Panama, as an isthmus, appears vulnerable and fragile. My personal associations with Panama instantaneously reminds me of two topics: the Panama Papers, and the Panama Canal. Though small in size, Panama has impacted the world, and within its tropical lands there is a myriad of cultural influences: European, Latin, African, Caribbean, & Native American.
With each dish, I find myself dissecting it: determining the origins, and categorizing it with other dishes. The abundance of starch ingredients – potatoes, plantains, corn – and the mild seasoning reminds me of other African dishes I’ve done. The cilantro and oregano are the primary sources of seasoning, and I am reminded of last week’s Eastern European dish, also simply seasoned with merely dill. It’s served hot, even in the the hot, humid weather of Panama, and that comfort element also reminds me of other European dishes. The “throw-it-in-the-pot-and-cook-it-all-together technique” is reminiscent of African and Caribbean dishes.
Admittedly, this dish did not inspire me initially. With the exception of the adding the sweet potato, the soup felt too familiar. I love chicken soup, and maybe another time this meal would taste better, but this go around was lackluster.
I resisted the temptation to change the recipe, specifically the technique. The broth could’ve been a delicious and pure chicken broth, but I followed the directions and threw everything together. Although there are many variations of this soup, the process is fairly consistent (given the over half a dozen recipes I read). While some European or Asian countries would have had a similar instinct as mine, I remembered what this project is all about: expanding our cultural awareness. And when I remembered this, I was humbled and felt like a snob for wanting to “refine” the dish.
If you’re looking for another option for soup, something easy, hearty, but different than our traditional chicken soup, give this a try. Also, I technically was supposed to find “culantro,” not “cilantro”… yes, that is not a typo, but two different types of herbs. If anyone finds it, and cooks with it, let me know!
• Chicken thighs
• Sweet corn
• Culantro (again, I used cilantro)
• Salt and pepper
S: “Enjoyable dish! Didn’t feel particularly foreign, however.”
T: “Not my new favorite, but enlightening, nonetheless.”
• The capital of Panama is Panama City
• The official language of Panama is Spanish
• The tamborito (a Spanish dance with African rhythms, themes, and dances moves) and the music genre reggae en español are examples of how the diverse cultures have merged in Panama
• Panama was under Spanish rule from 1538-1821
• Baseball is Panama’s national sport; more Panamanians have played in the MLB than any other Central American country (including Rod Carew!)