Unfortunately Panama is not known internationally for it’s cuisine. That’s a shame because the food is actually very delicious and made with fresh local ingredients and flavors.
Fresh ingredients are a keystone of Panama's cuisine
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Panamanian cuisine is because like the Panamanian people, it is very diverse. Panamanians are a healthy mix of latinos, afro-antilleans, asians and indigenous. Of course, each ethnic group brings its own blend of spices, recipes, ingredients and cooking methods.
Along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, the diet consists of mainly coconut, seafood, root vegetables, and tropical fruits. The Caribbean coast has mainly indigenous and afro-antillean communities. This lends to more traditional methods of cooking, such as over fire and with all natural ingredients. The afro-antillean influence has also brought in more spicy food in some areas.
The interior communities of Panamá are majority latino communities based in agriculture, so they enjoy mainly root vegetables, starchy fruits, livestock (cows and pigs), chicken, beans and rice. The style of cooking can also be rustic over an open fire, though typically they use propane gas-powered stoves. They tend to use more sauces and condiments as well.
Don’t be surprised to find very little green food in their diet. Maybe you will find some cilantro and that’s about it! They eat a lot of starches and have a tendency to prefer fried foods over boiled. They also don’t typically eat fresh fruit except for in a smoothie. It’s not exactly the “healthiest” cuisine (what really is ‘healthy’, anyway?), but please don’t let that stop you from enjoying it during your Spanish immersion program.
Here I’ll share with you the most traditional dishes for breakfast, snacks, lunch/dinner and drinks. If you are coming to study Spanish with us and stay with a host family, be prepared to be WELL fed!
(fried simple dough, not sweet)
Tortillas de maíz con queso fresco (tor-tee-yahs deh my-eez kohn kay-so fres-co)
(corn tortilla with bland locally-made white cheese on top)
(corn dough, traditionally rolled in a banana leaf, and boiled)
(fried green plantain discs)
Carne o salchicha guisada (car-neh oh sal-chie-chah gih-sah-dah)
(beef strips or hotdog in a tomato sauce served with any of the above)
SNACKS & APPETIZERS
(thin slices of fried plantain)
(“little ears”, sweet buttery dough-light cookie)
(fried meat pie of mashed yucca with meat and/or cheese inside)
(Panamanian version of a popsicle, basically fruit juice poured into a small plastic bag or cup and frozen)
Raspado or Raspao (ras-pahd-o or ras-pow)
(snow cone with delicious local fruit flavors and sweetened condensed milk)
Tamale de maíz (ta-mall-eh deh my-eez)
(corn dough sometimes with beef or chicken, and vegetables wrapped inside of a banana leaf and steamed)
Ceviche de corvina (se-veech-eh)
(sea bass ceviche, made with garlic, lime, onion and cilantro)
Arroz con pollo, arroz con guandú (ah-ros kohn po-yo / guan-doo)
(often served at celebrations or holidays; rice with chicken, rice with guandu bean)
Plato típico: arroz blanco, lentejas / frijoles, plátano en tentación, ensalada de papas, pollo asado o guisado / pescado frito / bistec picado / chuleta en salsa de piña
(Typical plate: white rice, lentils / red beans, fried yellow plantain, potato salad, roasted chicken or in sauce / fried whole fish / chopped beefsteak / porkchop in pineapple sauce)
Café (or chocolate on the Caribbean coast) (caf-eh)
(coffee or hot chocolate, with breakfast always!)
Chicha de arroz, maíz (chicheme), maracuya, tamarindo, arroz con piña, limonada, naranja, etc. hecho con raspadura. (chie-chah)
(natural fruit juice of many varieties… rice, corn, passionfruit, tamarind, rice with pineapple, lemonade, orange, etc. made with natural cane sugar)
Batidos (de fresa, papaya, banano, etc. hecho con leche condensada) (bah-tee-doe)
(different variety of smoothies - strawberry, papaya, banana, etc. made with sweetened condensed milk)
Agua de pipa (ah-guah deh pee-pah)
Ron Abuelo (run ah-bueh-low)
Cerveza nacional - Panama, Atlas, Balboa (sehr-ve-sa)
(National beers - Panama, Atlas, Balboa)
Panamanian beer: Panamá, Atlas and Balboa