Welcome to my “Central and South America Food Saga“!
A lot of you were curious about the food we ate when we were traveling (especially a certain gentleman from Tulsa!), so I decided to make a mini-series. Today, we will see… the chicken era, aka food in Panama, Costa Rica, and to a lesser extend, Peru. This is by no mean an extensive gastronomic guide, but rather an overview of what two backpackers ate on the road, and what locals eat everyday.
In, Central America, as well as in Peru, you just need to know three words to order food: arroz (rice), frijoles (beans) and pollo (chicken). Makes life easy, doesn’t it! However, the food may be quite basic, and at one point, you’ll be desperate for something other than chicken. I mean, how much chicken can one eat???
In Central America, breakfast is somewhat a bit American-style: eggs, rice, beans are very common. A popular Costa Rican dish is gallo pinto: rice and beans fried together with spices such as cilantro, onion and peppers. Incidentally, Nicaragua also claims gallo pinto as its national dish – a big disagreement between the two countries. In Panama, you can have your eggs revueltos (scrambled), fritos (fried), duros (hard-boiled), pasado por agua (soft-boiled) etc. In Peru, desayuno americano (American breakfast) is also quite common, even if locals will also eat tamales (boiled corn with meat or cheese and wrapped in a banana leaf).
At lunch or at diner, the same ingredients are used: the usual rice and beans mix, plus some kind of meat (yes, most of the time, it is chicken). A common side dish in Central American is patacones (fried plantain), in Peru, it’s choclo (corn).
A interesting fact in Peru is the numerous chifas. Chifas (from the Chinese “chifan” 吃饭, to eat) are Peruvian-Chinese restaurants, typically serving fried rice, wantan soups and vegetable stir-fries. The food is nor very Chinese nor very Peruvian, but an interesting combination of the two, which locals of all socio-economic levels enjoy.
Markets are always very interesting to visit, but you need to have a strong stomach. The meat section can be quite a display, with cow heads and numerous dead chicken (and the smell, oh, the smell…). On the other side, spices are colorful and the veggie section is interesting to browse, since they are a lot of things we don’t have. All markets also have a snack area and it’s always packed at lunch with locals… great place to grab a bite, but make sure it’s clean enough!