Photo Credit: Isaac Villaverde | Founder, La Tapa Del Coco
Meet The Man Behind The First Afro-Panamanian Restaurant In Central America
Inside downtown Panama City, Panama, in the popular neighborhood of San Francisco is the only restaurant dedicated to Afro-Panamanian cuisine.
Of course, there are street vendors around the city where you can experience Afro-Panamanian cuisine. Still, Isaac Villaverde was tired of items such as rice and peas, soups, seafood meshed with Caribbean flavors, being confined to just street carts. That’s what prompted him to start La Tapa Del Coco.
“Afro Panamanian food has always been sought out on the streets, where you go into towns and neighborhoods and find food carts but when you go into the big parts of the city, you can’t find our food,” he told Travel Noire. “Unfortunately it’s been this way for the last 50 or 60 years. Now, we’re in the midst of a new movement trying to push our cuisine to compete with Italian, Greek, and Chinese food.”
In a place that is both racially and ethnically diverse, Villaverde said Black culture, including food, has been overlooked.
“We have the indigenous culture, Latino culture, and we have Afro Panamanian culture,” said Villaverde. “All three cultures are coexisting, but unfortunately, our culture has always been pushed to the bottom.”
Villaverde describes Afro-Panamanians as people of Spanish, Indigenous Latin, and Jamaican-Caribbean descent. The cuisine is a fusion of all of these cultures.
“On our menu, you will find dishes like jerk chicken, a lot of seafood, and octopus stew in coconut milk,” he added. “Coconut is the base of our food, which is what the restaurant is named after. The spices we use include curry, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, […] spices that we get from the West Indies, basically.”
La Tapa Del Coco is located in the heart of Panama City in what is known as the “food district.” You will find cuisine from all over the world, but there’s only one place, for now, where you can go inside of a restaurant to enjoy food-derived straight from the African Diaspora.
Villaverde tells Travel Noire that while he’s the first, that it’s time and he’s ready to welcome more.