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Food & Dining in Panama


As with many other Latin American countries, Panamanian cuisine relies heavily on meat, and rice, or corn. However as the natural bridge between Central and South America, you will find an unusual mix of tropical fruits and vegetables used in the dishes, including yucca (cassava, a potato like tuber), and different types of plantains (a savoury banana-like fruit). Dishes in Panama are usually only mildly flavoured, and not too spicy. In fact, salt is often the only seasoning used in many staple dishes. Also, because of its recent heritage, modern Panamanian cuisine contains a unique fusion of Spanish, African and indigenous flavours.

Considering the country’s position with two long coastlines to boast, it is not surprising that fish and seafood are excellent in Panama. A speciality is corvina (a salt-water fish), which is prepared in many ways, but even the simplest method of grilling is best to bring out the flavour. You can also eat ceviche, where the raw corvina is marinated in lime juice, peppers, and onions, and then served after the natural acids have cooked the fish. Another local fish is guabina, which is less commonly found in restaurants but when seen on menus is worth trying. Other seafood you will see on menus includes shrimp, prawns, squid, octopus and lobster.

Dining hours generally follow North American customs, with restaurants opening around 7 or 8 am for breakfast, serving lunch from noon to 2 pm, and dinner from 7 to 10 pm. In smaller towns, you'll find that restaurants close as early as 9pm or sometimes even 8 pm. Upscale restaurants in Panama City serve until 11 pm.

Do note that all Panamanian restaurants and bars are smoke-free; so smokers will have to take it outside.

Panama City

Casco Viejo

Start walking around among the old Spanish edifices of San Felipe, and you'll soon pass by several of the most unique dining locations you may ever encounter: establishments like S'cena and Mostaza are housed in restored colonial-era buildings with the original bricks and stones left carefully exposed where possible, while Casa Blanca restaurant and René Café use the traditional plazas just across from their front doors for historically rich alfresco seating. Las Bóvedas is a French restaurant named for the incredible fortress vaults that hold the bar and dining rooms. Its stylish atmosphere marks a major change from the 17th century when prisoners were kept in the vaults of this Spanish dungeon. A different era of history awaits you at Café Coca Cola, a diner that feels as though you might be stepping through a time machine into the year it opened as the first diner in the city.

Bella Vista & El Cangrejo

Panamanians, visitors and expatriates from all over the world flock to equally diverse establishments here whenever ready to enjoy themselves. The hallmark flavours of Latin and Asian cuisines at Martin Fierro and Matsuei await alongside the signature wafting scents of bakeries like Petit Paris and coffee-shops like Dolce, as well as the characteristic revelry of a British pub at The Londoner or a Cuban dance club at La Bodeguita. Downtown makes it easy to explore all sorts of traditions or to cast them off instead. Eurasia is famed for its fusion cuisine, featuring seafood and dessert creations that exist nowhere else in an elegant and opulent setting and Casa Vegetariana gives diners their choice of a vast range of all-vegetarian options at the cost of pocket change for each substantial portion.

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