One of the highlights of our trip was amazing cuisine and coffee in Panama. It began with our coffee tour in Boquete and our knowledgable guide Plinio, who has working in the sustainable tourism industry for the last fifteen years. He continues to work diligently in his community to promote tourism and to bring excellent service.
We toured Finca Lerida first - one of the main coffee plantations around Boquete.
The coffee was magnificent. We tasted a type of bean called the Geisha coffee and it runs roughly between $30-$100 per pound. I could see why after sipping it - a very smooth and robust type of coffee. It made me feel alert but not like my heart would jump out of my chest.
Our second stop was the much smaller local production at Finca La Milagrosa where Plinio used to work as a teenager years ago. He showed us the process from handpicked and sorting the fruit, to washing the beans, to roasting and grinding.
My favorite part to watch was the coffee washing process (see below). It was fascinating to learn that all the machines were invented by the owner who used tractor pieces, car parts, and other machinery around the farm to invent his own devices. The coffee was widely rejected by the Panamanian distributors for years. It was much later that the owner was approach by a businessman from Japan who loved the coffee and wanted to purchase his coffee exclusively. The Panamanian companies realized their mistake too late. Matt and I ended up purchasing several bags of coffee for friends and family to take home.
Also in Boquete, we had the chance to tour an organic lettuce farm behind our hotel Villa Marita. They supply the majority of the organic lettuce in Panama City. The watering system developed by them enabled the farm to recycle 90% of their water back into the system.
In Panama City I was surprised that our guide took us to the mall at Albrook for typical Panama cuisine. We went to El Trapiche and it was a fantastic meal in the end. When we walked in, the restaurant was packed with Panamanians instead of tourists so that was a good sign. We ordered a dish that had a little bit of everything on it. They had fried plantains, something like a pork rind, fried rice, and something similar to creamed corn. One of my favorites on the plate was something called a Carimañola (lower righthand side on plate below). It was fried yucca (the consistency of mashed potatoes) on the outside with cheese and ground beef on the inside. Another favorite were the Almojábanos - an S shaped corn and cheese fritter (upper middle of plate). We also tried a wonderful drink with lemon and honey. This is where Matt tried his first Balboa beer. It is darker and has more substance than the other Panama beer they also serve.
Our best breakfast of the trip was on Villa Marita in Boquete. We had been traveling for about 48 hours straight before arriving to the hotel the night before. So we slept in until eleven the following morning and then walked up to the main house. One of the desk attendants greeted us and asked if we were hungry - Yes! She called in the cook who took down our order in Spanish with a few English words she had picked up. The end result was great! Pancakes, omelette with ham and cheese, fresh fruit, pineapple juice, and amazing coffee. I really like the soft white cheese on the side as well. I mixed it with some jam on the pancakes and it was the perfect blend of savory and sweet.
Our last meal at Traquilo Bay was chicken and pasta. They try very hard to cater to the tastes of Americans and make them feel at home in the lodge. So the majority of the cuisine at Tranquilo was American. They always began with a soup or salad option, following by a main course, and dessert at the end. After working with their kitchen staff over the last decade or so, Renee said they had now found a good system to purchase and cook these types of foods. The owners and their family along with the entire staff ate the same meal that was prepared for guests.