Mario Castrellon, owner and head chef of Panamanian restaurant Maito, displayed a four course meal at the Atlantic Grill, Table Bay Hotel for a limited two night engagement.
Chef Castrellon came to South Africa to infuse our beautiful local ingredients with his culturally Panamanian dishes serving ceviche, braised beef, tamales, and tres leches (see cheat sheet below), wonderfully representing the cuisine of his home country.
Food24 was able to ask Mario a bit more about his journey to South Africa from Central America.
Q: How did this opportunity come about?
A: I got an offer to participate on a Panamanian cultural event celebrating our National Independence day.
After this offer I did a quick overview of the gastronomic culture in Cape Town and it seemed pretty interesting and exotic. That simply closed the deal for me.
Q: What sort of South African ingredients were you able to use for your Panamanian cuisine here in Cape Town?
A: At the Table Bay Hotel I used the madumbi root which was really similar to our nampi in Panama.
Q: You’ve trained and practiced abroad for many years, was there anything you missed about Panamanian food that you couldn’t find in another country?
A: The cilantro and achiote seed.
Cilantro is a flat leaf that grows practically wild in Panama. It’s very similar to coriander but a bit stronger and the achiote seeds or “annatto” gives this particular flavour and colour on food that I really miss.
Q: What’s your favourite Panamanian traditional dessert?
A: Mamamellena – a traditional bread pudding.
Chef Castrellon currently runs Maito and two other restaurants in Panama and continues to travel.
Panamanian cuisine cheat sheet:
Ceviche- a raw seafood cooked by the acidity of citrus, usually lemon (Chef Castrellon chose yellowtail).
Tamales- a starchy corn base wrapped around a variety of fillings (ie chicken, beef, vegetables, fruit) found almost everywhere in Panama.
Tres Leches- the translation literally meaning three milks, this traditional Panamanian dessert uses condensed milk, evaporated milk, and regular milk for a creamy dense spongy cake.
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