Traditional Panamanian food is worth discovering. While all Latin American countries share culture and language to a certain extent, our traditional gastronomy is different. Chile has pan  amasado,  Peruvian ceviche, and Guatemalan  pepión  . 

Carimañolas, sancocho  and  cabanga  are some of the traditional foods of Panama. Continue reading to discover 15 traditional Panamanian foods!

Traditional Panamanian food includes a mixture of Hispanic, African, indigenous and Afro Antillean cultures that coexist in the country. Thanks to this, Panamanians use many ingredients in their cuisine. These are the most traditional:

15 Traditional Panamanian Foods

Panamanian cuisine is as diverse as the Panamanian people. Some of it is a mixture of African and indigenous cuisines and some is of Spanish origin. Whether sweet, savory or spicy, they are all mouth-watering.

1. Panamanian Yucca Cakes –  Karimanolas Panamanas

Las carimañolas  (yucca cakes) are a delicious Panamanian food. Panamanians usually have them for breakfast or lunch. These yucca cakes are delicious, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Varieties include:

  • Cheesy Yucca Cakes  – Carimañolas de queso
  • Chicken Yucca Cakes  – Carimanolas de Pollo
  • Beef Yucca Cake  – Carmanolas de Carne

Cheese  Carimano is used to fill  white cheese  (queso blanco)  . Making a yucca cake involves peeling, cooking and grating the yucca. Add eggs to the mixture and mix everything together. 

To make a batch of carimanola  , you will need beef, chicken or cheese, eggs  (huevos),  tomato sauce  (salsa de tomate)  and wheat flour  (harina de trigo).

2. Sanchocho

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 Viceroyalty of Granada, so they adopted their own form of Spanish stew.

Panamanians make their own version of sancocho and eat it with white rice. Their recipes include  gallina  (chicken)  , oto  (taro)  , ñames  (yams) and more.

Fun fact:  In 2003, when the Republic of Panama turned 100 years old, the people of Panama cooked the world’s largest 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 dish differs from the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan versions in that it includes pork. The Spanish brought rice to the Americas, the natives ate beans, and the Africans mixed the two.

The ingredients for this recipe include  frizoles  (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 Panamana

Panama is one of the few countries with access to both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, providing the country with plenty of fresh seafood. Panamanians love to fish the San Blas Islands for squid, octopus and lobster. ,

This Panamanian food recipe  includes mantequila  (butter)  , langosta  (lobster) and  jugo de limon  (lime juice). 

5. Panamanian Fried Yucca –  Yuca Frita Panamana

Panamanians like to eat fried yucca as a side dish or appetizer. Fried yucca is easy to make and is also a perfect breakfast. All you need to create it is:

6. Panamanian Tamale –  Tamale Panameno

As you know, many Latin American countries eat tamales and have their own version. Tamales are a super Latin American dish because indigenous cultures like the Mayans and Aztecs cooked them and ate them.

The Panamanian tamal is very similar to its Guatemalan counterpart, as Panamanians wrap it in banana leaves and make it out of corn flour. However, some of them add bell pepper to make it spicy  and cook it with gallina  (chicken)  ,  tomato (tomato) and  alcapras  (capers).

Fun fact:  The word “tamale” comes from the Nahuatl word  tamalli,  meaning “wrapped”.

7. Panama Minced Meat –  Ropa Vieja

One of the most interesting names for traditional Panamanian food is  ropa vieja,  which means “old clothes”. Ropa Vieja  is actually an old dish and comes from medieval Spain, when Spain had a large Jewish community. 

Due to the scarcity of ingredients, the Spanish wanted to take advantage of as many ingredients as possible. Thus they  came up with the idea of ​​slicing res au buay  (beef),  (  cerdo)  (pork) or  pollo (chicken).

Afterwards, a group of people from the Canary Islands took the dish to America. It also expanded to many Latin American countries.

Panamanians serve this dish using only beef. 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 it  with jamón  (ham),  queso  (  cheese) and  huevos  (eggs). This is another Panamanian dish with Spanish origins and Arab influences.

Centuries ago, the Moors taught the Spanish to fry food in oil, which they then carried to the Americas and gave birth to Panamanian frybread. To prepare it,  you will  need harina de trigo (  wheat flour),  azucar (  sugar) and  polvo de hornier  (baking powder), among other ingredients.

The meaning of Hojaldra is  not the same throughout Latin America. In Guatemala and Mexico,  hojaldra  are  pan dulce  (literally sweet bread) and not as savory as Panama.

Fun fact:   Many Spanish words beginning with a-  or  al- come from the Moors and are nothing like their Roman counterparts. For example  the word almohada  (pillow) comes from Arabic.

9. Panamanian Ceviche –  Ceviche Panamano

Ceviche is another famous Panamanian food. Ceviche may have its origins in Peru with the Incas, Mayans in Central America, Polynesia, or even Spain.

If you love mariscos  (seafood)  ,  ceviche is a must for you! Corvina  ceviche i  n Panama is incredible. This is a refreshing food to beat the tropical heat of Panama. They are usually served with crackers. 

Fun fact:  The Real Academia Española (RAE) spells  this dish as  ceviche, cebiche, seviche  and  sebiche depending on the country  .

10. Panamanian rice and milk –  Arroz con leche panameño

Another Panamanian traditional food inherited from the Spanish is arroz  en leche  (rice with milk)  Although the dish itself originated in Asia, it later reached Europe and Africa. During Spanish colonialism, Europeans took it to the Americas.

Panamanians prepare this recipe with leche  condensada (  condensed milk), leche vapor (evaporated milk)  , canela  (cinnamon) and  vanilla  (vanilla). This traditional Panamanian dessert is sweet and smooth.

11. Trip –  Mondongo a la Culona

One of the strongest Panamanian dishes is  mondongo  (tripe) – a heavy soup or stew. 

Mondongo a la Culona was invented by Panamanians to meet the caloric needs of the working class who came home hungry late at night.

Panamanians prepare tripe in a stew and add guisantes  or  arvejas  (peas)  , papas o patatas  (potatoes)  and  garbanzos  (chickpeas) to satisfy anyone’s protein needs  ! After this meal, you’ll feel full!

Fun Fact:  The word Mondongo  comes from the Murcia region of Spain.

12. Guacho

Guacho is a traditional Panamanian food that is perfect for cold and rainy days, even though Panama doesn’t have much of it. However, they are eaten hot. 

Guacho is a broth with rice. Some  call it arroz asopado,  which literally means “souped rice”. This is 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:

Fun fact:  The word Guacho  comes from Quechua, a language spoken by the indigenous people of Peru, and means “orphan” or “poor.”

13. Bienmesabe

Some Latin American countries (Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico and Venezuela) share this delicious dessert. Like many other Panamanian foods on this list, Latinola is inherited from the Spanish. However, its preparation varies greatly from country to country.

Panamanians make Bienmesabe in a province called Chiriqui in southwestern Panama, and that’s why they call it  El Bienmesabe Chiricano. The texture of this sweet Panamanian dish  is similar to that of dulce de leche. For this recipe, Panmanis use milk, rice and  raspadura  (pannel).

Fun fact:  The word bienmesabe literally means “to me it is tasty.” 

14. Rondon

Rondón  is an Afro-Panamanian food and is also eaten by other Caribbean countries. In Jamaica they call it a run-down. Jamaican workers took it to Panama when the Panama Canal was built. 

Rondón is a sopa de mariscos  (seafood soup) with  leche de coco (coconut milk)  . It also contains bell peppers, vegetables (vegetables) or  pescado  (fish), and  platanos verdes  (green bananas). It is 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 popular in Bocas del Toro, Colón and Panama City.

15. Cabanga

Kabanga is a traditional Panamanian food. This Panamanian dessert requires four ingredients: 

  • Green Papaya  – Papaya Verde
  • Coconut  – Cocoa
  • honey  – miel
  • Brown Sugar  – Panel, Raspadura

Since it is a bit sticky, Panamanians wrap it in dry leaves to store it.

The word cabanga in Spanish is not only a Panamanian dessert, but it  is similar to the Portuguese word saudade  , which is nostalgic. Panamanians built this word into their vocabulary and sometimes say  estás acabangado  (there’s no literal translation but it means, you’re nostalgic).


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