23 Popular Panamanian Dishes and Foods

Panamanian dishes combine Native, African, Spanish, and Caribbean flavors, featuring seafood and stew with a mix of sweet, savory, and spicy flavors.

Lastest Updated April 19, 2024
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Basic Information

Panamanian Food: Basic Overview

Common Ingredients

Seafood, chicken, pork, beef, rice, corn, beans, aji chili peppers, fresh herbs, and tropical fruits like pineapples, papayas, and bananas.

Common Cooking Methods

Boiling, grilling, frying, roasting, sautéing


Main course,


Breakfast, lunch, dinner

Key Taste

Sweet, savory, sour, neutral, complex

Eating Etiquette

Follow seating rules and use continental utensil style. Keep hands visible, don’t talk with food in your mouth, and wait for the host to start eating.

Meal Presentation

Often presented in a communal and family-oriented manner.

Culinary Festivals

Fiestas Patrias, Carnival, Christmas, New Year

Influence and Fusion

Panamanian cuisine reflects a rich blend of cultural influences, including Native Panamanian, Afro-Caribbean, African, and Spanish elements.
Origin and Region

Panamanian Food: Origin and Region



Cuisine’s Geographical Territory

Central America
Panama Map
Ingredients and Preparation

Popular Types of Panamanian Food

  • Soups and Stews

    These dishes range from brothy to thick and can include a variety of ingredients such as chicken, beef, seafood, and a mix of root vegetables and herbs.

    The preparation often involves slow cooking, allowing the flavors to meld together beautifully.

    Notable is the use of local ingredients like yam, maize, and culantro, which contribute to the unique taste profile of these dishes.

  • Fried dishes

    Fried dishes in Panamanian cuisine often start with simple, staple ingredients like plantains, yuca, or dough.

    The twice-fried plantains, known for their perfect blend of crunchiness and subtle sweetness, are a classic example.

  • Bread and doughs

    Bread and doughs vary from thick, corn-based tortillas to fluffy, fried bread like hojaldres.

    These staples are versatile and can be enjoyed at any meal, serving as a base or accompaniment to other dishes.

    The unique preparation methods, such as deep-frying or baking, give these bread and doughs distinct textures and flavors, from crispy to soft and dense.

  • Desserts

    Desserts in Panamanian cuisine are an exploration of sweet, creamy, and fruity flavors, often incorporating local fruits, dairy, and traditional techniques to create indulgent treats.

    These sweets range from the moist, milk-soaked tres leches cake to the unique textures and tastes of desserts made with nance fruit or coconut.

Panamanian dishes are delicacies widely enjoyed in Panama, a country nested in Central America. The cuisine of Panama is influenced significantly by its multicultural history, including Native Panamanian cultures, Afro-Caribbean cuisine, African specialties, and Spanish culinary gems.

Key to the Panamanian diet is seafood, particularly ceviche, and staples like Sancocho, a hearty chicken stew considered the national dish. Ingredients common in many meals include corn, rice, and beans, showcasing indigenous culinary influences.

The flavors of Panamanian food balance sweet, savory, and spicy, with fresh herbs, spices, and aji chili peppers as essential seasonings.

Cooking methods are diverse, emphasizing boiling, grilling, and frying with fresh, local ingredients. Beyond the food, Panamanian cuisine embodies the country’s social and cultural fabric, with meals as a focal point for gathering and celebration.

In addition to exploring Panama’s most beloved dishes, I’ve uncovered what defines traditional Panamanian food, what makes its food so appealing globally, and the secrets to its healthiness. Plus, there’s insight into dining etiquette and how to pair dishes with beverages perfectly.

Dive in, and let’s start discovering now!

Here’s a glimpse into the core elements that define traditional Panamanian food:

  • Staples: Rice, corn, and beans are pivotal, offering sustenance and comfort while serving as a versatile base for many recipes.
  • Seafood: Given Panama’s extensive coastline, seafood is a crucial component, with fish, shrimp, and other marine delicacies seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices.
  • Meat Dishes: Chicken, pork, and beef are commonly marinated in local spices and cooked in various styles, including roasting and grilling, to enrich the meals with a profound flavor profile.
  • Afro-Caribbean Influence: Using coconut and curry in savory and sweet dishes adds depth and complexity, reflecting the Afro-Caribbean impact on the cuisine.
  • Sauces and Condiments: The omnipresent “ají” (hot sauce) is a key feature, providing a spicy accent to the culinary experience.
  • Tropical Fruits: Pineapples, papayas, and bananas are extensively used not only as fresh fruits but also integrated into various dishes and drinks, offering a balance of sweetness and acidity.

This unique blend of tastes and traditions has catapulted Panamanian food onto the global stage.

Panamanian food has gained popularity in countries with substantial Panamanian communities, such as the United States (particularly in cities like Miami, New York, and Los Angeles), Spain, and other parts of Central America.

Restaurants and food festivals catering to Panamanian and broader Central American tastes introduce these flavors to a wider audience, allowing for cultural exchange through food.

Additionally, the globalization of culinary interests and the growing trend of exploring international cuisines through travel and media have also played a role in bringing Panamanian dishes to the attention of food enthusiasts worldwide.

Beyond its taste, the global embrace of Panamanian food is also rooted in its use of fresh, wholesome ingredients.

Panamanian food is celebrated for its health benefits, stemming from its rich blend of cultural influences and its emphasis on fresh, nutritious ingredients. Here’s how:

  • Seafood: The abundant use of fish, shrimp, and lobster from local waters provides essential omega-3 fatty acids, supporting heart health and brain function while offering lean protein options with lower saturated fats.
  • Rice and Beans: This staple combination forms a complete protein, supplying all essential amino acids. Beans add vital fiber and vitamins and benefits for digestion and blood sugar regulation.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: A wide variety of tropical fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins A and C, fiber, and antioxidants, enhance immune function, skin health, and digestion.
  • Herbs and Spices: Using natural flavorings like culantro, oregano, and achiote reduces the need for salt and unhealthy fats, aiding in maintaining healthy blood pressure and promoting heart health.
  • Cooking Methods: Traditional techniques such as grilling, boiling, and sautéing preserve the nutritional integrity of foods while minimizing unhealthy fats, making Panamanian cuisine a wholesome choice.

Moving on, let’s explore the 23 standout dishes that exemplify the best of Panamanian culinary traditions.

23 Popular Panamanian Dishes with Filters

Here are the best 23 Panamanian dishes, sorted according to their popularity. You can use the filter function to filter through ingredients, flavors, cooking styles, types of dishes, and when they’re best enjoyed.

From cherished traditional meals and beloved national dishes to exciting new fusions and unique street eats, there’s something for every taste.

  • These are the go-to favorites everywhere in Panama, from cozy cafes to bustling street corners.
  • They’re the kind of comforting, delicious meals that unite people, easily found and loved by locals and visitors alike.
  • These are the heart and soul of Panamanian cuisine, deeply rooted in the country’s culture and history.
  • They’re not just food; they celebrate Panama’s heritage, often served during special occasions and national festivities to symbolize national pride.
  • Steeped in history, these dishes have been passed down through generations, showcasing the rich tapestry of Panama’s regional flavors and cooking traditions.
  • They are a testament to the country’s diverse cultural influences, embodying the essence of Panamanian culinary heritage.
  • This is where you’ll find the real, unpretentious taste of Panama.
  • These are the snacks and quick bites that fuel the daily life of Panamanians, served in lively markets and street corners.

A delicious testament to Panama’s cultural melting pot, these dishes blend traditional Panamanian flavors with international influences.

Sancocho De Gallina


  • National
  • Traditional

Sancocho is a national Panamanian stew known for its hearty and comforting qualities. Typically, it features chicken, yam, maize, culantro (a robust herb akin to cilantro), and assorted vegetables.

Variations of Sancocho can be found across Latin America, but in Panama, the most famous version is Sancocho de gallina, made with free-range chicken.

This dish is especially popular during the rainy season and is a staple at major festivals and celebrations, including the Fiestas Patrias (National Festivals) and family gatherings.

Seafood Ceviche


  • Fusion
  • Street Food

Ceviche, also known as cebiche, seviche, or sebiche, is a fusion dish within Panamanian cuisine that consists of fresh raw fish or seafood marinated in citrus juices, primarily lime or lemon, and spiced with chili peppers.

Onions, salt, and cilantro enhance the flavors, creating a refreshing, acidic, and slightly spicy dish. In Panama, ceviche is a street food delicacy and a sophisticated appetizer in upscale restaurants.

Variations of ceviche include those made with shrimp, octopus, or sea bass, reflecting the diversity of Panama’s marine life.

Panamanian ceviche is distinguished by its blend of flavors and popularity at social gatherings and festive occasions, such as the Carnival and seafood festivals.

Arroz Con Pollo

Arroz con Pollo

  • Traditional

Arroz con pollo, which translates to “rice with chicken,” is a Panamanian dish that combines tender chicken pieces with rice seasoned with herbs, spices, and vegetables.

The dish is colored with annatto or saffron, giving it a distinctive yellow hue. Often served at family events and holidays, and especially notable during national celebrations like Independence Day, this dish is a staple of Panamanian festivities.

Panamanian Tamales


  • Street Food
  • Traditional

Tamale, a traditional dish in many Latin American countries, is special in Panamanian cuisine. It’s made by steaming corn dough filled with meats, vegetables, and spices wrapped in banana leaves.

Preparing tamales is often a communal activity, bringing families and friends together, particularly around Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Patacones Panamanian


  • Street Food

Patacones are twice-fried plantain slices that offer a crunch and a mildly sweet yet savory flavor. Originating from green (unripe) plantains, these slices are fried, flattened to increase their surface area, and fried again until they achieve a crisp, golden-brown exterior.

This method enhances their natural flavors, making patacones a beloved side dish or snack in Panama and beyond.

Customarily seasoned with just a sprinkle of salt, they are often enjoyed with dips such as mojo (a garlic sauce) or topped with ingredients like shredded beef in various Latin American countries.

Empanada De Maiz


  • Fusion
  • Street Food

Empanada is a versatile staple in Latin American cuisines, including Panama’s. These stuffed pastries can be baked or fried and are filled with various ingredients, including meats, cheeses, vegetables, or even sweet fillings.

Filled with flavorful ingredients, the dough is typically made from corn or wheat. In Panama, empanadas are a popular snack or meal component, embodying the fusion aspect of the cuisine with their blend of Indigenous, Spanish, and African influences.

Yuca Frita

Yuca Frita

  • Street Food

Yuca frita is a beloved side dish in Panamanian cuisine, often enjoyed for its crispy exterior and soft, starchy interior. Made from fried cassava, this dish is a staple both in Panama and across Latin America. It’s akin to French fries but with a tropical twist.

It’s commonly served with dipping sauces, ranging from simple mayonnaise to ketchup. Its popularity extends beyond Panama, making it a familiar sight in Caribbean, South, and Central American cuisines.

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

  • Traditional

Ropa vieja, which translates to “old clothes,” is a dish rich in history and flavor, symbolizing the fusion aspect of Panamanian cuisine.

With roots in Spanish colonial history, this dish features shredded beef, slow-cooked in a tomato-based sauce with onions, peppers, and a mix of spices.

Ropa vieja is not only a traditional dish but also a national favorite in Panama, with variations found in other Latin American countries, particularly Cuba, where it is also considered a national dish.

It’s a dish that brings families together, especially on Sundays or special occasions. Its fame has spread to other regions, with variations of Ropa Vieja enjoyed in parts of the United States, especially within Cuban and Panamanian communities.

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake

  • Traditional

Tres leches cake is a dessert known for its moist and sweet nature. Originating in Latin America, it holds a special place in Panamanian dessert culture.

This cake, literally translating to “three milks cake,” is soaked in a mixture of three kinds of milk: evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream.

Variations of this dessert include adding fruit, chocolate, or nuts to cater to different palates. Its sweet, creamy taste makes it popular for celebrations and gatherings, especially during birthdays and weddings.

Tamal De Olla

Tamal de Olla

  • Traditional

Tamal de olla, distinct from the more widely known wrapped tamales, is a traditional Panamanian dish that translates to “pot tamale.”

This hearty and savory fusion dish combines typical tamale ingredients and flavors in a casserole form, cooked and served straight from the pot.

Unlike its wrapped counterparts, Tamal de olla is a family meal, often gathering people around the table for a communal experience.

It’s particularly favored during festive seasons and significant celebrations, such as Christmas and Independence Day gatherings.

Arroz con Camarones y Coco

Arroz con Camarones y Coco

  • Fusion

Arroz con Camarones y Coco is a flavorful Panamanian seafood dish, blending coconut’s tropical taste with shrimp’s fresh zest.

This dish is often celebrated as a fusion of the Caribbean and Panamanian culinary traditions. Arroz con Camarones y Coco is enjoyed year-round but finds special significance during festive occasions.

Pernil de Puerco al Horno

Pernil de Puerco al Horno

  • Traditional

Pernil de Puerco al Horno is a Panamanian dish featuring slow-roasted pork leg or shoulder marinated in a rich blend of spices and herbs. This dish is celebrated as a centerpiece during significant celebrations, most notably Christmas and New Year’s Eve feasts.

The pernil’s taste is profoundly savory, with the meat’s tenderness and the crispy skin achieved through hours of slow roasting, ensuring every bite is infused with the marinade’s aromatic flavors.

Corn Tortilla


  • Street Food
  • Traditional

Panamanian tortillas are thick, corn-based flatbreads, often enjoyed as a hearty base or accompaniment to many daily meals. Unlike the thin, pliable Mexican tortillas, Panamanian tortillas are deep-fried or baked, offering a crispy exterior and a soft, dense interior.

They can be served plain or topped with cheese, meats, or eggs. The flavor is predominantly that of corn, with a rich and satisfying texture that complements a variety of toppings and fillings.

Hojaldras Panama


  • Traditional

Hojaldres (also known as Hojaldras) are traditional Panamanian fried bread made from a simple dough of flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and water, then deep-fried until golden and puffy.

Hojaldres can be enjoyed with toppings like cheese, fried eggs, or even a savory sausage stew known as salchichas guisadas.

Carimañola Yuca Fritters


  • Street Food
  • Traditional

Carimañolas are a traditional type of fried food found in Panamanian cuisine, also popular in parts of Colombia.

This dish consists of a meat-filled yuca fritter, where the yuca or cassava is mashed and formed into an oblong shape, then stuffed with seasoned ground meat, typically beef, chicken, or pork, along with possible additions of cheese or boiled egg.

While carimañolas are enjoyed throughout the year, they are particularly popular as a breakfast or snack.

Bollo De Maiz


  • Street Food
  • Traditional

Bollo in Panamanian cuisine refers to corn-based doughs cooked and wrapped in leaves, typically corn husks or banana leaves.

The dish can be savory or sweet, with variations including bollo de maíz nuevo (fresh corn bollo), bollo preñado (stuffed bollo with meat), and bollo de yuca (cassava bollo).

Bollos are enjoyed for their soft, moist texture and the subtle flavors imparted by the leaves during cooking.

This dish is special in Panamanian festivities and is particularly prominent during traditional celebrations and holidays, such as the Fiestas Patrias (National Festivals) and religious observances.



  • Traditional

Tasajo in Panama usually refers to beef that has been cured and then cooked until tender, offering a distinctive, rich flavor profile that’s both savory and slightly salty.

Making tasajo involves marinating the beef in a blend of spices and then drying or smoking it, which imparts a unique taste and texture.

Tasajo can be a main course, often accompanied by sides such as rice, beans, or root vegetables. Its robust flavor and hearty nature make it especially popular in rural areas and among those seeking traditional Panamanian meals.



  • Street Food
  • Traditional

Almojábanos is a traditional Panamanian snack comprising cheese-infused rice flour fritters, known for their crispy exterior and soft, chewy interior.

Almojábanos boasts a subtly savory taste, enriched by the cheese woven into their dough. Enjoyed as a breakfast or midday snack, they glimpse Panama’s everyday culinary delights.

Sopa De Pata

Sopa de Pata

  • Traditional

Sopa de pata is a traditional soup in Panamanian cuisine made primarily from cow’s feet, yuca, and ñame (a type of root vegetable similar to yams).

The soup is known for its gelatinous consistency, attributed to the slow cooking of cow’s feet, and a depth of flavor that’s both savory and slightly earthy.

Mondongo a la Culona

Mondongo a la Culona

  • Traditional

Mondongo a la Culona is a traditional, flavorful Panamanian soup made with cow’s tripe and a mix of vegetables like bell peppers and onions. These slow-cooked ingredients create a thick, rich soup with a complex flavor profile of earthy, savory, and slightly spicy notes.

This soup is a staple at gatherings, symbolizing communal warmth, and enjoys popularity across Latin America, with each region adding its twist.

Pesada De Nance

Pesada de Nance

  • Traditional

Pesada de Nance is a cherished traditional dessert in Panamanian cuisine, crafted from the small, yellow-nance fruit.

This dessert, characterized by its thick, custard-like consistency, combines the tartness of the nance fruit with the sweetness of sugar and the creaminess of milk.

Pesada de Nance is especially popular during the nance fruit season. She is often enjoyed at family gatherings and local celebrations.

Cocada Coconut Candy


  • Street Food

Cocada is a coconut-based confection of Panamanian cuisine. This dessert is made by simmering grated coconut in sugar until it reaches a sticky, fudgy consistency, often flavored with vanilla or spices like cinnamon.

Cocadas come in various forms, from soft, chewy bars to more hardened, candy-like versions.

While cocadas are widely enjoyed across Latin America in various forms, in Panama, they are particularly beloved as a simple yet satisfying treat, often found in local markets and street food stalls.

Sopa Borracha

Sopa Borracha

  • Traditional

Despite its misleading name, Sopa borracha, or “drunken soup,” is a traditional Panamanian dessert significant in celebrations like weddings and national festivities.

It’s a sponge cake drenched in a sweet, aromatic syrup of dark rum or sherry, sugar, and cinnamon, often enhanced with raisins and decorated with prunes and cherries.

The dessert combines the warmth of cinnamon, the sweetness of the syrup, and the rich flavors of rum or sherry into a moist, indulgent cake.

What Is Panamanian Dining Etiquette?

Here’s an overview of typical Panamanian dining etiquette:

  • Greetings and Seating: Upon arriving at a dining event, it is customary to greet everyone present with a handshake or a light kiss on the cheek. Hosts usually direct guests to their seats, so it’s polite to wait for their instruction before sitting down.
  • Meal Times: Panamanians typically have three main meals a day: breakfast (desayuno), lunch (almuerzo), and dinner (cena). Lunch is often the most substantial meal, with a lighter dinner served later in the evening.
  • Table Manners: It’s important to keep your hands visible, resting your wrists on the table’s edge when not using utensils. It’s frowned upon to speak with food in your mouth or to make loud noises while eating.
  • Utensil Use: Utensils are used in the continental style, with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right when cutting food. Once you’re done eating, placing your utensils on your plate signals to the host that you have finished your meal.
  • Host and Guest Dynamics: The host typically offers the first toast, and as a guest, it’s polite to wait until the host has started eating before you begin. Complimenting the meal is appreciated and seen as polite.
  • Leaving the Table: It’s customary to remain at the table until everyone has finished eating, and the host indicates that the meal is concluded. At more formal gatherings, guests may wait for the host to stand before doing so themselves.

Understanding these dining customs paves the way for appreciating how specific beverages can enhance the flavors of Panamanian cuisine, creating a harmonious dining experience.

Which Beverages Best Complement Panamanian Dishes?

Here are some beverages that best pair with Panamanian dishes:

  • Coffee: Panama is known for its high-quality coffee, especially the Geisha variety. Black coffee can pair well with Panamanian breakfast dishes like hojaldras (Panamanian fried bread) or carimañolas (yuca fritters filled with meat).
  • Seco Herrerano: This is a popular Panamanian liquor made from sugarcane. It’s versatile and can be mixed with various ingredients to create cocktails. A simple mix of lime and soda can refresh the palate, especially when eating rich or fried foods.
  • Chicha de Piña: A traditional Panamanian drink made from pineapple rind, cinnamon, and sugar, served cold. Its sweet and tangy flavor makes it a good match for spicy dishes, offering a nice contrast and refreshment.
  • Cerveza (Beer): Light, crisp beers work well with various Panamanian dishes, especially seafood like ceviche or fried fish, providing a refreshing counterbalance to the flavors.
  • Ron Abuelo: A well-known Panamanian rum that can be enjoyed on its own or in cocktails. It pairs nicely with dessert dishes or heavier meals, adding a warming finish.
  • Fresh Fruit Juices: Considering Panama’s tropical climate, fresh fruit juices like guanábana (soursop), papaya, mango, or passionfruit are excellent for hydration and complement the natural flavors of Panamanian dishes.

Remember, the best pairing depends on the dishes you enjoy and your preferences. Experimenting with different Panamanian drinks can lead to delightful discoveries!

I value and cherish your thoughts very much, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment and tell me what you think. It would be great if you could share this post with your friends and loved ones to popularize the richness of Panamanian cuisine. Many thanks and bon appétit!

Jamie Scott

Jamie Scott

Editor in Chief, Senior Content Writer


Home Cooking, Meal Planning, Recipe Development, Baking and Pastry, Food Editor, Cooking-video Maker, Western Food Evaluation Expert


Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts

  • Program: Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts
  • Focus: Gained foundational knowledge in French and European culinary techniques. Participated in workshops and hands-on training sessions under the guidance of seasoned chefs.

Local Community College, New York, NY

  • Program: Associate’s Degree in Nutrition
  • Focus: Acquired basic understanding of nutrition principles, dietary needs, and the importance of balanced diets in daily life.

Jamie Scott is a skilled culinary expert and content creator specializing in Western cuisine. With over 15 years in the culinary field and formal training from Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, Jamie deeply understands how to blend nutrition with delicious flavors. His passion for cooking matches his commitment to making healthy eating accessible and enjoyable.

On Fifteen.net, Jamie brings a fresh perspective to classic dishes and beverages, offering readers insightful recipes, cooking tips, and a fresh view on meal planning that emphasizes taste, health, and simplicity.

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