas today are grown from a root stock from an existing plant, most species are sterile. They require good drainage and at least 75 mm of rain a year. The plant will grow quickly and produce many suckers each growing into a flowering fruiting stalk in time. After fruiting a stalk is cut since it will not fruit again. The sweet Banana fruit looks like a hand with symmetrical fruit, the plantain lacks that symmetry.
According to Nutritiondata.com the plantain is a good source of vitamin A, C, B6, potassium, calcium and folate. In addition they are a good source of fiber and have a low glycemic load, a good thing for people concerned about blood sugar. I suspect an expert in nutrition would vote the Plantain superior to white rice as a source of calories in the local diet.
We prepared a very simple local favorite from plantain, Patacones. Myra selected white plantains, she was able to identify them by white skin showing on the otherwise green surface.
The peeled plantains were cut into slices about 1 inch thick, lightly salted then added to oil heated to about 350F. After a few minutes the slices are removed and pressed down with anything from a pestle, bottle or wood press.
After pressing the slices were plunged into a mixture of garlic and water, then quickly removed and dried. Then the slices put back into the hot oil. Beware of adding wet slices to hot oil, it will splatter.
The slices cooked until crispy and removed. Finally a little salt was added and we had fresh hot Patacones. The difference between these and what you normally receive in a restaurant was dramatic. Patacones are good food, simple food, a Panamanian comfort food.
It has been almost a month since I have written about food in Boquete Panama, I eat at home more. I gave up writing reviews of restaurants some time ago and switched to writing first impressions because I only found a few restaurants in Boquete consistent enough to merit a real review. This is not a review, not a first impression but a compliment to the chefs, both of them.
In my Boquete experience I have seen many restaurants come and go. Some of these had great promise, most never lived up to their opening potential. Las Ruinas on the road to David across from Brisas, had great promise and has lived up to it. Craig Jacobs, the owner and Chef is a professional, both in the kitchen and in the ever so important acquisition of raw materials. Too many restaurants don’t realize if you start with low quality ingredients and cook them well you still have low quality food. Craig a professionally trained chef, understands quality starts with the purchasing and he has proven he can acquire excellent foods, prepare them well and serve them in a reasonable time, constantly. He is a master of buy fresh local products and adjust your menu to what is quality at the moment.
When Craig discovered fresh Blackberrys, he picked them himself and then created Blackberry cobbler. The Blackberrys have been in Boquete for years, no one else put the combination of fresh, local and innovate together.
Add to the mix Craig is smart enough to spot a good thing even if it is another chef, this one from Thailand.
I confess that I know Pon as a friend and have enjoyed her cooking since she arrived in Boquete. In that time I have watched her move from making do with local ingredients to literally growing her own. Pon now combines the best of what she can find with Thai peppers and other additions grown in Boquete.
My experience watching Pon’s cuisine develop makes me more qualified to credit Craig with doing something right, having Thai night with Bambu Lampang at Las Ruinas.
This week, Bambu Lampang fed more than one hundred hungry people in two packed seatings at Las Ruinas. The meal was four courses, starting with sushi rolls and spring rolls, the un-fried fresh type. After the appetizer came two tastes of marinated fresh vegetables.
After that came a choice of three different flavors for a main course. One featuring Pork in Thai Curry, another Tom Yum with giant shrimp and the other a Pad Thai with chicken. All were well received all had taste, all were devoured at our table with glee.
The final course was desert and that became either or both a coconut cheese cake or that fabulous fresh black berry cobbler. Craig was fast to do second portions of postre, excellent deserts.
I spoke with numerous people who finished dinner as we were arriving and the accolades were universal; I will add mine to the list. If you missed this opportunity and want to try some great Thai Food, Pon is at the Tuesday meeting this week or just call Craig and encourage him to do it again.
From the ashes of Rancho Pais has risen a far better Boquete Panama restaurant, Las Ruinas. Craig Jacobs a former executive chef from the US is determined to provide both entertainment and excellent food at reasonable prices in has large grass roofed facility in Alto Boquete.
Walk through the gate into the restaurant and the warmth is instant.
I went with some friends and we were greeted by Craig who shows obvious pride in both his renovated facility and cuisine. We were offered a free beer and suggestions of what would be best on the reasonably priced menu.
Following Craig’s suggestions we tried three different dishes.
Churrasco made from filite, excellent!
BBQ pork and finally grilled chicken breast.
Craig’s food received three uplifted thumbs, we all enjoyed our dinners.
Las Ruinas has a big screen television like most restaurants in Panama but if you are into Sports they are tuned correctly for your taste.
Although I did request it Craig told me he does honor the jubilado discount.