Panama's Culinary Traditions

Like other Latin American countries, Panama has a rich tradition in the culinary arts. Panamanian food is similar to that of other Latin American countries, but is not particularly spicy. During a trip to Panama, visitors will note that corn in many forms is often found in Panamanian cuisine. Cooking is done mainly in oil. Fish, seafood and shellfish dishes are Panamanian specialties. Due to its location the country is home to a vast array of fresh fish. In the Caribbean common seafood includes shrimp, king crab, octopus, grouper, red snapper, and lobster (the latter two are heavily overfished, so travelers may want to avoid ordering these).

Highlighted below are some favorite Panamanian foods to sample during your trip.

Fruits – A wide assortment of tropical fruits is constantly at your fingertips in Panama. Choose from papayas, mangoes, pineapples, melons, bananas, and passion fruit.

Hojaldras: These are commonly referred to as Panamanian Doughnuts. Essentially it is dough that is deep-fried and then covered with sugar on top.

Tortillas: A very common diet staple. Different from other countries, the tortillas in Panama are thicker and deep-fried. Typically items are then placed on top of the tortilla to make a meal. It is common to uses eggs, cheese, beans, or anything else tasty to make a good morning meal.

Corvina: A very common, mild-tasting fish used in many recipes. In the U.S. and Canada corvina is known as sea bass. Common along the Pacific coast, it is usually served grilled or in ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice)..

Tamales: Different from what is found in Mexico, the Panamanian tamale is covered in banana leaf and boiled. This process creates a distinct, delicious flavor.

Yucca – Often served in small fried cubes with salt

Platanos – plantains cut up and fried. Platanos maduro is ripe plantains baked or broiled with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon; served hot.

Platano Maduro: The plantain, a kind of starchy, bland banana, is something you will see as a side on many dishes throughout Central America. It is cut into small slices and then fried. The flavor is sweet and is a nice addition to any meal.

Carimañola: This is a roll made from a type of tropical yucca. Typically the roll is stuffed full of eggs and meat.

Arroz Con Guandu: Probably the most common side dish seen in Panama. Essentially rice is cooked with beans and other spices to create a great tasting rice dish. You may see this side dish served at any and all meals. There are many variations as to other ingredients that can be added to this Panamanian staple.

Chicheme – non-alcoholic drink found only in Panama. Made of milk, sweet corn, cinnamon, and vanilla.

Chichas – Fresh fruit juices, mixed with water or milk, and sweetened with sugar. Try pineapple, watermelon, mango, strawberry, or for the more adventurous taster, carrot or barley