Panama’s food culture and traditions are a mix of Indian, Arab, and Spanish heritage, which results in the unique flavor and character of the local cuisine.
Corn and seafood are the most frequent ingredients in Panamanian cuisine, beef, chicken and pork are very popular in the Central American country too.
Here are 10 of the most popular dishes of Panamanian cuisine.
One of the exotic dishes of Panamanian gastronomy is Ceviche. Quite popular in Latin America, specifically in Peru, this meal consists of seafood, fish and meat au gratin with orange or lime juice. Generally, it is complemented with chili and chopped cilantro.
The popularity of ceviche in Panama is evidenced by the number of restaurants and restaurants that serve it. On beaches and boardwalks it is very common to find this food, which can basically be enjoyed all year round.
Before preparing it, the shrimps must be well cleaned. Regarding the choice of the fish, the most recommended is the corvina or the chopped grouper, however, any white fish can be used. Afterwards, the chili, bell pepper, onion and coriander are cut into thin pieces.
Then, the fish and seafood are placed in a glass container, and the vinegar with the lemon juice are gradually added. After that, stir the preparation with a wooden spatula to keep the ceviche fresh.
Continue stirring while adding the onion, mustard and coriander. Finally, season with the rest of the spices and add salt to taste. An excellent tip is to let the ceviche rest for a few hours so that the fish and the seafood marinate perfectly.
Guacho de Rabito
Guacho de Rabito is a typical Panamanian country dish made with beef tail and beans. According to the experts, the texture must be creamy, as this is the main characteristic of this preparation.
This kind of rice stew that can be prepared with seafood or pigeon peas, among others, is only found in Panama. For its preparation, most Panamanians cook the pork tail together with the beans so that the meat remains soft while the grains absorb the flavor.
Later, onions, garlic, and the remaining strongly flavored vegetables are added. In some regions, when it comes to gaucho with seafood, the tomato and onions are fried. However, regardless of the main ingredient, the broth is the essence of the dish, offering that typical flavor that makes this dish unique.
Volteado de Piña (Pineapple Upside Down Cake)
Volteado de piña is a delicious dessert from Panama that combines citrus fruits with caramel. It is a very popular cake that is made with commonly used ingredients. The citrus flavor of the pineapple, together with the sugar of the caramel and the cherries in syrup, results in an irresistible combination.
This dish, which has its origins in colonial times, is traditionally consumed in December, as part of Christmas customs. However, in the meantime, you will find this cake as a typical accompaniment to the daily cup of coffee in the afternoon.
Its name the dessert derives from the way it is prepared: the pineapples are placed in a container with caramel and the sponge cake, previously baked, is turned over the pineapples which, together with the caramel, serves as decoration.
This is one of the easiest desserts to find in Panama, and in most bakeries and candy stores across the country, you can buy it in pieces or as a whole cake.
Cabanga, besides being tasty, is one of the most striking desserts in Panama, mainly because of its dark appearance and rigid texture. To prepare it, ingredients such as papaya, panela, and coconut are used.
This delicacy, which attracts tourists and locals alike, has undergone various changes since the time of the Spanish conquest when it originated. Nowadays, Panamanians put the fruits together with honey and panela on fire until a sticky consistency, similar to caramel, is noticeable. Finally, they are cut into triangular pieces and are ready for consumption.
In addition to its appearance, its name is remarkable as well. In Panama, the locals say that it is because you get lazy after eating too much. This sweet delicacy is often accompanied by crackers or bread and a drink such as coconut water, for example.
Bollo de Maíz Nuevo
Bollo de maíz nuevo is a culinary delicacy that is frequently prepared in the province of Panama. The reason for its name is precisely because it is made with tender, fresh corn.
To prepare it, it is necessary to extract the corn kernels, cook them and grind them to form a dough. Then sugar, salt and water are added. The idea is to make it not too thick but not too liquid so that it can be wrapped easily in the corn husks.
Once wrapped, they are submerged in boiling water and cooked for approximately one hour. Then, they are removed from the water and left to cool for a few minutes before serving.
This snack, although it is very often prepared in the province, can be found in many places, from street food stands to restaurants. It is usually accompanied by fried or grilled cheese, although white rice or shredded chicken can be added as well. There are many variations of this dish, but all of them are exquisite.
Sancocho is one of the most consumed dishes in Latin America, but in Panama it has its own distinctive touch. The Panamanian version is a chicken soup with pieces of corn on the cob, yucca, yam, sweet potato, plantain, onion, oregano and coriander, the latter being an indispensable ingredient.
This dish, which is the result of an ancestral mixture of the American Indians with the Spaniards at the time of the conquest, is generally accompanied by rice and bread, especially at lunchtime.
Thanks to Sancocho, Panama holds a culinary record in the Guinness Book of Records. In 2003, to celebrate its centenary, a 2,500 gallon soup was prepared, which was then recognized as the largest chicken soup in the world. From then on, this boiled soup has increased in popularity inside and outside the Panamanian borders.
Carimañolas are cassava cakes usually stuffed with beef or chicken. For its preparation, the yucca must be boiled until it is soft. The dough is ground and formed into buns that are then filled with the ingredient of your choice, fried in oil, and finally served.
To enjoy a perfect carimañola, its texture must be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. For this reason, it is best to serve them a couple of minutes after frying. There is a certain similarity between this preparation and the alcapurrias of Puerto Rico, however, on the island they use green plantain and malanga in the preparation of the dough, and the filling is also different.
Due to its proximity, Colombians also enjoy this dish, in fact, there is currently some dispute regarding the origin of the carimañola. Nevertheless, in Panama it is one of the most traditional dishes that is served throughout the year in restaurants and street stalls.
Tamal de Olla
Tamal de Olla is one of the most representative dishes of Panama. While tamales are usually wrapped in banana leaves, in Panama they are prepared in a casserole. The preparation of tamal de olla simplifies the process of the traditional way of preparing them by omitting the banana leaf wrapping.
Some of the variations include tamales made with new corn, tamales with old corn, and tamales that combine both types of corn. For the filling, you can use chicken, pork, chicken with pork, seafood, shrimp, fish; some cooks use capers, raisins, and olives.
Since it does not have the characteristic smoky flavor of classic tamales, as it is not wrapped, it has a more intense flavor of the spices used, which has made it a famous dish inside and outside of Panama.
Pargo Rojo Frito (Fried Red Snapper)
Red Snapper is one of the most favorite seafood dishes in Panama. Its preparation requires marinating the fish, covering it with flour and then frying it in vegetable oil. This is one of the most frequently consumed meals on Panamanian beaches.
It is usually accompanied by fried plantains and a fresh vegetable salad, although yucca is also a popular side dish.
When preparing the dish, the whole fish is used, removing only the internal organs before putting it in the frying pan. What is most delicious about this fried fish is its characteristic crunchy texture.
The red snapper is commonly found in deep waters near the Gulf of Mexico. If you want to enjoy their delicious meat, you have to wait until late spring and early summer, the ideal time to catch them.
Huevitos de Leche (Milk Eggs)
Huevitos de Leche is a typical and ancestral Panamanian dessert whose origins are linked to the Spanish conquest more than 500 years ago. The recipe has remained practically unchanged, so it is very easy to prepare.
With the dough of this eye-catching candy, which has a golden color, small balls are created and then sprinkled with sugar and wrapped in colored paper, which powerfully attracts the attention of the little ones in the house, although its addictive power catches adults as well.
It is advisable to eat this candy in small bites, since its texture is very soft and brittle. These milk candies can be found in school canteens all across the country and are among the most popular Panamanian desserts.
Panamanians have the privilege of enjoying the texture and flavors of a cuisine loaded with ancestral traditions and great memories. This gastronomical mixture that has passed from generation to generation presents itself today in a plethora of spices and flavors.
During your visit to Panama, it is advisable to delve into its culinary wonders. From the most elaborate meals, to snacks and even desserts, the local cuisine offers an experience of incomparable flavor that never disappoints. Fortunately, throughout the region it is possible to find many restaurants, bakeries, candy shops, and food trucks where you can enjoy the exquisite Panamanian cuisine.