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A Very Panama Christmas in La Concepción, Bugaba

Last year we celebrated Christmas in David, my son and his girlfriend were visiting and they helped cook and serve to a very happy family group.

This year we planned to attend three different Christmas events before heading to the late night Panamanian feast. We never made it to the local events, too much construction, an unexpected guest and not enough time in one day. So we just did one event, the Escalante family, very Panamanian celebration.

Mayra’s family has a rotating host tradition for Christmas. This year we migrated to La Concepcion in Bugaba. If you have ever made the trip to either the frontier or Volcan, you passed through La Concepcion. You may even have taken the time to visit the central park which is always surrounded by vendors. Even last night at 10 PM we discovered the vendors where there, a good thing since we needed to build a salad and left our bag of onions in Boquete. Mayra commented that many businesses remain open until 11PM Christmas Eve and often have major sales between 9 and 11 trying to dump things they do not want to hold for another year.

Christmas in Bugaba Panama

Christmas in Bugaba Panama

We bought our onions and drove into one of the many subdivisions that surround La Concepcion for the event of the evening. In the local culture Christmas is celebrated with fireworks and dinner at midnight Christmas eve and with hours of both pre and post dinner partying. Last night was no exception. I noticed that despite the fact Mayra’s family is evangelical there has never been a religious tone to the festivities, I do not know if that is normal.

There was wine, rum, beer, food, loud music and fireworks. No Panamanian party I have ever attended lacked loud music. At the strike of midnight Bugaba erupted in fireworks and the entire group ran around giving hugs to each other. Things were a bit more sedate than usual due to police roadblocks checking for drunk drivers and phone calls warning potential attendees. I think families here have intuitive phone trees for communication. Several people stayed home so they would not need to run the gauntlet, probably a good thing.

Normally we would have joined the family at the beach today for Christmas day but I wanted to joins ome friends in Boquete for a celebration and not brave the roads again.

A smoking good experience

This past Saturday I received a telephone call from a neighbor and friend on Jaramillo, another neighbor was slaughtering a pig and had fresh pork for sale. Loving the challenge and having had some experience in carving up a dearly departed hog, Mayra and I went on a short ride to acquire a shoulder and side of pork. This happy hog lived his life without drugs, hormones or any form of un-natural influences and we wanted to find a fitting Panamanian culinary salute for his demise.

We quickly separated the ribs, the meat and the skin. Our first mission was the skin and that would need to wait one day for Fathers Day, June 20th. Fathers Day, like mothers day, is a big deal in Panama. When they can, families gather to celebrate and we were going to Bugaba, rural, very rural Bugaba, a District near the Costa Rican border where Mayra’s parents live on a dairy farm.

Mayra suggested that the pork skin would be a welcome addition to what turned out to be a massive Fathers Day feast. On Sunday I watched and photographed the process of making both chicharrones and smoked pork (puerco ahumado).

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The first step was separating meat I left attached to the pork skin from the skin, apparently I left a lot of meat.

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The meat was seasoned with salt, some sweet peppers and a little vinegar and placed above a smoky wood fire in a smoke house for several hours. Nothing more to it, fresh pork, fresh smoke, great taste.

The skin was placed into a large kettle and put over a wood fire, then cooked covered for some time to allow the moisture in the skin to steam the skin.
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The top was removed and the skin continued to cook in the rendered lard.

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Mayras father took the task of stirring to keep things from burning. The result is below, a real Panamanian health food, hot, chewy chicharrones, rendered and bathed in their own fat. The only warning is eat at your own risk because I’ll bet you can’t just eat one.

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