Live Cooking Show at Merén Transforms Lunch into a Culinary Spectacle

Paella, poolside, prepared right in front of your eyes, with craft gin cocktails and live music. This is the new Sunday afternoon program at Merén: entertainment, relaxation and seafood satiation to the maximum.

Escaping the dusty madness of the March 2024 road work in the Bocas Town center, we wandered through the corridor to the right of the Tropical Suites hotel, entering into what felt like a portal into another dimension. We were greeted with the aroma of smoked fish on the grill. Chef Efrain had his kitchen set up next to the bar and pool, among the restaurant tables, with the backdrop of the Caribbean Sea. Already in “restaurant review” mode, I asked him “Is that fish for the paella?”

It turns out it actually wasn’t.  Mike and Lisa, Tropical Suite guests from Texas, had just gone on a day tour with local guide Fernando Grenald where they caught kingfish, mackerel and snapper. Instead of schlepping the fish around with them to every hotel they were staying, when they arrived at Tropical Suites that day, they decided to gift the fresh catch for the hotel and restaurant staff to enjoy.

Delighted by the kind gesture, Efrain offered to smoke some of the fish for the newly arrived hotel guests as they chilled out in the restaurant, playing Scrabble, making their way through the menu of craft gin cocktails and grooving along to the sounds of live latin music in the background. We walked into some super friendly vibes for the Sunday Live Cooking Show at Merén.

Meren Pool Club and Restaurant

Meren Pool Club and Restaurant

“We were considering going to the beach or exploring town, but we came down to the pool, we saw the band and the cooking show being set up. It was all so inviting. And when the chef offered to smoke our fish in front of us, that sealed the deal. We’re spending our afternoon here,” said Lisa. She proceeded to ask us about our paella; which is why we’re all here!

Chef Efrain Humphries is a Bocas del Toro native with a passion for preparing seafood. It is his favorite and it was evident in the flavor of the paella, as well as the impromptu fish smoking for the hotel guests, which we were also lucky to sample both!

The Bocatoreño chef had his mis en plas with an aesthetic display of fresh fruit, veggies, spice blends and an array of local seafood that he was ready to turn into the classic Spanish seafood and rice creation. No, there was no fruit included in the paella, but the pineapples made nice for an aromatic and visual addition to the display.

Meren Pool Club and Restaurant

I won’t give the complete play-by-play here, as you will have to go see the show for yourself, but here is a bit about the construction of the dish from what I could observe (in between craft gins). It was a tomato sauce base, adding onion, garlic, bell peppers, a spice blend, white wine and of course the seafood stars of the live cooking show dish, all directo del caribe:  octopus, shrimp, claps, mussels, and prawns. And with this, the stage is set to cook the rice and seal the deal.

“The key to paella is maintaining a consistent flame,” explained chef Efrain. With the burners set-up outside for the live show, he made an expert special effort to block the wind on the breezy Bocas afternoon, maintaining the perfect paella simmer.

Meren Live Cooking

So…what is the verdict? The end result was delicious; seafood tender, rice flavorful portions perfect, served with a fresh green salad on the side. If I cared to be dramatic about it, I would write something like “it was a paella that transported me from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean with each bite.” And you know what?  It was! Paella highly recommended, and pairs beautifully with the live show.

What else? The gin cocktail menu is fun to explore. The staff is friendly and attentive. The pool access and the Caribbean Sea view made for the perfect backdrop for our Sunday afternoon. The performance from the Los Que La Forman band was a fine compliment to the live cooking show. It is encouraging to see young Panamanians passionate for the arts -musical and culinary- and making a living with their talents.

Check out the live cooking show for yourself! Currently running every Sunday at Merén Pool Club and Restaurant at Tropical Suites, from 1 to 4pm. As of April 2024, each Sunday is alternating. One week is Paella and the next is a Pasta Station. See more details about each on the flyers below. Pasta review coming soon…!!!

Book your reservation and get a front row seat here:

Follow Meren on Facebook and Instagram @merenbocas to stay up to date with their promotions and upcoming events.

Meren live cooking paella

meren live cooking show pasta



The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

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