Nestled between a nail salon with a red awning and the brick walls of the Flair Beauty Institute with a flashing “Open” sign is a small, Panamanian restaurant. A bell sounds upon opening the glass door of Esencias Panamenas.
Yarida Stamp, roughly 5-foot-5 and with a slow, warm voice, greets guests as they arrive. She speaks to some in English and some in Spanish. Stamp is the restaurant’s owner and chef.
Sitting at a high-top table at the front of the restaurant on Georgia Avenue in Northwest D.C., Stamp said hers is the only Panamanian restaurant in the area and one of two in the country, along with another in Houston. And during the World Cup, where her nation is making its first appearance, she is hoping to transform her small restaurant into a viewing party.
“Just like how the Capitals was a big deal because it was the first time in 30 years, this is a big deal for us because this is the first time in the World Cup,” Stamp said, referring to the hockey team that recently snapped her adopted city’s long championship drought.
Her books are already full of reservations – mostly people from Panama or those who have family members from the Central American country. All her employees will be called in for Monday, when Panama plays Belgium; June 24, for the match against England; and June 28, vs. Tunisia.
“Our culture and food is not something that is really known,” said Stamp, who opened the restaurant in 2015. “Everyone knows about Mexican food, Peruvian food, Salvadoran food, but they don’t really know anything about Panamanian food.”
She said she started cooking Friday. She is planning to serve fried breads, Panamanian tortillas and empanadas – traditional Panamanian breakfast foods for those arriving before Monday’s 11 a.m. start.
The doorbell rang as a man in a red baseball cap and shorts walked in. He is a regular. Stamp knew his name and greeted him in Spanish. He ordered to go.
“Sorry about that,” Stamp, said returning to the high-top table. It was a slow day. She said that Saturday is the restaurant’s busiest day.
The games will be shown on the television that hangs on the back wall of the restaurant. Typically, the screen flashes video of traditional dances and photos of Panama. The Panama soccer team, nicknamed La Marea Roja (The Red Tide), is the only thing that can get Stamp to change the channel.
“This is a big, big deal for us,” Stamp said. “Of course, we are scared, I’m not going to lie, because the first game is against Belgium and the second is against England, but nevertheless, we made it there. I’m excited.”
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