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dining

Lunch at Lung Fung
by Eric Jackson

When I used to live over on El Paical, I was something of a breakfast time regular at the Palacio Lung Fung. I really like their dim sum, which they serve from 6 a.m. until noon.

Once I was the guest of science fiction writer Tom Cool, at that time US Navy Commander Tom Cool, at a sumptuous banquet he threw on the occasion of his Chinese-Panamanian father-in-law's 80th birthday. (If you know about Confucianism and the ideas of filial piety associated with it, you will understand what a huge deal it is when the head of an extended family turns 80.) That dinner, held upstairs where they can host rather large events, featured more than a dozen courses and was very good.

Panama has a number of good Chinese restaurants, and this is one of the largest and most popular. Its conference rooms have been favorite spots for political gatherings, and the restaurant has been the backdrop for some interesting news stories.

(One of the latter concerns a gangster who was doing time for kidnapping and murder. One afternoon the judge who had just sent this man to prison for he maximum 20 years went to Lung Fung for lunch, and lo and behold there was the mobster, dining with a prison official. Ooops! Jobs were lost over that one.)

(As for the politics, when I used to be a breakfast regular, Lung Fung was something of a MOLIRENA hangout. One day before the 1999 election  I was there with my mother, while MOLIRENA and allies were gathering in one of the private dining rooms. In strolled Mireya Moscoso and her adopted son. As my late father knew the late Arnulfo Arias --- because they were both doctors practicing on the isthmus --- Mom was curious: "Is that one of the boys from Brazil?")

But this visit was a business lunch, for which one of the four combinations for two was ordered. We got chicken with peanuts and vegetables, double-cooked roast pork, langostinos with vegetables and fried rice, with chicken soup as a starter and one of us drinking coffee and the other Chinese tea.

This is the year that Panama's Chinese community celebrates its 150th anniversary, and that reality was subtly reflected in this lunch.

Do they have chayotes in China? I imagine that they might, but I suspect that in the prawn dish the vegetable mix dominated by little chayote slices was more typically Chinese-Panamanian than Middle Kingdom-style.

Similarly, Lung Fung's Chinese-Panamanian sensibilities are reflected in the fondness for ginger in many dishes but the absence of hot mustard if you order spring rolls. The Cantonese ancestry of Chinese-Panamanian cuisine is also reflected in the menu's lack of fiery Szechuan or Hunan dishes.

This is not a complaint. There was nothing to complain about. The food and service were excellent as usual. Lung Fung maintains it venerable place in a community that has contributed a lot to this country in the last century and a half, and you need not be Chinese --- or Panamanian --- to appreciate it.

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