Platanos en Tentacion

Panama isn’t a place known for their beaches, but it is known for the Canal. Interesting tidbit I learned when I was there – the canal was originally supposed to be in Nicaraguan. Huh?!

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They’re also known for their rainforest. Where I stayed, it was located right beside my hotel so there were many interesting looking creatures fluttering around, including this cool looking leaf bug and a pair of huge moths.

Of course, there’s the food too, though I can’t really say it’s well know around the world. One dish that they make is called Platanos en Tentacion. I originally thought this was just some fancy name the restaurant came up with, but doing a little digging I found out that it’s the name of an actual Panamanian dish.

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Platanos en tentacion translates roughly as Plantains in Temption. It consists of the ripe fruit swimming around in a sweet, syrupy sauce. This sauce is made of honey, cinnamon, brown sugar and butter so you can imagine the sugariness of this dessert. Looking at a bunch of videos and recipes online, it seems quite easy to make. Just add some butter and brown sugar onto a pan and cook until the sugar melts. Then add the plantains, some cinnamon and honey and cook for a bit longer. If you’re looking for a new way to prepare plantains, this is the way to go. 🙂

Arroz verde

I am not a huge fan of plain, white rice. It’s bland, it’s boring and it’s just extra carbohydrates on its own. The only exception I can make to this is when there is a lovely stew, curry or sauce to mix it with. However, when it’s flavoured rice it’s a different story. Biriyani, fried rice, rice n’ peas…tasty!

When I was in Caribbean, I came across something called arroz verde, which translate as”green rice”. While it’s not always fully green in colour, it’s flavoured with green herbs which gives it that hue and name.

Even though recipes differ from country to country, the star for this dish is usually cilantro (also known as coriander) and many recipes call for chicken broth, onions, butter, etc. However, the green can come from other leafy greens like spinach or basil. It’s a type of rice that seems to pair well with a bunch of dishes.

Despite being rice, the cilantro makes it feel fresher and lighter…which is good, being in the hot tropics!

I can’t tell you enough how much I fell in love with this deliciously prepared rice. I didn’t, but if I had a stomach large enough I could probably eat a whole pot!  

 

Pork Pastor – QuĂ©?

Upon my travels in Mexico, I came across something called Pork Pastor. I had absolutely no idea what it was. All I saw was a tray of shredded meat and rice mixed together. I thought perhaps there was an interesting story behind the intriguing name, somehow in relation to a church pastor. Silly me. It actually just means “shepherd”.

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I did a little digging and discovered that it was actually mistranslated. Perhaps this is more well known in the States because Mexican food is abundant down there, but as a Canadian (or perhaps just my sole ignorance), I had nothing but question marks popping up in my head. What was meant by Pork Pastor is actually something called Al Pastor, which is a type of meat stuffing for tacos aka “tacos al pastor” (amongst other dishes). It was inspired by spit-grilled rotisserie meats, like shawarma, gyros and doner kebabs, hence the thin slices of pork in the photo. This type of meat was influenced by Lebanese immigrants in Mexico. It’s normally prepared with spices, onions, tomatoes, various chile peppers and herbs, but the thing that makes Al Pastor unique to other types of taco fillings is the pineapple. The pineapple gives it a subtly sweet flavour and gives it very Caribbean-ish touch, if you ask me. Have you ever tried an al pastor taco? 🙂

 

Tortilla Soup

Soup is a lovely thing, especially when it’s cold outside and Mother Nature is just screaming at you to stay indoors. Whether it’s rain or snow, soup is like a warm hug from the inside out. This is probably why I enjoy eating all types of noodle soup in the winter. Originating from Mexico, there’s something called Tortilla Soup, which is also known in the Spanish vernacular as sopa de tortilla. And as shocking as it may be, it actually snows in some parts of Mexico which may explain the need for this deliciously comforting soup (amongst others). It tastes similar to a chicken noodle soup – minus the noodles.

The base of a sopa de tortilla consists of a chicken broth that is often cooked with garlic, tomatoes, onions and some type of chile pepper (recipes vary). It is a thicker soup that is slightly salty and is often topped off with crispy tortilla strips. However, as you can see in the soup I got, it tends to soak up the liquid like a sponge and sink to the bottom.

I have not personally made tortilla soup myself, but came across it during my travels. It is definitely something to add to the menu. It’s tasty, it’s filling and it’s probably an easy one pot meal. Besides, you can’t go wrong with Mexican foods soup or tortilla strips! Although I must say I think the I oh thing missing is some shredded cheese. 🙂

A World of Ceviche

Ceviche is a fresh and delicious Latin American appetizer that always leaves you tantalizing for more. It is made by cooking small, chopped up pieces of raw fish or seafood with lemons or limes. I lightly say cooked because heat isn’t involved, but rather the acidity of a citrus fruit. This acid chemically burns the seafood and changes the texture and properties of the protein, a process called denaturation (ooh, science!).

Ceviche often includes onions and spices in the marinade and should only be cooked this way when the seafood is fresh. Although it does alter the properties of the protein, it does not kill the bacteria. Something to keep in mind if you ever attempt to make this!

Travelling to several Central and South American countries, I’ve had the pleasure of trying different types of ceviche. While they all use lemon/lime as their standard method of “cooking”, I did notice some subtle nuances.

In Panama, the ceviche can be served in little tart-like cups. The flavours are very bold and I found the tartness to be very potent. Their specialty ceviche is made with sea bass and I can vouch that it is absolutely delicious! Although I would gladly eat it plain, I find the little pastry cups give it a nice crunchy texture in combination with the soft seafood, red onions and spices. Plus, it can hold some of the marinade juice as you eat the little appetizer cup. You can say it’s somewhat like eating an open version of pani puri – both are messy, but both are worth it!

From my experience, a Mexican ceviche doesn’t taste as acidly potent as the Panamanian version. However, like in many Mexican dishes, they tend to use different types of chiles in the mix, including serrano, jalapeño or habaneros to kick it up a notch. Sometimes it is served with tortilla chips, another Mexican staple.

In Ecuador, I found the ceviche was more fragrant and they like using tomatoes as part of their ceviche base. It is often served with roasted corn nuts and popcorn on the side. I wouldn’t say this is my favourite type of ceviche, but it was still tasty!

Interestingly enough, a friend of mine thought ceviche was the same thing as pickling. However, pickling is using the acidity of vinegar to preserve as opposed to a ceviche using citrus fruit to cook and be eaten shortly after. Lemons and limes may have been the norm for ceviche for years, but many chefs are now experimenting with different types of fruits, including grapefruit and yuzu to name a few. I foresee exciting times ahead for the world of ceviche!

 

 

Food-on-a-Stick = Fun!

There’s always something intriguing about putting food on a stick. Although it is frequently found at carnivals, food-on-a-stick is popular in restaurants, food trucks and street vendors too. Think – corn dogs, tornado potatoes and shish kebab skewers. It makes food more fun, like these fruit skewers I saw in Panama. 

Fruit Skewers

I remember when I was in South Korea, I randomly stumbled upon a hot dog vendor that sold these:

A battered hot dog with fries! Rather than needing to carry fries to go along with the hot dog, the vendor melded them together into one deep fried, golden-brown meal on a stick. Clever! I guess you can say food on a stick makes things more convenient too!

So in the event you’re trying to spice things up (without actually adding spice), perhaps try reinventing a typical meal at home but putting it on a stick. You never know what creative ideas you may come up with. 🙂

Roasted Guinea Pigs, Anyone?

Travelling opens up your eyes to a world of things that you may never come across in your own country. It’s getting to experience, see and taste things that may be completely out of your normal realm. When I was in Ecuador, I learned that they serve a specialty made with guinea pig. Yes, guinea pig.

Guinea pigs, also known as cuy, are actually kept as pets and cherished in Ecuador. We visited an Indigenous family on a mountain in the capital and were informed that once they start making the “cou cou cou” sounds, it means something is wrong. This is especially true, according to their beliefs, when a guinea pig is placed on top of a person. If it starts making noises, it means the person’s health is in danger. This is why I found it very curious that they eat the little furry creatures too.

We went to a restaurant in La Rotunda, a highly touristy area near our hotel in Quito. We received a complimentary appetizer with our meal consisting of popcorn, lime, nuts and plantain.

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A snack/appetizer to go with our meal 

The guinea pig that we ordered (we only bought half just to try a bit) was grilled and served on a yellow sauce with potatoes and a simple side salad of lettuce, tomatoes and avocado.

Being such a small animal, it was not very meaty and very boney. The meat was a bit chewy and tough and it resembled the texture of a duck. I can’t say it was horrible because it tasted very similar to a duck, but I’m sure the charred face of the poor little critter would be enough to scare away many. However, I’d say give it a whirl. It’s not as bad as you may think. I’d say do it for the cultural experience. 🙂

Word of the Day: Chimichurri

Chimichurri is a classic Argentinean sauce that is a thick, green sauce made of olive oil, vinegar, chopped parsley, oregano, onion, garlic and spices. It makes a great marinade and can be added to different dishes, like this deliciously tender grilled steak I had in Mexico.

It’s that thin strip of green sauce on top of the steak. It tastes nothing like it, but it reminds me of pesto. Yum!

Piranha Fishing – Wait, What?

When I was in Ecuador, I had the pleasure of doing a retreat into the Amazon (or as they would call it, Amazonia). It was an excursion that was so deep into the rain forest that we were isolated from civilization. That means no electricity, no hot water and no WiFi (though jokingly, there was a sign that said free WiFi in our common area). It took us 2 hours by flight and 4 hours of weaving back and forth at various speeds on the Amazon River in a motorized canoe to get to our lodge.

It was definitely worth it to be in an area secluded from civilization and to be immersed in nature. Other than seeing the animals with my own eyes in their own true habitat, what amazed me was our Indigenous naturalists. Their senses were heightened beyond belief! A stampede of warthogs? Heard them coming towards us 5 minutes in advance. Lost group? Oh wait, they will be arriving in 30 minutes via motorboat. A boa snake? Yes, it’s in the tree a good several miles away but you can use your binoculars to see it. Crazy!

Other than hiking around and learning about the Indigenous folks, we also got to do a little piranha fishing. Firstly, I didn’t know that was a thing. I associate piranhas with those horror films and cartoons, eating human flesh to the bone upon contact with water. Secondly, apparently they are edible. Interesting, right? I shall explain.

Upon that murky Amazon water, we putted  across the river on our motorized canoe into a shallow area with long branches tied with a piece of string and hook. It was literally the old fashioned way of fishing and we used red meat as bait. We threw our rods into the water hoping for some fish to bite. I was lucky and ended up catching three on our short excursion. They were quite scary looking, given that they have sharp teeth and strong jaws. The guides told us to avoid touching them because they will chew our hand off and that they would take care of it. Duly noted!

When we were done, we went back to our lodge and the chef prepared one fish for the group to sample. It was interesting, to say the least. The chef prepared it by deep frying it and serving it with little to no seasoning. How would I describe my experience eating piranha fish?

Very fishy, very bony and it tasted very much like what you would expect the murky Amazon water to taste like. It was probably best that we didn’t eat too much since our stomachs aren’t used to eating such foreign things, but it was definitely an adventure of a lifetime. And to think, I somehow managed to survive swimming in the Amazon river knowing that there are piranhas, caiman, etc. Yikes!

 

Jarritos

Mexico is infamously known for producing some of the finest tequila, but there’s also alternative options for the non-drinkers out there too. Jarritos (which translates as “little jugs”) is a type of fruit flavoured cola bottled into cute little glass “jugs”.

These are delicious colas that were created back in 1950. They come in a bevy of flavours, including strawberry, guava and mango. Although there are other fruit flavoured colas in grocery stores and some restaurants, they tend to taste really artificial. In contrast, Jarritos mysteriously tastes similar to the fruit it’s supposed to and uses natural flavours to accomplish this. In fact, the creator was a chemist which may explain how he came to this fruity concoctions. It’s a good drink to have with a meal or even just as a thirst-quencher. The interesting part the creator started experimenting with coffee flavoured cola first, but thankfully he changed course and went with fruits instead!

And hola! Today just happens to be the anniversary of Jarritos. Salud!

Source | Jarritos