One of my favorite restaurants is Barrandas in the Bristol Hotel in downtown Panama City. The chef is Cuquita Arias who has been called the “Martha Stewart of Panama” and indeed she is. ( She actually took some courses from Martha.) But that description doesn’t totally do Cuquita justice. Cuquita is the member of one of Panama’s oldest and most distinguished families- her grandfather was Tomas Arias, a founding father of Panama. Her brother Raul Arias de Para is the owner of Panama’s most highly acclaimed ecolodge- Canopy Tower. Cuquita grew up loving the Panamanian dishes served in her traditional family home and has now turned these Panama dishes into haute cuisine.
Panama with its rich flor and fauna has an abundance of marvelous tropical food ingredients- fruits, vegetables and spices and a variety of seafood. . It’s cuisine is also enriched by its being a nation of immigrants- Panamanian food has the influence of many its many immigrants from the African to the French to the Chinese.
I love Cuquita’s Barrandas for several reasons. First of all, this is Panamanian gourmet food. Cuquita takes the ingredients and dishes typical to Panama and makes a nouvelle cuisine or gourmet version of them. This restaurant is a must for those who want to experience Panama cuisine at its zenith. For appetizers, I recommend the plantain wantons or the empanadas. For a main dish, try the corvina in tamarind sauce which comes with delicious rice with avocado in a yuca basket. Corvina is the best fish in Panama- sea bass in English. Corvina has no fishy taste and a succulent white meat.
For dessert-in my opinion Cuquita has the best desserts in town- I am a dessert lover but wanting to keep my girlish figure, I don’t indulge often unless it is something really worth it. At Barrandas I cannot pass up dessert- her dulce de leche cheesecake, key lime pie and baked alaska are to die for- actually all her desserts are great.
The food presentation is always beautiful. Cuquita has an exquisite sense of beauty in all she does. Another thing I love about Barrandas is the refined service and attention of the waiters and staff ( although service can be slow so this is no place to dine if you are in a hurry.)
I always say Cuquita is a national treasure- more than any other chef she has shown the world how unique and exquisite Panamanian cuisine can be.
With the Buenaventura Bristol Hotel opening in February on the Pacific Coast near Panama City , this same great Cuquita cuisine will now also be available at the beach.
Which are your favorite restaurants and why?
Nancy Hanna, President and Founder of Panamainfo.com and The Panama Planner
I am not sure what is happening but it seems to me that USA companies must be dumping merchandise unsold in the States in Panama where it is being sold at well below cost prices. You can find these amazing bargains at Albrook Mall-name brand American clothes for 20%-30% of the original price. For example Christmas , we bought beautiful cashmere wool scarves with a Macy’s price tag on them of $68.00 for 6 bucks. My daughters bought lovely blouses for one or two dollars and costume jewelry for the same. Liz Claiboure suits originally $290.00 are $99.00 and sometimes less. The best stores for name brank clothing bargains are Dorians and BMB. Dorians is very large and you have to hunt for name brand items. Just about everything BMB sells is a well known name brand. If you don’t care about name brands, there are endless clothing bargains and household items bargains in other stores like Madisons and Costco and Titan and Conway.
Albrook Mall is very crowded on weekends. We recommend you go to Albrook Mall on a weekday or in the morning on a weekend. It opens at 10am.
Please tell me about some of your favorite bargain places in Panama.
It is nice to get a health treatment almost free. There are two hot springs that you can bathe in in Panama that cost next to nothing- one in Boquete and one in El Valle. Our family just went for the firs time to the hot springs near the small town of Rancho Caldera near Boquete. You need to drive in by car and a 4X4 will take you all the way- otherwise you will have to walk about 10 minutes. You just need to where a bathing suit under your clothes and bring your own towel to dry. The springs have 3 different baths of varying temperature. You pay $2 to a person in a house. Everything is rustic- the baths are just rock encircled pools with warm to hot water. You can sit there for as long as you like. There is a lot of sulphur in the water as it has a tint of green. The bathroom is an outhouse. But we felt marvelous after soaking from 10 to 30 minutes. The caretaker told me that a foreign scientist told him that “Panama does appreciate what it has in these springs”.
This hot spring property has been bought by a prominent Panamanian family who plan to build an exclusive spa. So go now when the cost is next to nothing.
In El Valle, the hot springs are not very hot and the price is $1. Just ask anyone in town where they are. There are almost always some Europeans here- seems they appreciate hot springs more than Americans or Panamananians. You can take a therapeutic mud bath for a couple more dollars.