Panama City, May 5 (EFE).- Several plates of siu mai (steamed pork and shrimp dumpling) and dim sum (small-portion meals), both associated with cuisine from China’s traditionally Cantonese-speaking Guangdong province, have been placed around a large circular table at a restaurant in Panama’s capital.
The diners are a mixture of Chinese immigrants, for whom gastronomy serves as a connection to the homeland their families left behind decades ago; and Panamanians, who have incorporated these delicacies into their Sunday morning meal.
The first Chinese nationals arrived in Panama in 1854 to build the railroad that links that country’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts, although mass immigration from that Asian country began in the 1980s.
“From that point, they began to open more businesses,” Veronica Quintero, a presenter for China TV (a channel for Panama’s Chinese community) told Efe at Sunly, a restaurant in Panama City’s Chinatown, which is located in the northwestern neighborhood of El Dorado.
“The so-called ‘barrio chino’ used to be on Avenida B (in the old quarter). There’s a restaurant there called Wanyao, which started selling the Chinese breakfast and (Chinese) cuisine,” Quintero said amid a group of waiters rushing around with carts carrying plates of food.
The Cantonese breakfast is composed of a rich variety of protein that includes chicken and seafood, corn and rice as a cereal base and tea, always an essential part of every Chinese meal.
Despite Panama City’s wide range of gastronomic options, demand is highest for the Cantonese-style breakfast.
Quintero, however, has noticed some differences in people’s preferences, pointing out that in Latin America people eat more siu mai and zongzi (rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves) and, unlike in China, rarely consume chicken feet.
In Panama City, Chinese retail establishments are not only found in Chinatown but throughout the metropolis, where paifangs – or traditional arch or gateway structures – decorated in traditional red, black or gold greet potential customers.
“Socially, as we’ve seen, many families enjoy (Chinese) cuisine,” while commercially speaking, we see that whenever there’s an attempt to sell some product or service to Chinese clients “events (are held) and it’s almost all Chinese food,” Quintero said.
Yet despite the widespread diffusion of Chinese cuisine in Panamanian society and the country’s sizable Chinese community that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, that has not led to a fusion of Panamanian and Chinese gastronomy similar to what has occurred, for example, in Peru.
Despite its importance as an international trade hub due to the canal and its geographical location, those two cuisines have remained separate and Panamanian citizens “consume local fare,” Quintero said. EFE