15 Traditional Panamanian Foods
Traditional Panamanian food is worth exploring.
While all Latin American countries share culture and language to a certain extent, our traditional gastronomy is different. Chile has pan amasado, Peru ceviche, and Guatemala pepian.
Carimañolas, sancocho, and cabanga are some of Panama’s traditional foods. Keep reading to discover 15 traditional Panamanian foods!
Common Ingredients in Spanish
Traditional Panamanian food involves a mix of the Hispanic, African, Indigenous, and Afro Antillean cultures that coexist within the country. Thanks to this, Panamanians use many ingredients in their cuisine. These are the most traditional ones:
|bell pepper||el ají, chile pimiento, pimentón|
|cane honey||la miel de caña|
|coconut milk||la leche de coco|
|coriander||el culantro, cilantro|
|creole chili||el ají criollo|
|lime||la lima, el limón|
|maize||la mazorca de maíz|
Some of the most common ingredients you are going to find in this Panamanian traditional food are:
|panela||la raspadura, la panela|
|pigeon pea||el guandú|
|plantain leaves||la hoja de plátano|
|yellow lantern chilli||el ají chombo|
15 Traditional Panamanian Foods
Panamanian food is as diverse as Panamanians themselves. Some of it is a mixture of African and indigenous cuisine and some is of Spanish descent. Whether sweet, savory, or spicy, they’re all mouthwatering.
1. Panamanian Yucca Cakes – Carimañolas panameñas
Las carimañolas (yucca cakes) are delicious Panamanian food. Panamanians usually have them for breakfast or lunch. These yucca cakes are savory, fried on the outside, and soft on the inside. Varieties include:
- Cheese yucca cakes – Carimañolas de queso
- Chicken yucca cakes – Carimañolas de pollo
- Beef yucca cakes – Carimañolas de carne
Cheese carimañolas use white cheese (queso blanco) as filling. Making the yucca cake involves peeling, cooking, and grating the yucca. Add egg to the mixture and mix it all together.
To prepare a batch of carimañolas, you’ll need beef, chicken, or cheese, eggs (huevos), tomato sauce (salsa de tomate), and wheat flour (harina de trigo).
Sancocho is a traditional Hispanic food that many Latin Americans eat in the Caribbean and South America. Some countries (Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, and Trinidad and Tobago) were part of the New Granada Viceroyalty, so they adapted their own form of the Spanish stew.
Panamanians make their own version of sancocho and eat it with white rice. Their recipe contains gallina (hen), otoe (taro), ñames (yams), and more.
FUN FACT: In 2003, when the Panama Republic turned 100 years old, Panamanians cooked the World’s Biggest Sancocho. They cooked 2,562 gallons (9,698 liters) of sancocho in a 1470-lb. (666-kg) pot.
3. Panamanian Rice and Beans – Gallo pinto panameño
Gallo Pinto literally means black rooster. This Panamanian food is different from the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan versions because it includes pork. Spaniards brought rice to America, Indigenous people ate beans, and Africans mixed both of them.
This recipe’s ingredients include frijoles (beans), arroz (rice), rabo de cerdo (pork tail), tabletas de caldo de pollo (chicken broth tablets), and salsa china (Chinese sauce).
4. Panamanian Lobster – Langosta panameña
Panama is one of the few countries with access to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, providing the country with plenty of fresh seafood. Panamanians like to fish in the San Blas islands for squid, octopus, and lobsters. ,
The recipe for this Panamanian food includes mantequilla (butter) , langosta (lobster), and (jugo de limón (lemon juice).
5. Panamanian Fried Yucca – Yuca frita panameña
Panamanians love to eat fried yucca as a side dish or appetizer. Fried yucca is easy to make and it’s a perfect snack, too. To prepare it you’ll only need:
6. Panamanian Tamale – Tamal panameño
As you know, many Latin American countries eat tamales and they have their own version of them. Tamales are a super Latin American dish because indigenous cultures such as the Mayans and the Aztecs used to cook and eat them.
The Panamanian tamal is similar to its Guatemalan counterpart, since Panamanians wrap it in banana leaves and make the dough out of corn. However, some of them add bell peppers to make it spicy and cook it with gallina (hen), tomate (tomato), and alcapárras (capers).
FUN FACT: The word “tamale” comes from nahuatl tamalli, meaning “wrapped.”
7. Panamanian Shredded Meat – Ropa vieja
One of the most interesting names of traditional Panamanian food is ropa vieja, which means “old clothes.” Ropa vieja is indeed an old dish, and it comes from Medieval Spain, when there was a large community of Jews in Spain.
Due to a lack of ingredients, Spaniards wanted to take advantage of ingredients as much as they could. That’s how they came up with the idea to shred the res o buey (beef), (cerdo) (pork), or pollo (chicken).
Afterwards, a group of people from the Canary Islands took the dish to the Americas. That’s how it expanded in many Latin American countries, as well.
Panamanians serve this dish using beef only. They accompany it with a side dish of rice and tomatoes.
8. Panamanian Frybread – Hojaldra panameña
Another Panamanian food is hojaldra or hojaldre (frybread). Panamanians like to eat this with jamón (ham), queso (cheese), and huevos (eggs). This is yet another Panamanian dish with a Spanish origin and Arab influence.
Centuries ago, the Moors taught Spaniards about frying food in oil, which then they took to the Americas, giving birth to Panamanian frybread. To prepare it, you’ll need harina de trigo (wheat flour), azúcar (sugar), and polvo de hornear (baking powder), among other ingredients.
Hojaldra doesn’t mean the same all over Latin America. In Guatemala and Mexico, hojaldras are pan dulce (literally sweet bread) and not savory like in Panama.
FUN FACT: Many Spanish words beginning in a- or al– come from the Moors, and tend to be nothing like their Roman counterparts. For example the word almohada (pillow) comes from Arabic.
9. Panamanian Ceviche – Ceviche Panameño
Ceviche is another famous Panamanian food. Ceviche may have its origins in Peru with the Incas, in Central America with the Mayans, in Polynesia, or even in Spain.
If you like mariscos (seafood), ceviche is a must for you! The corvina ceviche in Panama is incredible. It’s a refreshing food to counter Panama’s tropical heat. They usually serve it with crackers.
Panamanian ceviche included the following ingredients:
|black shells||las conchas negras|
FUN FACT: Real Academia Española (RAE) spells this dish ceviche, cebiche, seviche, and sebiche, depending on the country.
10. Panamanian Rice and Milk – Arroz con leche panameño
One more Panamanian traditional food inherited from the Spanish is arroz en leche (rice with milk). While this dish itself came from Asia, it reached Europe and Africa later. During Spanish colonization, Europeans took it to the Americasl.
Panamanians prepare this recipe with leche condensada (condensed milk), leche evaporada (evaporated milk), canela (cinnamon) and vainilla (vanilla). This traditional Panamanian dessert is sweet and smooth.
11. Tripe – Mondongo a la culona
One of the strongest Panamanian dishes is mondongo (tripe)—a heavy soup or stew.
Panamanians invented the mondongo a la culona to satisfy the caloric necessities of a working-class man who would come home hungry late at night.
Panamanians prepare the tripe in a stew and add guisantes or arvejas (peas), papas o patatas (potatoes), and garbanzos (chickpeas) to fill the protein necessities of anyone! After this meal, you’ll feel stuffed!
FUN FACT: The word mondongo comes from the Spanish region of Murcia.
Guacho is a traditional Panamanian food that’s perfect for cold and rainy days, even though Panama doesn’t have a lot of them. Nevertheless, they eat it hot.
Guacho is a broth with rice in it. Some call it arroz asopado, which literally means “souped rice.” It’s a humble, everyday dish for Panamanians.
Panamanians eat four types of guacho:
- Creole chicken guacho – Guacho de pollo criollo
- Beans and pigeon pea guacho – Guacho de frijoles chiricanos y guandú
- Sea food guacho – guacho de mariscos
- Pork tail guacho – Guacho de rabito de cerdo
PRO-TIP: Don’t use the word guacho carelessly in Spanish-speaking countries, because it means different things:
|La Mancha (Spain)||premature baby|
|Mexico||A Mexican from Mexico City (chilango)|
FUN FACT: The word guacho comes from Quechua, a language that Peruvian indigenous people speak, and it means “orphan” or “poor.”
A few Latin American countries (Panamá, Perú, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela) share this delicious dessert. Like various Panamanian foods on this list, Latinos inherited this from Spaniards. However, its preparation differs greatly from country to country.
Panamanians prepare bienmesabe in a province called Chiriquí—in southwestern Panama, and that’s why they call it el bienmesabe chiricano. The texture of this sweet Panamanian dish is like the one in dulce de leche. For this recipe, Panamanians use milk, rice, and raspadura (panel).
FUN FACT: The word bienmesabe literally means “it tastes good to me.”
Rondón is an Afro Panamanian food, and other Caribbean countries eat it, too. In Jamaica, they call it run-down. Jamaican workers took it to Panama when they built the Panama canal.
Rondón is a sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) with leche de coco (coconut milk). It also has bell peppers, vegetales (vegetables) or pescado (fish), and plátanos verdes (green plantains). It’s a traditional Panamanian dish that combines African, Jamaican, and Panamanian cultures.
Panamanians prepare rondón as a Sunday food, to share with family and guests. This dish is prevalent in Bocas del Toro, Colón, and Panama City.
Cabanga is a traditional Panamanian food. This Panamanian dessert needs four ingredients:
- green papaya – papaya verde
- coconut – coco
- honey – miel
- brown sugar – panela, raspadura
Since it’s a bit sticky, Panamanians wrap it in dry leaves to store.
The word cabanga in Spanish is not only a Panamanian dessert, but it’s similar to the word saudade in Portuguese, which is something like nostalgia. Panamanians molded this word into their vocabulary, and sometimes they say estás acabangado (there’s not a literal translation but it means something like, you’re nostalgic).
Speak the Language of Panama
Traditional Panamanian food is amazing! Coming from Africa, Spain, Jamaica, and the indigenous tribes that inhabit the country makes Panamanian food unique. Panamanian tamales, carimañolas, guacho, bienmesabe, and rondón are awesome dishes to try out at home. If you want an authentic connection with Panamanian culture and cuisine, learn Spanish!
Learning Spanish not only helps you to get access to authentic recipes but also makes your trip to Panama (and any other Latin American country) more meaningful. Spanish empowers you to talk with tons of people (at least 53 million in the U.S. alone) and will help you boost your cognition and decision-making abilities!
Sign up for a free trial class today with one of Homeschool Spanish Academy’s friendly, certified teachers from Guatemala. We offer tailored teaching, flexible scheduling, high school credit, and affordable payment options!
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