Panama’s cuisine is the culmination of cooking traditions from people all over the world such as Spaniards, Africans, and Indians. Combined, these cultures give life to amazing dishes, full of vibrant spices, contrasting flavors, and interesting textures.
If you want to make a tour of Central America’s cuisine, then Panama is definitely a great way to start a delicious journey! In this article, I’ll show you 19 mouthwatering Panamanian recipes that you can – and should – try at home.
Here, you’ll find everything from desserts to appetizers and, of course, delicious main dishes. So, buckle up and get ready to discover the best of what Panama’s food has to offer!
Table of Contents
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Patacones (Fried Plantains)
Patacones are one of Panama’s most traditional appetizers. They’re essentially fried-up pieces of green plantains. These green plantains are double-fried and then smashed to acquire a format similar to a pancake.
These delicious appetizers can be served at any time: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a standalone snack at any given time of the day. You could say that patacones carry the same cultural significance that french fries have for North Americans, as they can be served on similar occasions and have a delicious salty flavor.
Here is my patacones recipe (it says Venezuelan, but the recipe it’s basically the same)
The Panamanian Sancocho is a type of soup with roasted chicken, herbs, onions, and yuca root, which is the root of the cassava plants, and very much resembles a potato in taste. This is a great choice for a cold winter day, helping to keep the body warm while savoring a delicious little meal.
This is a very simple yet savory dish, with a lot more spice than the traditional Western soup. It’s also a dish that welcomes any type of variation, with people often adding other types of vegetables and spices to it according to their preferences and personal experience.
That’s right, tortillas are not exclusive to Mexico! Panamanian tortillas are traditionally made with just knead cornflour and water, cooked in a skillet with no butter or oil.
Unlike the Mexican tortilla, this one has a sweet flavor to it with a certain nutty smell to them and is typically eaten for breakfast, accompanied by some eggs and coffee or juice. It should be slightly difficult to get the tortilla right in your first couple of tries, but you should master the right technique the more you make them!
Carimañolas are essentially yucca roots fried up with some spicy beef filling, which is just as delicious as it sounds. Regarding texture, the appetizers are crisp on the outside and a bit fluffy on the inside, which makes for a tasteful contrast.
While the patacones resemble french fries, the carimañolas are more of a “Panamanian empanada”. They’re typically served with a delicious herby sauce, parsley, and some lemons.
There’s really no secret to this one, the name is pretty much self-explanatory. Yuca fritas are fried yucas with some salt, which are often served with chopped beef, cheese, or just by itself, with a delicious mayonnaise, ketchup-based sauce or a mojito sauce on the side.
To prepare the dish, you just have to boil the yuca for about 5 minutes then deep fry it until they’re crisp and golden. Add some salt to it, some extra garnishes if you like, and you’re good to go. Just like usual fries, they’re crisp on the outside and a bit mushy on the inside.
Carne Guisada (Beef Stew)
Carne Guisada is a thick beef stew made with sofrito, potatoes, cumin, tomatoes, garlic, and other vegetables that can be picked at will. This may be on Panama’s list, but the truth is this is a traditional dish all over South America, in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and Argentina, and the fellow Central American country of Puerto Rico.
To get a good carne guisada going, you must let all the ingredients boil together for approximately one hour; that way you’ll achieve that rich and strong stew flavor.
Hojaldras are golden fried pastries with a tender texture and wonderful salty flavor. In Panama, they’re usually eaten at breakfast, with anything from eggs and cheese to sausages and chopped steak as side options.
The Hojaldras’ dough is made from flour, butter, sugar, and baking powder. The dough is then deep-fried in oil until golden on both sides, which may not be the healthiest thing if you eat too much of it, but trust me, it makes it taste like heaven!
Ensalada de Feria (Potato Salad)
There’s no limit to the number of dishes you can do with some potatoes, huh? It’s hard to find another vegetable that’s the central piece of so many delicious dishes. In the case of the Ensalada de Feria, you’ll have the potatoes in their most healthy and colorful version.
This Panamanian salad consists of mixing some boiled potato chunks with chopped hard-boiled eggs, onions, black pepper, and salt, (lots of) mayonnaise, cilantro and to give the salad’s traditional pink coloring, some boiled beetroot. It’ll be hard to find a salad with such an extensive range of flavors as this one, trust me!
The only drink on our list, the Panamanian Chicheme is a fermented cream-like drink with corn as its prime ingredient. Often compared to the Horchata, we can’t deny the similarities between these two, as both have cinnamon, vanilla, and condensed milk as main ingredients.
This is a sweet and refreshing beverage, prepared with traditional Panama spices and that can be served either hot or cold, it’s up to you! It’s a great drink to have with some sandwiches, hamburgers, or even hot dogs.
Arroz con Guandú y Coco (Rice w/ Pigeon Peas and Coconut)
You must’ve heard about the rice and beans combo somewhere by now. Very popular in countries such as Brazil, particularly in the form of Baião de Dois, the mixture never disappoints. The Panamanian version of rice and beans carries a certain resemblance to the Brazilian dish, although it’s more herby and has a hint of sweetness to it.
It’s one of the most popular side dishes in Panama, often served with various types of roasted meats or salads. To cook the dish, you’ll need rice, pigeon peas, onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and a couple of cans of coconut milk.
Another traditional Panama dish that’s also very popular all over South America, the Ceviche is originally a Peruvian appetizer, made from raw seafood and fish. This dish, as you probably could’ve guessed, is served cold.
The ceviche consists of raw fish filets (seabass, rockfish, cod), shrimp, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper, and onions. The dish has a typical “sea taste” with some really soft textures that will make it hard to stop eating once you start it. It’s often served with salty crackers or potato chips.
Carne en Palito (Meat on Sticks)
Carne en Palito could be easily named the ultimate Panamanian street food. It’s simple, it’s cheap and it’s also incredibly delicious. And it’s pretty straightforward food: just some slices of beef or pork meat on a stick. It’s usually seasoned with salt, garlic, achiote, and cumin.
You can find these “meat sticks” being sold by vendors on several streets of Panama. In order to find these vendors, just pay attention to the smell and fumes emerging from the streets; trust me, you’ll be able to detect these sticks a mile away.
Sancocho de Gallina (Chicken Stew)
We talked about the beef stew, so naturally, we should give the chicken stew a shot as well. The Panamanian Sancocho de Gallina is essentially a chicken stew, a food that you can find almost anywhere in the world, really. Except here, of course, you can expect the usual Panamanian touch.
The stew is composed of chicken, corn, and plantains – which is something Panamanian people love – potatoes, yuca, cilantro, cumin, and other spices and vegetables you can pick at will. This dish is often decorated with some avocado slices and can be served both as an entreé or main dish.
Sopa de Pata (Cow’s Feet Soup)
We have yet another stew to add to our list of Panamanian delights, this time a rather unorthodox version of it. Sopa de Pata actually means cow’s feet soup… but hey, don’t worry, they wash the feet first! Ok, too soon? But, seriously, this tastes a lot better than it sounds!
Cow’s feet are actually very popular in Panama and all over South America, where they’re included in several traditional dishes. To make a solid Sopa de Pata, you’ll need the cow’s feet, herbs, milk, butter, carrots, tomatoes, string beans, and any other vegetable you see fit.
Ropa Vieja (Shredded Beef Stew)
As you’ve probably guessed, Pamanians have a thing for stew. But, hey, they’re incredible at doing it, so can you blame them? The Ropa Vieja dish may not have the most appealing name if you take it objectively – it literally means “old clothes” – but, don’t worry, this is not one of the most traditional dinner dishes in Panama for no reason.
This delicious dish consists of shredded beef, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, celery, and of course, lots of spices. This is originally a Cuban dish and therefore served with a lot of pepper, but you can go easy on it if you’re not so fond of it.
Bet some of you guys are craving a dessert already, no? Well, it’s just about time to talk about caramelized plantains, a wonderful yet simple Panamanian dessert that can help you kill that good ol’ urge for sweets.
To prepare the dish, all you need to do it’s get your hands on some plantains – AKA green plantains- first. Then melt some sugar in a buttered pan, let it caramelize, and add the chopped plantains with a bit of cinnamon. If you want an extra level of sweetness, put some whipped cream on top of it – because why not?
Bistec Picado (Minced Steak)
Bistec Picado is a delicious mixture between minced steak and vegetables. Although a simple dish, the flavors here perfectly encapsulate the best that Panamanian cuisine has to offer; it’s spicy, diverse, and delicious.
All you need to do here is stir fry the chopped steaks with some cut onions, tomatoes, coriander, and, obviously, a lot of spicy stuff such as chili powder, jalapeno peppers, black pepper, etc. The Bistec Picado is usually served with white rice and salads.
Arroz con Pollo (Chicken w/ rice)
This is yet another dish that exemplifies one of the things Panamanian cuisine does best: keep it simple yet extremely flavorful. The Panamanian chicken with rice is one of the most popular lunch dishes in the country, and it immediately draws attention for its intense presence of tomato flavors.
The Arroz con Pollo has a beautiful golden and it’s a great source of both protein and vitamin C. To prepare the dish, you’ll need chicken, onions, garlic, canola oil, tomato paste, tomato sauce, saffron to give its yellowish coloring, and a wide selection of vegetables to enrich its flavor.
To close up our list, we have some of the most delicious appetizers you’ll find in Panama. Beef Empanadas have an amazing crusty texture with some delicious tender fillings on the inside, which are usually composed primarily of ground beef.
To take up the rest of the filling and thicken the meat’s flavor, the Panamanians typically use ingredients such as onions, peppers, olives, and an extensive array of spices and herbs. Although the meat inside is supposed to be quite tender and flavorful, it’s never too greasy or oily.
I’m Maria and I love cooking—and mostly EATING—food from all around the world. I’ve been sharing my abuela’s secret Latin-American recipes for the last 7 years with the world on this blog. I’ve been a full-time food blogger for many years and I’m always trying new delicious meals that don’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef. I also love traveling, cats, and knitting.