What type of bridge do you wish to build?

Fresh chayote tastes like the stalk of broccoli.

Fresh chayote tastes like the stalk of broccoli.

My wife loves to cook. I know, lucky me. Except now that we live in Panama, many of the foods and items we used to get back in the states are either not readily available or they are quite expensive. So we are attempting to familiarize ourselves with local foods and how they are prepared.

Recently, we were chatting with Aida, our landlady, and she told us about piña juice and its curative properties. She had just made some, and she gave us some to take home. It was yummy! Kind of like a pineapple smoothie. She takes the rinds of a freshly cut pineapple and boils it in a pan of water and throws in some rice. Aida also recommends adding ½ cup of linaza, which is Spanish for flax seed. She boils it all together for 45 minutes and then takes out the pineapple skin which is then disposed of. Using a blender, she mixes the pineapple water and rice with milk and sugar to make a shake or betida. Not only is it tasty, it also helps soothe indigestion and aids the intestinal tract.

Building Bridges, One Recipe at a Time

Aida is so sweet, we just love her.

Aida is so sweet, we just love her.

This morning after I cut up a pineapple, my wife boiled the rinds and proceeded to make the piña water. Aida could smell it cooking, so she asked to sample it. She smiled and remarked, “Que bueno!” Low and behold my wife made it right. Aida smiled and commented how she thought we were unusual. Puzzled by her comment, we asked her to explain what she meant. Aida said, “So few people stop to ask the local people how to do something or make something, much less trying to make it. Your wife is different. She tries everything we have shown her.”

Thin-cut plantains taste like potato chips. Thick slices taste like sweet potato.

Thin-cut plantains taste like potato chips. Thick slices taste like sweet potato.

We have learned so many things from our hosts. We have enjoyed adding delicacies such as chirimoya, yucca*, otoe, plantains, chayote, and dachine. These are things we would never have discovered on our own. Somehow this made me think of the bridges we are building here in Panama. We already have bridges to span the canal. We are building bridges of a different type – the bridges of friendship and meaningful relationships. Whether you are thinking of moving to Panama, some other country, or perhaps just across town, ask yourself, “What type of bridge do you wish to build?”

*Note:  Yucca recipe and photos available at this link.


14 comments on “What type of bridge do you wish to build?

  1. Mike,

    Wow, what a wonderfully written piece. I’ll pass on the pineapple (YUCK!). I admire the willingness of both of you to take on the local foods and customs/traditions. Too often people from the USA go to another place and want things “just like they are at home”. Well done for embracing where you are!

    • There are people here who choose to live just as you say, and they are entitled, of course. I enjoy finding common ground with the local people. They are open with us when they realize we enjoy sharing the lifestyle they have chosen. (Pineapple is optional.) Thank you, Daniel.

  2. Michele says:

    Embracing your new culture is wonderful! Immersion is the way to go and you have the luxury of time to discover and try it all!! Now you must pass on some of your culture to the Panamanians, too – dead bones, anyone?? LOL Love and miss you both and Merry Christmas!!

    • I am salivating thinking of your dead bones. Florence’s mother said she copied your recipe this year. Florence said she will make her pupacalova cookies for Easter. I think that will be a hit considering over 90% of Panamanians are Catholic. Merry Christmas, Michele.

  3. Kurt says:

    I like all foods, now I know what those are, thank-you, I have seen them in the store and wondered how to cook it, the chayote that is. I am anxious to move there and make many local friends and sample all of the foods I possibly can! I am studying Spanish to try and get used to the language and cannot wait to be able to actually use it!!!


    • Kurt, I applaud you for investing your energy in learning Spanish prior to visiting. That will pay great dividends, I promise you. I remember when I first attempting speaking in Spanish here, and people would smile at me. At first I thought they were suppressing their laughter because I sounded so funny (and perhaps that is true). However, they also genuinely appreciated my efforts. It saved them resorting to interpreting English or worse yet, hand signals. Many people here know English, but they are more self-conscious of their English than am I about my Spanish. And I am sure you will enjoy the foods, too!

  4. Douglas E says:

    I am always amazed when folks do not explore their local environs and cultures, although like you said, it is their choice [and loss IMHO]. Por ejemplo, we lived in Malibu for a number of years, and we would say something like “Isn’t the trail up Zuma Canyon amazing?” and many long-term residents would respond that they had never been up there. And the parking lot at the trail head is all of two minutes from PCH!!

    • Good observation, Douglas. We have found locals who didn’t know as much about their own country as we had discovered in our travels. However, in many cases these people did not have the means to travel. In those instances they were pleased we would share our stories with them because they felt proud that we were so interested in their country.

  5. annewoodman says:

    It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job of accepting your new home and becoming one with the country. Not everyone can do that so readily.

    You are showing both locals and fellow journeymen/women the true meaning of the phrase, “When in Rome…”

  6. keith says:

    thanks for sharing Mike. Immersion in a foreign culture can easily be the adventure of a lifetime. You will see Arroz con Piña offered as a drink in many typical restaurants and sodas in Panama.

    • Thanks for your comments, Keith. I would never have thought to order Arroz con Piña had I not tried it first. I am grateful for locals who are interested in having me try things. I think they are very interested in my reactions, and they are especially pleased when I like them, which I usually do as it turns out.

  7. Fantastic blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring
    writers? I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid
    option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused .. Any suggestions? Kudos!

    • Hmm – Tips for writers? Try these:
      * First, do not pay for a site until you know exactly what you want. For example, I am reasonably satisfied with my free blog site. I would prefer a different font (sans serif) for which I would pay a few dollars, but that isn’t critical right now. I’ve been writing for less than six months. I haven’t earned my new site yet.
      * Read what other writers have to say. I am particularly fond of Brain Pickings Weekly which reprints excerpts from professional writers and how they tap their creative energy.
      * Find the best time to write for you. I am most productive first thing in the morning. At night I cannot seem to get things flowing.
      * Edit, proofread, have someone else proofread your work BEFORE you post. Every author has an editor just like every athlete has a coach. Let them suggest edits without letting your ego get bruised.
      * Keep writing. I have probably tossed as much as I have published. My outcome doesn’t always go where I think it will. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s crap. Let your editor tell you if it’s any good.
      * Write what you know. Write from your heart. Share what you love, what you hate, what hurts, what uplifts you. Let people know how you feel about what you’re sharing, don’t just narrate. Personal stories connect best with readers. Basically, I suggest writing in the first person.
      Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

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