Our tourist guide, Dennis, suggested that we eat traditional Panamanian food.
“What is Panamanian food?” I asked.
“Empanadas, Ropa Vieja, stuff like that,” he said.
“I’ve already had empanadas.”
“Were they made out of corn?” he asked.
To which, I had to reply, no. But let’s stop here for a second. Like its indigenous people, I’ve found there really is no true Panamanian food. Most of the food I’ve had and discussed on this blog, has derived from someplace else:
- Ceviche (South America)
- Empanada (Spain)
- Coffee (Ethiopia); however, Geisha and Durán are Panamanian grown
- Ropa Vieja (Cuba/Spain)
Now that I’ve cleared that up, I did take Dennis up on his challenge to indulge in food that I can only have in limited parts of the world. Ropa vieja was one of them.
Ropa vieja means old clothes. It consists of shredded or pulled stewed beef with vegetables. According to the interwebs, the dish may have a sweet taste. The name originated from this story:
…a penniless old man once shredded and cooked his own clothes because he could not afford food for his family. He prayed over the bubbling concoction and a miracle occurred, turning the mixture into a tasty, rich meat stew.
Ironically, one of my IG friends is from Panamá. She’d seen my post and recognized her home country. After our conversation, I asked her for some food suggestions, and she provided approximately four restaurants. One she recommended for Panamanian food was El Trapiche, and I’m grateful.
El Trapiche has three locations. We visited the one at Albrook Mall, which I suggest for seeing a different part of the city. Colorful figurines adorned the walls, and the waitstaff only spoke Spanish. I went to this restaurant to purposely try ropa vieja, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Traditionally, (depending on the part of the world you’re in), ropa vieja is eaten with rice (or made with potatoes); however, at El Trapiche, you can have it with white rice, yuca frita, or patacones, and salad and plantain. Dwight had rice, and I had yuca frita.
The flavors blended well. Although it was clear bell peppers, bay leaves, and garlic were a part of this recipe, none of the vegetables, seasonings, or spices overpowered the other. They each worked in harmony to create a perfectly seasoned beef. And there were no sugary undertones, which I appreciated.
I recommend ropa vieja at El Trapiche for anyone visiting the country.
COST: $14 (for two meals)
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