There’s a whole host of reasons to travel to Panama, but today we’re going to take a look at one aspect that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves: its food. Panamanian cuisine is the result of important influences from Spanish, African and Native American culture.
One of the best-known dishes is “ropa vieja” (Spanish for old clothes) that’s essentially shredded, or pulled meat served with white rice, banana and beans. The meat is cooked first with herbs and seasoning, and sweet garlic and onion are then later added.
One basic ingredient for Panamanian people is rice, and they know how to cook it in many ways. A typical dish, for example, is coconut rice served with fish and salad and sweetened with cinnamon, raisins and sugar.
“Gallo Pinto” is another typical dish with rice that’s mixed with red or black beans and fried until the beans are toasted. Different seasoning is also added depending on the version.
One of the most traditional and popular soups is Sancocho (BELËN), which consists of tubers, vegetables and seasoning. It may have meat, usually chicken but there’s also a vegetable version. Both are flavoured with onion, garlic, salt and peppercorns and yuca and corn are often added.
Tortillas are also very popular and seen as an essential part of any breakfast. They’re either served with stewed meat or slices of cheese. Depending on where they’re made, a distinction is made between the native Panama tortillas and arepas, which were introduced by the Colombians and Venezuelans and are commonly filled with a great variety of different fillings.
Ceviche (marinated meat, fish, seafood or both, cured in citrus juices) in Panama is made with lemon juice, chopped onion and salt. It’s typically served as an aperitif and accompanied by octopus, squid, mussels and savoury crackers.
Fried fish (one species or another is chosen depending on the area) with “patacones” (slices of fried banana flavoured with lemon) is also hugely popular.
“Arroz con leche” (rice pudding) is probably the most common dessert. It can be served hot or cold and usually flavoured with a sprinkling of cinnamon, vanilla and lemon rind.