Culture can be defined by the diet of a nation. Such is the case of Panama and rice. Without rice there are no meals. Rice is the backbone of the Panamanian diet.
For lunch there has to be rice, generally white rice along with a miniestra (beans or lentils), vegetable and a meat, chicken or seafood. Others replace rice with fried green plantains—patacones—, baked potatoes, and french fries if they go to a restaurant, but if they’re eating at home rice will always be there. There’s a popular saying in Panama, “If you don’t eat rice, you haven’t really eaten.” My wife is adamant in her preference for a portion of rice during her daily meals. Rice is serious business at home.
A lot of Panamanians love soup as well, always with white rice. Chicken soup or “sancocho” is quite popular, especially at family reunions during the weekends. Other types of favorite soups are, (e.g., “guacho” or rice soup, meat soup, lentil soup with green plantains, fish or seafood soup). Supper is more or less the same as lunch, unless you’re on a diet.
In some small villages in the countryside, farmers called “campesinos” still remove the chaff from clusters of rice using a wooded instrument called “pilón de arróz”—rice pounder. A rice pounder is a solid piece of wood hollowed in the middle where the clusters of rice are placed and a woman or child uses a pounder to manually pound, and pound and pound the rice until the chaff is totally removed. Some of these peasants are so skilled in the use of a pilón, that they can do it with only one hand. Not even Superman can do that.
The rice pounder is used in several African countries and in Southeast Asia as well. I recently saw a pilón exactly like the ones we use in Panama, in a small village in Laos. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Indeed we are living in a small world.
Below is a photograph of a pilón inside a restaurant located at Casco Viejo in Panama City, Panama. Here we go.