Double posting today! Check below for a more serious article...
As long-ago promised, here is my opinion on and a guide to the frozen treats of Panama. If you are ever in Panama, you could use this as a well-researched list. If not, maybe you’ll just enjoy reading my thoughts on this issue.
Duros: Found anywhere with a freezer, often in a small-town kiosk or just out of someone’s house. These are the plastic-bag popsicles. Fruits, drink mix, coconut and milk, or rice-and-milk or rice-and-pineapple are blended up and poured into tiny plastic bags, which go in the freezer. Often you get a choice of “aguada” (half-frozen with some ice in the center) or bien congelado (well frozen). To eat, one bites off a corner of plastic, tries to find a place to properly dispose of the little piece (good luck), and sucks out the melting deliciousness. At ten cents, a serious bargain. Fifteen cents is reasonable especially for something a bit more involved (like if there’s milk, coconut or rice). If someone wants to charge you more, there better be strawberries or something else really special. As I mentioned, there is a major range in flavors. My favorites are coconut and pineapple, and obviously guanábana but it’s pretty rare. I avoid the rojo or koolaid (pronounced coo-lay-ee), the nance (a fruit I just don’t like). The arroz con piña and arroz con leche are made from rice cooked with a lot of water and whatever flavoring, and then blended up and frozen. Excellent choices but hard to come by.
Cones and cups: Can be purchased in bus terminals, supermarkets, mini-marts. 30-40 cents, always hit the spot. I have only seen the cheaper national brand, Estrella Azul, sold in this form, but it’s really not bad if you avoid a few deadly flavors. Safest flavors: chocolate, chocalmendra (chocolate nut), galleta (cookie), vainilla (vanilla), dulce de leche (rare, excellent), guanábana. The grape nut (pronounced gray-noo) is a favorite for some, but to me it’s just like a vanilla with flavorless cereal in it. Casablanca (white house) is a mysterious name for a pinkish ice cream (it has mildly fruity bits in a vanilla base) but I continue to order it since it’s not too bad and I want to figure it out. The ones I avoid are: naranja-piña (orange-pineapple), cereza (cherry), fresa (strawberry), all too artificial in color and flavor. I don’t like the nance fruit, I can’t imagine the ice cream tastes too good, so I’ve never tried it. Neopolitano is a conundrum, mixing two acceptable flavors with a third bad one, and generally it’s the strawberry that overtakes the flavor of the other two. If you have communication troubles, your best bet is pointing to a brown or white in the freezer case and avoiding crazy colors. Cups (tazas) are generally 5 cents more than a cone (cono), but you don’t risk toppling the scoop (most scoopers have not learned proper technique, sadly). My top three: galleta, dulce de leche, Casablanca.
Carts: Carts are ubiquitous at parades, but not hard to find on normal days. Di’Bari and La Italianita sell wonderful popsicles, both fruit and ice cream. With these I tend to choose as I would choose a duro, coconut or fruit. I find the La Italianita ice cream to be a little artificial but not bad. My go-to for these is always the guineo (banana). It tastes fresh, sweet, banana-y and not at all fake. It’s like a smashed banana (apparently I was a fan at a very early age, and remain one to this day), frozen on a stick. Fresa and coco are also winners, but I must admit I have less experience with the flavor range on these carts. As I mentioned, during parades there are more carts, and sometimes you’ll see homegrown operations selling something surely delicious. Make your own judgement about hygiene, but a strong stomach can probably handle this stuff okay. I once had a real winner, something called Helado Tableño which hailed, as the name suggests, from the town of Las Tablas, which is in the heart of one of the dairy-producing areas (the Azuero; Chiriqui also has a lot of good dairy). I’m not sure what made it specifically tableño, but it tasted sweet and creamy, almost like coconut.
Gourmet and Supermarket choices: I must admit, I’m a sucker for the gourmet ice creams. Luckily for my waistline, I can’t keep ice cream in my “freezer” (that’s what it is called, not what it does) and the gourmet shops are only in Panama City. However, I definitely have an opinion. The supermarkets and some better mini-marts stock pints through huge buckets of Estrella Azul and a slightly higher-caliber brand called Borden. There are also individual cups and popsicles to be found. I recommend Skimo Pie (that’s right, because of the way things are prounounced, it’s Eskimo pie) in a bind, though it´s nothing close to as good as a Klondike bar. However, if you’re at the supermarket, you have lots of choice. The pint is easy to polish off alone, but I have a fond memory of sharing a chocolate pint of Estrella Azul in Santa Fe with my dear dad when the family was visiting, and being satisfied with half. Supermarkets are your best bet for the better flavors, even for light and frozen yogurt options, which I haven’t tried. Moving up the scale, Bonlac brand is more gourmet, selling very delicious sundae cups (pricey! 85 cents to a dollar), as well as larger versions of the sundae flavors. Dos Pinos is a Costa Rican brand which seems to be on the game with good flavors and light options (however I find their cheeses to be kind of gross), but only sells in larger sizes so I’ve never tried it. And yeah, you can often find Breyers and some other imports, but that’s not why you’re in Panama now is it?
As for gourmet shops…La Italianita has some outlets in the malls, but if you’re at a mall you MUST go to Gelarti or Crepes and Waffles. Gelarti is something I’d eat back home, no question. They even have a mint chip! That’s generally my first choice, but those extreme chocolates and even the vanilla varieties are all very satisfying. There are sherberts and sorbets, which I’ve never tried since the creamy ones just call to me so much; I’m sure they’re good. I didn’t so much like the mixed berry compared side-by-side with a chocolate. Priced at 1.75 for a single, large scoop in a quality cone, 2.25 for the second dip, which is overkill generally. Biggest challenge: trying to pronounce the English names of some of the flavors in the way that a native Spanish speaker would understand. Why the names are in English is beyond me…which is why I have never ordered Cookies n Cream. If your Spanish is good enough, just say what it would be in Spanish. Crepes and Waffles is a restaurant with several outlets, in malls and one in the Bella Vista area of Panama City. I have only had it once, when I had a sorbet craving. I forget whether it was mora or frambuesa (blackberry or raspberry), but it was excellent. You can find almost fat-free softserve at Casa de Helados, if that´s your game. Or track down my RPCV friends Lebo and Michelle in South America for a softserve cone and entertainment. In the rapidly-gentrifying Casco Viejo part of Panama City, there are also a few gourmet shops. I unfortunately don’t recall the name of the one where I stopped, but they patiently let me try their en vogue flavors like albahaca (basil), naranja chocolate (orange chocolate) et al. If you’re in Casco Viejo, you’d find this place as it’s not a large area. However, if you hail from a foodie city, this probably is less special than it is to a deprived PCV. I think my bill was around 2 dollars and THAT you won´t get in San Francisco.
So never fear, in Panama, where it is summer all year, you can always get some ice cream!
I've started to grow things!
2 years ago