One of the great finds, especially in the countryside, includes the little restaurants known as Fondas. They are usually family run, open for breakfast and lunch, and provide basic typical hot meals for the working people. These places are the food mainstays of most towns where you can get a quick, filling hot meal for $3-4.00 USD.
Fondas are ubiquitous and a great alternative to the proliferating American brand fast food places that usually cost double what Fondas charge while also giving us that soulless ambiance that many of us avoid even in the US.
From the outside there is usually very little signage, so you have to look carefully to find them. Often there are only a few tables with family style seating, so you can expect to be joined by a local or two when the restaurant is busy. In most places, people still say ‘buenos dias’ to the patrons as they enter. Great way to collect your day’s quotas of eye contact and smiles. Most do take-outs, too. Most are cafeteria style service, but some will take your order.
The fare is straightforward. A hearty soup ($1.75-2.00) – often a Sancocho of chicken, rice, yuca or other root veges. The main course is your choice of rice, meat, and a salad. White rice is the standard starch with a choice of meats – chicken is the most popular, beef (usually a bit tough & chewy), thin sliced pork chops, or fish filet. These come with a variety of sauces.
Sometimes there will be potatoes, sautéed mostly. Occasionally you can find them mashed (puree). There are usually platanos, either ‘maduros’ which are baked with a sauce, or ‘verdes’ called platanos- cut in rounds, smashed flat and deep fried. There may be sides of beans and there usually is a small salad of shredded lettuce, carrots, and a slice of tomato with a vinegar dressing or sliced cucumbers in vinegar. Most will feature a lemonade or other juice drink. Sodas cost more. The portions are filling and often enough to take the left overs home.
When staying in a town for a few days, I usually make it a point to try out a few of the local fondas to get a better feel of the town and get a sense of local street life. They are good places to practice your Spanish and smiles and to get a substantive midday meal and save a few bucks.
RSI encourages our clients to try the local fondas as a way to get to know the local eateries and a chance to be with Panamanians and experience the local culture. For each place that our clients settle RSI will have a list and brief description of the Fondas in the towns where they stay along with maps and descriptions of how to find them. We encourage our clients to update the list and to add new ‘finds’ as they explore the area.