Exploring the jungle and market for exotic fruit and veg in Panama

I love discovering new food and going to the fruit and veg market was one of the high lights of this trip to Panama. What I loved even more than the markets was the fruit growing wild in the jungle or on the plantation where we stayed.

I have never seen passion fruit so big as here, the kids devoured the orange sized maracya, as they are called in Spanish.

The pink bananas you see on the pictures is the original banana from the Philippines, the original banana plant brought over to Latin America and later modified to not contain hard pips. We consider the pink banana inedible because of it’s hard pips, but it is the mother of bananas as we know them.

We came across sweet oranges, growing alone the road side, perfectly ripe we climbed the tree and picked some. They served as snack on that day’s outing to the hot springs and well deserved refreshment on the long walk home.

In a friend’s garden we discovered a lemon variety bigger than grapefruit. This lady also made the most delicious guava jam that she cooked over open fire outdoors for 4 hours until it was smooth as butter and had taken on a slight smokey flavour. She served it to use with home made fresh cheese – it was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted!

I think it’s needless to say that in the rich volcanic soil, plentiful rainfall and tropical warmth of the Chiriquí region – is a hot house for growing fruit and veg. Driving around the region of Cerro Punta, watching the high land produce grow on the volcanic slopes was just fantastic. The road was lined with fruit stalls and we were even lucky to see a sloth climb down a telephone wire. Further down the lowland the weather is warmer and more tropical fruit is cultivated.

Pifa is a palm fruit, traditionally boiled and eaten with salt. It is very starchy and has a slight garlic flavour. When we cooked it we served it with a naranjilla vinaigrette, it was unusual for out palette but very good, none the less. The locals told us that the Costa Ricans make hundreds of different things with their pifa but the Panamanians just eat is as this.

Pineapples, and papaya could be bought off the farmers trucks in towns or along the roads. We picked wild banana flowers and make salads and noodle dishes from them. We tasted blue peas, cooked plantain the traditional way and even had a go at making cassava chips. Can’t wait to go back and discover more!

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