When in Gringos, Eat like the Mexicans Do

If Mexicans like it, it must be good. I must say, I like it as well and I have never known myself to be Mexican. So what is it exactly that Mexicans and I like so much? Gringos. No, I’m not talking about people who can’t speak Spanish, get sunburned and watch NASCAR. I’m talking about the only restaurant in Bocas where you can get a proper taco-burrito-margarita fix.

Gringos was opened in 2009 by Gary and Laura. Gary was raised in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant in Baja California and has spent most of his life around Mexican cuisine while living in Mexico and in the southwestern part of the US. Laura has always loved cooking. She experimented with various cuisines and decided Mexican was the best. A native Panamanian from Chiriqui, she has no desire to go to Mexico; though she does sort of agree that she might be a little Mexican at heart. What is certain is that she has quite the talent for preparing Mexico’s national dishes and making a mean margarita while she’s at it.

When dining at Gringos, please do not ignore the “Hussong’s Chicken, Cheese & Chile Wraps”. What we have here is essentially a Mexican won ton. The dish comes with a side of Chipotle Cream or Colorado Green Pork Chile dipping sauce. The recipe was originally crafted in year 1894 in the Hussong’s Cantina in Baja California. The Hussong family immigrated to Mexico from China and are family friends of Gary.  In fact, he claims that he was raised by the ladies in the kitchen of the same Hussong Cantina.

Also recommended is the Smothered Burrito, the Enchiladas and if you’re one for a cocktail: a homemade Margarita. Their menu is complete with all the usual Mexican fare: chips and salsa, nachos, tacos, quesadillas, etc. I’d like to take this opportunity to note that there is no absolutely no way that Laura eats in her own restaurant or else she would be 300 pounds by now!

If it is authentic Mexican cuisine or not, I am not really qualified to say, but I will say that all the food I had the pleasure of sampling was absolutely delicious.  Laura tells me that “Mexicans always congratulate us for having food with an authentic Mexican flavor.”  Well, there you have it; indirectly straight from the Mexican horse’s mouth (sort of). Authentic or not, my taste buds are not culturally biased and after all, yummy is yummy. What does Gary think?

“Man, let’s take all this stuff back to Taco Bell and get our money back.”

Well, don’t listen to him- it’s just his restaurant!  Of course he could be just having a laugh. Isn’t that what you would do if you had the only successful Mexican food place in town? Kick back, have some margarita-fueled good times with friends and maybe in the meantime open up a second location. Oh, right, that’s exactly what they did!

Gary and Laura are proud to announce a second location in David. The restaurant will be located in the Hotel Skamlati, which is in the Concepción Bugaba area, 15 minutes from Price Mart. It will serve not only their signature Mexican specialties, but also traditional Panamanian fare as well as some gringo food such as hamburgers from Mexico’s neighbors to the north. So, where does the term gringo come from anyway? I leave you with your mouth watering but also with a bit of history debunking and a linguistic fun fact.

The most popular theories as to where the term “gringo” originates are interesting but can be disproven. Most people believe the term comes from the Mexican-American war and that it is derived from the English words “green go”. One theory is that the American troops wore green uniforms and the Mexicans were telling them to “go home!” hence “green go”. Others think that there was a military officer with the last name “Green” and it was him they were telling to scram. However, there was no Lieutenant Green, nor were the soldiers dressed in that color and you can actually find the term “gringo” in Spanish dictionaries dating back to the 17th century, long before the Mexican-American war. It was a word used for foreigners who came to Spain, didn’t look like Spaniards and spoke the language with an accent. Etymologists believe it is a bastardization of the word “griego”, which means Greek, as in “I don’t really understand what this foreigner is saying.  It’s all Greek to me!”

Well, all I can say is that after all these nachos, enchiladas, Mexican won tons and margaritas; it’s all Mexican to me…

Nicholas Corea is the editor of the Bocas Breeze. He wasn't born in Bocas, but he got there as fast as he could. He is just one of the many foreigners who became enamored with the islands and his mission is to share the magic of Bocas del Toro with the world. Mr. Corea likes to extend his gratitude to everyone who makes the Bocas Breeze happen- starting with YOU (the reader).

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