For me, food is a big part of the experience when traveling in a foreign country. I find it so interesting to see the different types of food, the way it’s prepared and served, and the way it’s eaten (and of course, the way it tastes!). The food in Panama is really diverse and has a mix of influences, from Spainish, Afro-Carribbean and Indigenous. In Panama City (where Spanish Panama Language School is located) you will find almost any type of cuisine you like including North American, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Greek and Indian. In fact, Spanish Panama shares the friendly neighborhood of El Cangrejo with many of these types of international restaurants, as well as those serving local fare, such as the famous El Trapiche. So if you’re wondering about the traditional food in Panama (and what the dishes are called in Spanish!), read on …
Panamanians commonly start their day off with:
Fruit (frutas) – Panama has a lot of fresh produce available and in particular the watermelon (sandia), pineapple (piña), banana (banano) and guava (guayaba) are delicious.
Sausages (salchichas) – Panama is home to some fabulous sausages! Mild, médium and spicy to suit your taste, and mostly made with pork.
Eggs (huevos) – the perfect accompaniment for your sausages! You can have eggs scrambled (revuelto) or fried (frito), but scrambled is more common (often with small pieces of onion and tomato mixed in).
Fried dough (hojaldras) – the Panamanian versión of a doughnut, but a savory one, as it’s served with eggs and is usally salty (sometimes those with a sweet tooth add sugar though).
Main dishes (platos fuerte)
For lunch or dinner, Panamanians can be seen eating:
Chicken and rice (arroz con pollo) – rice in Panama is usally served as plain white or yellow. The chicken here is usually slow cooked or braised and served with vegetables (and also, a little less commonly, with beef or pork as the meat component).
Chicken soup (sancocho) – this is a hearty chicken and vegetable soup and is one of the most typical dishes in Panama. It’s said to be a great hangover cure!
Savory pastries (empanadas) – Deep fried, savory corn or flour pastries, with meat and a boiled egg stuffed inside. A palm-sized, little pocket full of deliciousness.
Boiled corn dough (tamales) – you can easily spot these on a restaurant table (or in someone´s hand), as it’s a meal served in banana leaves. They’re usually savory and stuffed with some sort of meat.
Side Dishes (entradas, bocadillos, picadas)
Common snacks and side dishes in Panama include:
Raw fish marinated in lime juice (Ceviche) – The word “Panama” can have several meanings, but the most widely accepted on is “an abundance of butterflies, trees and fish”. So it’s no wonder that, with so much fish available for harvest, a popular dish here is Ceviche.
Fried green plantains (Patacones) – green plantains look like big green bananas. Patacones are prepared by slicing the plaintain and frying it, then squishing it, and frying it again. These are definitely the most famous and popular Panamanian snack or side dish.
Rice and beans (gallo pinto) – rice mixed with red beans and pork; a filling side, good with most meals.
Fried Yuka (yuca frita) – Deep fried thick wedges of yuka root, a delicious salty snack.
Popular ways to finish off a meal are:
Snow cones (Raspados) – Panamanians LOVE their snow cones! Topped with super sweet fruit syrup and condensed milk, it’s the perfect way to cool down on a hot day (of which there are many!).
Flan – a light caramel custard-like flan; easy to squeeze in at the end of a meal.
Milk rice (Arroz con leche) – as the name suggests, rice cooked with milk (and sugar and cinnamon to make it sweet); popular amongst kids.
Three Milks cake (Tres Leches) – this cake is made (as the name suggests) with three different types of milk: evaporated, condensed and ‘regular’. The result is a heavy sponge like cake; definitely something to save room for!
Now of course there are other foods that Panamanian’s eat regularly; I’ve listed but a few to get you started on your culinary adventures in Panama!
What’s your favorite traditional food in Panama? Let us know in the comment section below! And ask Spanish Panama for some recommendations on where to eat in Panama City.
Penny de Vine is an Australian teaching English classes at Spanish Panama Language School. She has many years experience teaching English as a second language to groups and individuals in Japan, Guatemala and Panama. Penny has a love of travel and has visited almost 20 different countries throughout Asia, South America, North America and Central America.
Spanish Panama is a Canadian-Panamanian run language school located in El Cangrejo, on the main corner of Via Argentina. The school has a 13 year history of teaching Spanish in Panama and now offers Spanish, Portuguese and English classes for groups and individuals wanting to learn a language for conversational, business or academic purposes. At Spanish Panama the teachers are all native speakers, profesional and experienced. For more information please call (+507) 213 3121, or visit our websites www.spanishpanama.com or www.cursosdeinglespanama.com.pa