Panamanian cuisine is both unique and rich. As a land bridge between two continents,Panama possesses an unusual variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs that are used in native cooking.
Panamanian cuisine is a unique mix of African, Spanish, Native American cooking and dishes, reflecting its diverse population.
Typical foods are mildly flavoured, without the pungency of some of Panama’s Latin American and Caribbean neighbours. Common ingredients are maize, rice, wheat flour, plantains, yuca (cassava), beef, chicken, pork and seafood.
Frituras (fritters) and other Specialties
Many Panamanian dishes are made out of corn. The preparation is different to that of other Latin American corn dishes (such as corn tortillas and arepas), given that the kernel is first cooked in water and then ground in order to obtain a dough (as opposed to using corn flour to obtain the dough). Fresh corn is also used in some dishes.
Some of the main specialties are:
- Tortillas: These can be around ten to twelve inches in diameter (these are always cooked on a griddle), or smaller, around 10 cm (most of the time these are fried).
- Bollos: corn dough wrapped in corn husk or plantain leaves and boiled. There are two main varieties: fresh corn bollos (bollos de maíz nuevo) and dry corn bollos. The dry corn type is sometimes flavoured with butter, corn, or stuffed with beef, which is called bollo “preñado”.
- Torrejitas de maíz: a fresh corn fritter.
- Tortilla Changa: Thick tortilla made out of fresh corn.
- Almojábanos: “S” shaped corn fritters.
- Empanadas: which can be made either from flour or corn, and stuffed with meats, cheese, and sometimes sweet fillings, such as fruit marmalade or manjar blanco (dulce de leche).
- Hojaldres/Hojaldras:A type of fry-bread, similar to South American sopaipilla.
- Patacones: twice-fried green plantain disks, known in other countries as “tostones”.
- Carimañola: Similar to an empanada, but made from yuca and stuffed with beef.
Traditional Panamanian Dishes
- Hojaldras – doughnuts sprinkled with sugar
- Tortillas – flat pancakes made of corn flour and usually topped with eggs, cheese, or beans
- Arepas – made of corn flour and usually topped or stuffed with eggs, cheese, or beans
- Gallo pinto – literally “spotted rooster”, made of rice, beans and usually pork, although it can be made with beef, chicken or mixed seafood. It is found in local restaurants
Starters, Snacks or Side Dishes (Entradas, Picadas, Bocadillas, Acompañamientos)
- Empanadas – pastry filled with meat, cheese, potato or vegetables. Sometimes beef or shrimp is also offered. There are many street vendors with carritos, vendor carts attached to bicycles or motorcycles, selling homemade empanadas on busy streets in Panama City
- Tamales – corn dough rolls with pockets stuffed with chicken or pork, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled
- Chicharrones – fried or roasted pork fat and skin
- Patacones, maduros, tajadas – patacones, or platanos, are fried green plantains, salted; maduros are riper plantains that are sweeter; tajadas are baked with cinnamon
- Carimañolas – fried rolls stuffed with pureed yuca, meat, vegetables and hard-boiled eggs
- Tortillas de maiz con queso blanco – corn tortillas with white cheese
- Yuca frita – fried yuca root served in place of patacones as a side dish
- Arroz con guandu – rice cooked with beans and spices, often in coconut milk
Seafood and fish (Mariscos, Frutas del Mar, Pescados)
- Ceviche – a mixture of raw fish, marinated in lime juice, with onion and coriander. The acidity of the fruit juice “cooks” the fish
- Corvina – locally caught sea bass, fried or baked and served whole, usually with lime or lemon
Main Dishes (Platos Principales)
- Arroz con pollo -chicken usually slow cooked with vegetables and spices and served with rice
- Ropa Vieja – literally “old clothes”; made of beef and tomato sauce, served with rice
- Sancocho – an extremely popular local stew, especially during Carnaval, usually made with chicken vegetables, tomatoes and coriander
- Arroz con guandú: Rice with pigeon peas.
- Arroz con bacalao: Rice with cod.
- Guacho: Stew consisting of rice, beans, and some meat (very commonly pork tail).
- Arroz con mollejas: Rice with gizzards.
- Arroz con tities y coco: Rice with shrimp and coconut milk.
- Arroz verde
- Arroz con puerco y vegetales
- Arroz con chorizo y ajíes dulces
- Carne Entomatada
- Mondongo a la culona: Stewed beef tripe.
- Salpicón de carne
- Lengua guisada: Stewed beef tongue.
- Bistec picado: Chopped beefsteak.
- Pernil de pueco al horno: Roasted pork leg.
- Chorizo con vegetales
- Chuletas en salsa de piña
- Bistec de hígado: Liver steak.
- Ropa vieja
- Ceviche: commonly made fromcorvina
- Fried fish
- Ensalada de papas: Potato salad, called ensalada de feria, when beetroot is added.
- Tamal de olla
- Plátano en tentacion: Ripe plantain cooked in a sweet syrup.
- Tasajo- Dried, sometimes smoked meat, usually from beef though the word refers mainly to the mode of curing rather than the type of meat.
Desserts (Tortas, Pasteles or Dulces)
- Pastel de tres leches – a cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream
- Raspados – ice topped with sweet syrup and condensed milk
- Flans – egg custard with caramelised sauce
- Cocades – A light biscuit-like dessert made from shredded coconut, eggs and sugar
- Bocado de la reina
- Huevitos de leche’
- Pesada de nance