Panama has its own unique and rich cuisine. As a land bridge between two continents, Panama is blessed by nature with an unusual variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs that are used in native cooking. Also, as a crossroads of the world, Panama’s cuisine is influenced by its diverse population of Hispanic, native Indian, European, African and even Chinese migrations.
Tortillas: Tortillas are very popular for breakfast, but these are not Mexican style tortillas. In Panama, tortillas are half inch thick rounds of corn dough deep fried and usually served with a melting piece of cheese on top and eggs.This is a dish that will stick to your innards all morning.
Hojaldras: Another typical breakfast treat served with eggs are hojaldras. These are Panamanian donuts where a flattened piece of dough is deep fried and served hot, with a sprinkle of sugar on top.
Snacks & Side Dishes
Patacones: Fried plantain which is still green, cut in rounds, pressed ,deep fried and salted. You can order it as an appetiser for lunch or dinner, as your starchy vegetable or they make a great snack.
Platano Maduro (Tajadas): Ripe plaintians cut in long slices and sauteed in oil. Ripe plaintains are sweet and so they make sweet side dish that accompanies most typical Panamanian meals. “Platanos tentación” is a popular way to prepare them in a carmelised sugar sauce seasoned with some cinnamon and nutmeg.
Carimañola: A delicious roll made with dough from the tropical root yuca and stuffed with a bit of meat and boiled eggs.
Fried yuca: Yuca is a starchy root that is a countryside staple. It's a tropical version of the potato and it is good fried as a snack or side dish.
Ceviche: Served like a shrimp cocktail as an appetiser, small pieces of corvina ( sea bass) “cooked” in lemon juice and spices. Watch out- you may get addicted- this is a very popular and delicious dish.
Empanadas: These are something like a Cornish pastry. Some are made from flour pastry and others from corn pastry. They can be filled with meat, chicken or cheese.
Arroz con guandu: Panama’s most popular side dish, this rice dish is cooked with guandu, a bean of African origin that gives the rice a subtle, delectable flavour. Coconut water is often used to cook the rice, giving it an even more tropical taste.
Main Course Dishes
Sancocho: A hearty chicken soup and Panama’s most typical countryside dish, In addition to chicken pieces, sancocho has a starchy root called namé and is spiced with culandro which is a leaf similar in taste to cilantro.
Corvina: If you love fish, don’t leave Panama before tasting its premier fish known locally as “corvina” and internationally as sea bass. This delectable fish has absolutely no “fishy” taste. It is a feature on the menus of most Panamanian restaurants served with a variety of sauces or fried or as ceviche.
Shrimp, Lobster, Fish: Panama means “abundance of fish” in the original Indian language and indeed fresh seafood is another Panamanian attraction, given Panama’s extensive coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. You will find a variety of shrimp,lobster and fish dishes on many menus.
Tamales: Again the same name, but not the Mexican kind at all. Panamanian tamales are like a square burrito and are made from a dough of ground corn with a filling of chicken or pork with spices. They are all wrapped up in a banana leaf and boiled. Several make a meal, one makes a handy snack- unwrap the banana leaf and enjoy.
Flans: Like the rest of Latin America, flan- or a light egg custard in a carmelised sauce is hands down Panama’s favourite dessert.
Pastel Tres Leches: “Three Milk Cake”- This is a rich cake made from three milks-regular, evaporated and condensed.
Tropical fruit batidos: Another favourite dessert or snack are batidos which are milk shakes consisting fresh tropical fruits blended with milk and a bit of sugar. Papaya, strawberry and pineapple shakes are some of the most common.
Tropical fruits: Panama’s best desserts are its tropical fruits which are abound, inexpensive and are incomparably delicious…so indulge…papayas, mangos, pineapples, a variety of melons, and some fruits you’ve never seen before like maracuyá ( that is passion fruit-makes one of the best juices anywhere), guanabana ( sour sop) etc.
Raspados: These are snow cones known locally as “raspados”. You will find them served everywhere from a friendly vendor with a mobile cart. You can choose from a large variety of tropical flavoured toppings and Panamanians top their snow cones off with a dollup of condensed milk- a cooling and most refreshing snack.