March 25, 2010

Food is Love: Some Panama Kitchens

In the Philippines I learned  that food equals love. Go ahead and refuse a Philippina hostess' hospitality by turning down her food, and you'll soon discover that you may as well have spat right there on her floor.  While the Panamanians don't take the Food = Love equation quite so personally, cooking here is big, ongoing and somewhat communal.

In our little Barrio, we women are endlessly sharing the fruits of our kitchens and gardens.  It's common to see one of us girls shuttling down the street to a neighbor's with a covered platter or, more commonly, a recycled plastic food container.  Yesterday, my neighbor, Rumelia, turned up with a styrafoam plate arranged with cut  fruits -- and with it a used jar filled "Plantain Flour" her husband had ground from a bunch of plantains I'd given them.  I used the flour to make a hot drink for William's breakfast, adding milk, honey and vanilla.  Another neighbors keeps me in a dozen freshly laid eggs every week so I return the favor by sending over hot, baked cakes.

For me, there's  nothing more comforting that a busy kitchen spilling over with pots and pans and food and love and life.  Nothing.  The kitchen is where I want to be and where I want everyone I love  to gather.  Nothing pleases me more than being able to offer William's friends, or someone just stopping by, a bowl of home-made soup or a slice of fresh banana cake.

Below are two of my favorite kitchens here in Boquete.

The first belongs to Elba Landau but is mostly run by her sister, Tia Chichita, who makes excellent soup. Elba is from one of the oldest families here in Boquete and she used to teach piano in New Orleans.  Tia Chichita, does the lion's share of the cooking and keeps a wood fire burning most of the day. 

You will notice that the kitchen is not walled off, but opens out at the back to the yard.   There is, way at the back, an open, wood burning oven.  Also, there truly is no end to what one might find in Tia Chichita's kitchen, which is more reminiscent of a hobby shop than a cookery.

William & Elba Landau outside her front door.

Tia Chichita in Elba's Kitchen

Grandma Gloria's Kitchen 

When William is not eating at home, he has his meals around the corner in "Grandma Gloria's" kitchen.  Gloria (I call her by her given name, Gloriella) is the grandmother of William's schoolmate, Abraham, and one of my closest friends here.  Gloriella is a Boquetena, born and raised in this pueblo, and she feeds a lot of people. 

In addition to renting room and board to several locals, Gloriella has most of her children living with her:  Abraham and his mother (also Gloria); Aunt Marquelda and Aunt Elizabeth (Ellie), who is also my "tocaya" since we share a name; Elizabeth's baby, little Victor; and Uncle Victor, whom we call Tito, and who helps the boys with their homework.

William loves to eat at Grandma Gloria's and Abraham loves to eat at your house. So they show up interchangeably at either house, as if we were all related.  William especially loves Gloriella's Arroz con Guandu (Guandu looks like kind of pea, can be green or purple, and is a perfect protein), Carimanollas (stuffed mashed Yucca) and any meat she's prepared, including cow tonghe.

About once a month, Gloriella has neighborhood women gather at her house to work on a batch of Panamanian Tamales, quite different from what I ate in Mexico.  Photos below.
 Gloria's pots and pans.

Above is the smooth "river rock" used to smash open garlic or to pound and tenderize meats.  
I have my own river rock t home.

This chicken will be cooked on an open fire out back and then added to the Tamales.

Below, Larry and William enjoy hot Tamales sent over at the end of the day.  (Photos taken in November when we were living next door in the attached apartment.)



Mark Ballard said...

I am hungry just looking at the pictures. What a delight!

Michael said... (Panamanian) wife is excited about coming there. She and the boys arrive in about 5 weeks.

Gnightgirl said...

I've come back to and poured over these photos a couple of times. Amazing. Can I come over?

News About The Boys

Mrs. Bliss told us there is a caterpillar here that is pink and fuzzy, and, if you touch it, its fur will stick in your skin and sting you! This happened to her daughter, Aylana. It was very painful and they had to pull the fibers out using tape! There are also scorpions and snakes, but I think there are more poisonous snakes in Florida.

William is busy, busy. In the morning he does his home schooling (Dad is his teacher!). Then, around 9:00 he rushes happily off to the local, Catholic, Spanish-only school where he audits the 4th grade! He's been doing some skim boarding but we are seriously missing the skating. Surfing looms in the near future. For a change we finally have kids on our street to play with, (not to mention dogs and roosters, snakes, toads, etc.) and it is wonderful making new friends. Still, William really misses his friends and family back in Sarasota. It's wonderful to get messages from the folks back home.

We send a special "Hello How Are Ya?" back to Nolen, Max, Connor, Emily W. and Teah!

Larry is Mr. Handy! Between homeschooling and making repairs on the house, he is never without something to do. And we have gone from never seeing him, to having him around all the time. Hmmmmmm.....

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