Get a taste of Panama with these traditional Panamanian foods.
Through the years, Panama has been home to Spaniards, Africans, Chinese, Indians, Americans, and more, and Panamanian foods represent that diverse cultural mishmash.
Because of its location, there’s also a heavy reliance on tropical foods, such as plantains, pineapples, yuca, corn, and seafood.
Of all the other well-known cuisines in the world, the most common comparison for Panamanian food would probably be Creole.
Panamanian chefs, like Creole chefs, use lots of spices, flavors, colors, and herbs.
As a result, their savory foods are complex and full of intricate, sometimes contrasting flavors and textures.
Their sweet foods are rich, tropical, and sometimes tart or even tangy.
One thing is for sure, though. Sweet or savory, Panamanian foods are delicious and entirely underrated.
20 Best Foods From Panama
1. Panamanian Sancocho
Panamanian sancocho is a type of stew, although the broth is a bit thinner than stews as most Americans think of them.
It contains roasted chicken, a variety of herbs and seasonings, onions, and yuca root.
It’s a chunky, hearty dish that’s ideal for the winter months, although it tastes incredible year-round.
Panamanian, Caribbean, and other island chefs frequently use plantains in both their sweet and savory dishes.
Fried sweet plantains are a delightful treat, but these fried green plantains are more salty than sweet.
They’re smashed, salted, and deep-fried until they reach a state of golden-brown deliciousness.
Most people eat them much like they would eat tortilla chips – with salsa or guacamole.
Tostones have a little more bite to them than tortilla chips, though, which gives them a flavor that’s all their own.
Yuca fritters, or carimanolas, are not the same as yuca frita.
Yuca frita are more like French fries, whereas carimanolas more closely mimic empanadas.
The difference is in the outer layer. Empanadas are crispy and flaky; carimanolas, while also crisp, are fluffier.
They resemble the rounded, fried mozzarella sticks Sonic serves; only these are much fatter.
The beef filling is spicy and herby, and you won’t need dipping sauce to make them taste fantastic.
4. Yuca Frita (Yuca Fries)
I thought I’d go ahead and list yuca frita, as well. These are similar to our French fries, but they’re a bit softer inside and a little saltier.
They’re also somewhat healthier, as they have more protein and fiber and less sugar than French fries.
5. Carne Guisada
Carne guisada is a thick, meaty beef stew that originated in Columbia.
You’ll simmer the beef in a mixture of beer, scallions, cilantro, cumin, tomatoes, and garlic.
You can substitute water for the beer if you prefer, but it does lose a little something in the richness of the flavor.
It takes about an hour to make and tastes even better if you serve it over rice.
6. Panamanian Corn Tortillas
Tortillas are a staple in many Spanish-speaking and Island-based countries. In Panama, people often make theirs with corn.
These tortillas taste like any corn tortilla, but because they’re grilled or baked, they’re a bit thicker and softer than fried tortillas.
Hojaldres are another popular bread in Panama.
The literal translation is “puff pastry,” but don’t get these confused with the puff pastry dough you can buy at the store.
These are more like tortillas. They’re a type of flatbread, but they’re lighter and airier than traditional tortillas.
8. Panamanian Chicheme
Many people think chicheme and horchata are the same things. In reality, the two are pretty different.
Yes, both include cinnamon, vanilla extract, and condensed milk.
However, that’s where the similarities end. Chicheme’s base comes from broken corn kernels, whereas horchata uses rice.
They’re both sweet, refreshing, and incredible, though, so there is that to consider.
9. Plátanos Maduros
This two-ingredient recipe for fried sweet plantains is straightforward and takes almost no time to successfully complete.
Simply peel the plantains and slice them into pieces. Then saute them in oil for a couple of minutes on each side.
Once they’re done, transfer them to a paper towel to absorb some of the grease and add salt if you like. Then they’re ready to serve.
10. Rice with Pigeon Peas and Coconut (Arroz con Guandú y Coco)
The name of this recipe tells you pretty much everything you need to know about it.
It’s a popular Panamanian side dish containing seasoned rice and pigeon peas.
It’s herby and savory, but there’s just a hint of sweetness to it, as well, from the coconut milk.
It’s also fluffier and silkier than many rice dishes.
11. Caramelized Plantains
Sweet plantains are sweet, but they may not be sweet enough to act as dessert for most of the Western world.
That’s where caramelized plantains come into play.
Dipped in cinnamon and sugar, these are super sweet, and that’s before you coat them in coconut whipped cream.
When it comes to sweet plantains, these should satisfy even the most decadent dessert lovers.
12. Ropa Vieja
The English translation for ropa vieja is literally “old clothes,” which doesn’t sound very appetizing as far as food goes.
Luckily, this dish only looks like a pile of old, ripped-up clothes rags; it doesn’t taste like it.
The dish is colorful, and most of its ingredients are shredded. Hence the “old clothes” description.
It’s one of Cuba’s national dishes, but it’s popular in Panama as well.
It takes a while to cook, but it smells incredible and tastes even better. If you like food with a lot of heat, spice, and taste, you’ll love it.
13. Tamal De Olla
This dish requires several ingredients, and it takes a bit of time to cook.
Once it’s ready, you’ll understand why anyone would want to put that much effort into food.
It’s a creamy, herby, and slightly spicy dish that’s big on flavor and is incredibly filling.
Be sure you don’t cut the liquid ingredients short, though.
If you do, it tends to get a little thicker and less juicy than it should be.
14. Arroz Con Pollo
This recipe for arroz con pollo is unlike any recipe for the dish that I’ve ever tried.
I’m used to chicken with rice the way our local Mexican restaurants do it.
There’s one giant slab of chicken on a bed of rice with the whole thing covered in cheese sauce.
The Panama version is totally different.
For one thing, it calls for tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, which just seemed weird to me at first. But I decided to give it a try.
It’s nothing like what you’ll get from a Mexican restaurant, but it is fantastic.
It’s full-flavored and has plenty of herbs and spices. It’s also filling and an excellent source of protein and vitamin C.
If you like chicken, rice, tomatoes, and garlic, you’ll enjoy it, too.
15. Panamanian Beef Empanadas
Empanadas are delicious. They have warm, flaky crusts and delightful savory fillings. This recipe is no different.
The filling for these empanadas uses ground beef, several different onions and peppers, tomato paste, green olives, and plenty of herbs and seasonings.
It’s spicy but not too spicy, and the beef is lean, juicy, tender, and not too greasy.
16. Strawberry Raspado
Panamanian chefs are masters of mixing sweet and spicy, and this recipe for strawberry raspado is one of my favorite examples of that.
Also known as a Mexican snow cone, this dessert is like shaved ice made with real strawberries. It’s cold, sweet, and refreshing.
However, thanks to the ancho chili powder, it’s also got a real bite to it. Personally, I think that makes it taste even better.
If you like macaroons, you’ll love cocadas. In many ways, they’re similar to macaroons, but to me, they’re even better.
They’re sweet and chewy, but the addition of chopped macadamia nuts gives them a bit of crunch, as well.
Furthermore, you’ll mix the coconut with dulce de leche, which gives these treats a sweeter, richer, more caramel-like flavor. Simply put, they’re heavenly.
18. Tomato Avocado Salad
This salad takes about 5 minutes to make, and there’s no actual cooking involved.
As long as you can cut fruits and veggies and drizzle oil over them, you can handle this one easily.
It’s relatively healthy, too, since it contains fruits, veggies, and beans like cucumbers, avocados, onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, and black beans.
Don’t forget to chill before serving it!
19. Carne Entomatada
Whether you serve carne entomatada wrapped in a tortilla, on top of a bed of rice, or along with beans as a side dish, you won’t be disappointed in its bold, vibrant taste.
The flavor is hard to describe, but it’s delicious.
The ingredients include lean ground beef, onions, garlic, bay leaves, brown sugar, and more.
It’s a dish that’s somehow sweet, spicy, and savory all at once.
Even the spice mix is complex, containing allspice, cumin, coriander, ancho chili powder, oregano, and black pepper.
It’s a dish you won’t soon forget.
20. Potato and Beet Salad
I love this dish not just because of how it tastes but because of its bright, pinkish-purple hue!
I love colorful food, especially when the color is natural and not thanks to food dye.
It also tastes good; it’s zesty and tangy and has a wonderful creaminess that makes it a pleasure to eat.
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