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Surprising Panamanian Cuisine. Panamanian food reflects the country’s mixed heritage of many cultures and ethnic groups, including Chinese, Spanish, African and French. The country’s geographical location means that it has a large variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs which provide the ingredients that are used in native cooking.
Typical Panamanian foods are mildly flavored, without the pungency of some of Panama’s Latin American and Caribbean neighbors. Common ingredients are maize, rice, wheat flour, plantains, yuca (cassava), beef, chicken, pork and seafood. Fresh fish is plentiful, and many people enjoy fresh ceviche ( fish marinated in lime juice along with onions and peppers).
Many Panamanian dishes are made of corn. The preparation is different from that of other Latin American corn dishes (such as corn tortillas and arepas), given that the kernel is first cooked in water and then ground in order to obtain a dough (as opposed to using corn flour to obtain the dough). Fresh corn is also used in some dishes.
Fried food is commonplace in Panama, from fried pork with an Afro-Caribbean flavor to Hojaldras, Panamanian doughnuts, fried bread sprinkled with powdered sugar. Plantains, a variety of banana that are eaten like potatoes, are also served as a fried dish, cut in rounds and then deep fried twice but they may also be served broiled or sauteed in oil.
Coffee is very important for Panamanians as the perfect way to start the day. Breakfast includes eggs, various fried chorizos (sausages), beef liver with onions, fried heart, dried beef and deep-fried corn tortillas, which are thicker than Mexican tortillas. Hojaldras are flat fried bread, which sometimes substitutes for the “michita” (a small bread similar to the French baguette).
Panamanians are very fond of soups, which for the average European and North American look more like stews. They are full of starchy native root vegetables such yucca, yam and taro plus corn. The traditional “Sancocho de Gallina” (chicken soup) is made only with coriander, yam, salt and pepper and chicken and its taste is incredible. There are other versions of it, but this is the most common one. Beef ribs are also used in soups which are normally served with rice.
The country has two oceans and many rivers and for that reason seafood is very popular with Panamanians. Seafood soup made with shrimps, clams, fish, calamari and other delicacies is unique in taste and texture. King prawns, octopus, sea bass, snapper, tilapia and other kinds of fish are commonly found in restaurants.
Beef can be a little tough due to the breed of cattle that is common in the country which is the Brahman, which tend to be less tender than other varieties. However Panamanians have developed recipes such as “Ropa Vieja” (shredded meat stew with potatoes and peas in a tomato based sauce) and “Bistec Picado” (chopped steak with potatoes), where the meat is soft and juicy.
Rice dishes are also very popular. You can find rice with chicken, pork, ham, vegetables and whatever you can imagine. One of the all.time favorites that is served on special occasions is “arroz con pollo” (rice with chicken, olives, raisins and capers) and at Christmas the “arroz con guandu” (rice with pigeon beans) will beserved in most households.
Panamanians cuisine is a bit like the country: tasty, surprising and sometimes a little hot, and there is something new to discover every time you enter a ‘fonda’ or restaurant.