One of the things I really love about living in Bangkok is that you can find food from all around the world. I mean ALL around the world. Craving Russian, Bhutanese, Georgian, Tibetan, Ecuadorian, or South African? Bangkok’s got it, and much more. I’m also always excited when I find a new cuisine to hit the food scene. I was recently thrilled to discover that Casa Panza (official Facebook page) is dishing out authentic Cuban dishes to Bangokians craving it.
Craving Cuban food? Bangkok’s now got it!
Growing up on the West Coast, my experience with this particular cuisine was very limited. Basically, I once ate a Cubano “inspired” sandwich. My knowledge about Cuban food could basically fit on the tip of a plantain. But my gal and I recently had the opportunity to visit Casa Panza’s kitchen and receive a whirlwind tour of their traditional Cuban dishes, their origins, and all that goes into cooking them.
Now I am much more knowledgeable and I’m happy to share that education with you.
So get ready to get hungry as I show you some of the dishes we tried and provide some historical background about them. I hope it entices you to discover this rich cuisine Casa Panza is offering on your own!
A cuisine shaped by history…
First off, when I looked at the menu my first impression was that the food would be similar to Mexican food, something I am familiar with. But let me tell you, Cuban cuisine is about as similar to Mexican cuisine as poutine is to nacho-style tater tots. They are very, very different. This is because they have such different histories.
The Cuban kitchen has been shaped by Spanish, African, Caribbean, and to some extent Chinese and French culinary influences. The result is an exciting blend of flavors, textures, and colors which is best represented by Cuba’s national dish colloquially known as “old clothes“.
Cuba’s National Dish!
Cuba’s national dish, Ropa Vieja (340 baht) is one of Casa Panza’s most popular dishes. The name is translated from Spanish as “old clothes“. The history of the name varies, one prevalent story is told that at one time an old man who was so poor and hungry decided to shred his old clothes into strips and make them into a soup. While praying over the pot the strips of clothing were miraculously transformed into tender beef which turned into a hearty stew.
The reason for the name may not be certain but the origin of the dish is known. The recipe is over 500 years old and originates from the Sephardic Jews who had settled in Spain’s Iberian Peninsula. Ropa Vieja was their go-to Sabbath meal as they could slowly stew it overnight thereby not having to cook on the holy day of rest.
This tasty dish became popular throughout Spain and its popularity grew worldwide as Spaniards migrated to Cuba and throughout the Caribbean.
Casa Panza uses flank steak cuts of beef which are ideal for shredding. The meat is first boiled for an hour to tenderize it (the broth is reserved for later use). Once the meat cools down it’s shredded and then cooked stir-fry style with loads of bell peppers, garlic, spices, and red wine.
This was the very first thing I tried and it foretold in the first bite that we were in for a delicious experience. I’d also add that eating Ropa Vieja for the first time, coincidentally on a Saturday (Sabbath), was a religious experience…can I get a “hallelujah!“?
I can understand why this is one of their most popular dishes and I highly recommend it!
Love me tender…
Many of Cuba’s popular dishes originated from the migrating Spaniards and French. Casa Panza serves one of the most well-known Franco-Spanish dishes, Fricase de Pollo (270 baht). This flavorful chicken dish is served with potatoes, raisins, olives, and a rich tomato sauce with a red wine reduction.
After searing and then braising the chicken, the meat is so tender you can literally cut it with a spoon. This picture’s the proof.
Traditionally, it’s made with dark meat (Casa Panza usually serves it with thigh and drumstick quarters), however, you can order this dish with chicken breast by special request.
L’eggo my Lechon!
Cuba’s “King of Dishes“, Lechon Asado (290 baht), originates from Spanish colonization (though there is a Chinese version of pork roasted in La Caja China or “The Chinese Box)”. Casa Panza uses pork shoulder that is marinated for at least 24 hours in lime juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano. The meat is then seared and then pressure cooked to ensure maximum penetration of flavors as well as tenderness.
Casa Panza serves their Lechon Asada (290 baht) with a side of frijoles negros (black beans) and white rice (it was the Chinese who introduced the grain to Cuba) which is infused with garlic oil. This dish is a complete meal in itself and there’s plenty of shredded pork to share (no need to shout “L’eggo my lechon!“).
But once you try the beans, you’ll wish you’d also ordered an extra side of it.
I cannot stress enough just how damned good these beans are. It is rich, smoky, and full of flavor with just a hint of white wine. I also couldn’t believe that they were vegetarian. They are usually made with smoky bacon but this vegetarian version without bacon is available upon request.
Honestly, I can’t imagine ordering from Casa Panza and not including an order of the Frijoles Negros (95 baht). I am excited to try it with bacon next time!
Tostones are made by flattened twice-fried unripened plantains. The dish is a remnant of African influence on Cuban cuisine, and its name originates from the Tostón, the Spanish currency used during the colonial period.
No Cuban feast would be complete without Tostones. In fact, it was only after discovering a local farmer who could source plantains that Casa Panza sprang to life.
Tostones con Mojo (120 baht) are served as 6-8 pieces depending on the size along with garlic oil (mojo). We were also given a treat of fried ripened plantains (pictured on the lower right of the photo). Unfortunately, that is not available on the menu. So I won’t tease you about how deliciously sweet they were.
These salted plantain chips are instrumental in creating “the perfect bite“. For example, beef or pork, a bit of rice, and a dollop of beans atop a salted tostone is pure mouth heaven.
Another great side is the Yuquitas Fritas con Mojo (110 baht) which is served as 6-8 “fries” approximately 125 grams. Forget French fries, deep-fried cassava (yucca) sticks are so much better. The cassava doesn’t have much of a flavor, but the crunch is super satisfying.
The flavor comes from the mojo–a sauce of garlic, olive oil, lime juice, and salt. I’m guessing it gets this name because it brings mojo to anything dipped in it!
A chat with the owner/chef…
Casa Panza is a one-man show. The man running the show is Raymond Gonzalez. Raymond’s maternal Grandmother and Grandfather fled Cuba before Fidel Castro came to power. Their daughter, Raymond’s mother, became a first-generation Cuban-American, and when Raymond was born he was raised between Miami and Houston.
Though his family operated their Doneraki Mexican restaurants in Houston, he had no desire to pursue that F&B path. But he certainly gained an appreciation for Cuban cuisine from the formative years he spent with his grandmother and her culinary prowess in the kitchen. In 2011, he decided to follow his Thai partner to Bangkok. One of the things he packed with him was the Cuban Cookbook his grandmother had given him.
Cuban food comes to Bangkok!
That book had been valuable for him whenever he was missing his grandmother’s cooking. In Bangkok, where there were zero options for Cuban food, the cookbook became a precious resource. Over the years Raymond honed his cooking skills to a point where he felt his grandmother would be proud. He wanted to introduce Cuban cuisine to Bangkok but he felt he couldn’t do that properly unless he could find a local plantain source. One day he did.
With a fresh plantain source, Casa Panza was born on November 24, 2020. The name “Casa Panza” is translated as “Belly House“. It comes from the stories Raymond’s aunt told him about one of her cousins, a portly fellow with a big sense of humor to match his girth. The cousin used to plop his belly on the table at restaurants and ask the waiter, “How much to fill up this panza?”
The story made an impression on Raymond, and so he named his Cuban food venture Casa Panza, a place he hopes folks in Bangkok will enjoy turning to as a source to fill up their panza with tasty and authentic Cuban cuisine!
I’m hungry. How do I get it?
At this time, Casa Panza is a delivery service only. But that just means you can have this spread delivered to your home (or conveniently packaged for your office). You can order directly through Messenger on Facebook, Instagram, or via e-mail: CasaPanzaBkk@gmail.com.
UPDATE (16 MAY 2021): They now have their own website where you order their meal sets along with new menu item sandwiches such as their Cuban Sandwich (370 baht) and Pan Con Bistic (360 baht).
For folks who are up on ZippBike, Casa Panza is also available to order through that app. However, any special requests are best made directly through their direct ordering methods.
If you’re craving Cuban food, or just want to try it, Casa Panza is about the only show in town. Fortunately, their food is freaking amazing!
I want to hear from you!
Should you decide to experience Casa Panza I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram (and feel free to like/follow these pages if you want to learn about more foodie gems). However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!