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.
For years our neighbors in Costa Rica have felt superior to Panama for many good reasons. But Panama is moving forward these days in many extraordinary ways. According to this column in Costa Rica’s largest newspaper, many Ticos think that they have something to learn from Panama now.
(This author got two things wrong.One is about the education system- Panama does spend more per capita but the quality of education here is very low -Panamanian students test scores are some of the lowest in Latin America. Secondly, new businesses coming here are having a hard time finding a skilled, English speaking work force. Panama is working on this.)
A Tica in Panama
La Nacion, Costa Rica
Translated from Spanish by the Panamainfo Team
I traveled to Panama on business Panama and was there for two months. During my visit I was left impressed by how this country is taking huge steps while in Costa Rica it looks like we’ve been asleep. I had no idea about the natural beauties that this country had. I don’t think that the majority of my compatriots have any idea. We Ticos usually see Panama as a place to go shopping in. Once here, it surprised me to find that 30% of their territory is protected territory full of national parks, spectacular beaches with kilometers and kilometers of white sands on both coasts and different mountainous regions with a cool fresher climate, an agreeable contrast with the heat of the capital city and other urban areas.
This whole paradise is being advertised to the foreigner and there are hordes of tourists coming non-stop from every corner of the earth. They have gotten smart about things and modernized the Panamanian Institute of Tourism. If they continue at this rate, they will soon overtake us in attracting tourists, and that’s just after Panama started an advertising plan a few years ago.
A modern country. The city of Panama is super-developed and modern, full of skyscrapers and nice places to take a walk or just spend the afternoon. They have nothing to envy a metropolis like New York or Miami, something that we inhabitants of San Jose don’t have—we ended up with a gloomy and ugly San Jose .
The legislative assembly, the government and the private sector have come to an agreement to make the country a logistical platform for the world and through this to fully develop the nation. One can’t help feeling envious (by what I have said) to see how we Ticos have been asleep while our neighbor to the south has surpassed us without us noticing.
This country already has more doctors than Costa Rica for every 1,000 inhabitants, the public hospitals are something to envy, they have reinforced education and are now spending more than us on it: 12% of their GDP. In Panama it looks like every sector is in agreement and is working for a common goal of developing the country. It did not surprise me to discover that Panamanians have the highest income per capita in Central America.
Development. If you go to the interior of the country you can see and grasp the development that this nation is undergoing. The Tocumen airport has become the best airport terminal in Latin America, there are dozens of touristic projects in every province, the construction of mega-highways, the construction of two refineries, one in the Caribbean and the other in the Pacific. The ports are the best in the continent. The infrastructure is that of a first world country which is the reason why dozens of international companies are coming here, finding a skilled workforce and facilities for their operations, in addition to a number of international organizations like the UN and world-class recognized universities.
Panamanians are not scared of the widening the canal- it has already started. In the capital they’re building what they call the ‘coastal beltway’, filling more than 26 hectares in the Panamanian bay, where they’re building a mega-recreational park for the public, bicycle lanes and highways. We in Tico land , since the 70’s have been fighting to build our “Costanera”. We should learn from the example of the Panamanians who are giving other Latin American Countries a lesson. The social problems in Costa Rica and Panama are quite similar.
It will be expensive for Costa Rica to do the same as Panama in many aspects, but the time is now to start the necessary work. I once overheard an economist say that awakening of Costa Rica is happening because the Jaguar of the South (Panama) has awakened. Good timing on the Panamanians part. I am sure that we can do it too.
Reading these days about the misery and worry of the havoc caused by Hurricane Fay in Florida…- I can’t help being grateful that Panama has no hurricanes. In fact Panama is the only country in Central American and the Caribbean that has neither hurricanes nor major earthquakes. Pretty nice.
Panama’s weather is not perfect- the tropical heat and humidity of Panama City and most of the rest of the country is hard to bear- air conditioning is a must. With air conditioning I hardly notice the heat and humidity and heat..going from my air conditioned home to an air conditioned office, or store or mall… But Panama City evenings and early mornings are near to perfect- fresh, cool and the same 80 degrees or so the whole year….perfect for walking and jogging outside.
The climate in the highlands and mountains of Panama in places like El Valle and Boquete- spring-like weather all year around.
Another Panama weather convenience is that throughout the country temperatures hardly vary year round- which means you can wear the same kind of clothes year round- this means less clothes cost and clothes hassle.