Panama Food and Drink
Having such a mix of cultures in the population, it is only right that Panamanians should likewise have a huge variety of cuisines, including North American, French and Spanish.
Native cooking is most reminiscent, however, of Creole cuisine, sometimes hot and spicy, always hearty, with rice present at every meal. Seafood is excellent and abundant, especially along the Caribbean coast, where it is off-the-boat fresh and succulent. Ceviche, marinated fish or seafood, is also superb, a snack usually served with ice-cold beer. Expect fish and shellfish of all kinds and in large portions, for a fraction of what you would pay in the US or UK.
Despite its cosmopolitan influences, Panama’s national dish is a traditional chicken stew: sancocho de gallina, a filling and flavoursome dish also comprising yucca, plantain, mixed vegetables and local herbs.
Ceviche: Raw fish or seafood marinated in lime juice, onions and peppers.
Patacones de plátano: Fried plantain cakes, served with most meals.
Sancocho: Panamanian chicken stew with vegetables and coriander-like herbs.
Tamales: Sweet or savoury maize dough, steamed and wrapped in banana leaves.
Empanadas: Turnovers filled with meat, chicken or cheese.
Gallo pinto: Rice and beans, Panama’s version is often mixed with pork.
Yuca frita: Fried yucca, a side dish served with most meals.
Raspados: Grated ice topped with condensed milk and syrup, eaten for dessert.
Fufu: Fried fish in coconut milk, with rice and plantains
Ropa vieja: Shredded beef, with rice and beans, based on a Spanish speciality popular throughout Central America.
Chicha fuerte: A potent alcoholic maize-based spirit, most popular in the countryside.
Chicha: A soft drink made from maize (also often refers to all soft drinks).
Resbaladera: A non-alcoholic chilled grain and milk drink, similar to chicheme, technically Costa Rican, but drunk widely in Panama.
Ron ponche: Milk, vanilla and rum-based cocktail.
Panamanian beers: Panama, Atlas, and Soberana are light lagers, and Balboa is dark, more like stout.
Seco Herrerano: Panama’s national spirit, triple-distilled from sugarcane and very strong; expect a headache the next day if you don’t take it easy.
10% is customary in hotels (where it is added automatically) and restaurants.