Panamanian Food - 6 Favorites

1,399Views 0Comments Posted 12/06/2024

Above is a favorite Panamanian dish that starts with rice and beans, add a potato salad mixed with beets for that nice red color, some sliced fried plantains, along with some chicken for the absolute perfect Panamanian meal.  Panamanian food rewards foodies with a fascinating diversity of cooking traditions, a bonus of the nation’s position as an international crossroads and a land bridge linking North and South America.  Along with indigenous peoples, many ethnic groups have traveled through and settled in the country. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, it connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, bringing even more people from different backgrounds to and through Panama. Each contributed to the country’s rich culture and varied food.  Here are some of the finest examples of Panama’s cuisine to enjoy.

Sancocho de Gallina

Think grandma’s chicken soup, but probably, spicier, and you’ve conjured, sancocho de gallina, beloved as one of the the national dishes of Panama. Some consider the mix a stew.  Either way, the bowl contains potatoes, yuca, plantains, corn on the cob, hot sauce, oregano, yellow onions, scallions, tomatoes, and a big piece of chicken, even a breast or leg, and if you must, culantro, a slightly sweeter and stronger flavored spice than cilantro.  For many folks that spice tastes like soap, so if you don’t want to ruin someone’s meal ask them about that spice.  Many love it and can’t get enough of it.  Locals devour sancocho de gallina for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and down it as an elixir to vanquish colds and hangovers. When it’s hot outside, Panamanians eat sancocho de gallina to cool off.  Rice or tortillas accompany this Panamanian food staple.

Ropa Vieja

Ropa vieja translates to “old clothes.” According to a Spanish legend, when a poor man ran out of food, he cut up his old clothes to make stew. Squint, and you might just see how the shredded beef could invoke an image of the vision of tattered pants.  Cooks simmer the shredded beef with tomatoes, onion, garlic, peppers, onions, and sometimes olives, and season the mix with paprika, oregano, coriander, and other spices of Spanish origin.


Panamanian tortillas hark back to the country’s indigenous people, including the Chibchan, Chocoan, and the corn-growing Cueva (also known as Cuna). Panamanian tortillas, made from deep-fried or grilled corn dough, are thicker than the Mexican version.  The tortillas accompany stews, soups, and other entries as a side dish.  Many locals start their day with a breakfast of tortillas topped with eggs and cheese.


In Panama, “patacones” are tostones by a local name. Patacones, fashioned from twice-toasted, unripe green plantains, don’t taste like sweet plants made from ripe green plants.  It is an alternative to a French Fry.  Often starchy and a bit bland, locals eat patacones, a popular Panamanian food, with a hot sauce or sometimes ketchup. The chips are a tasty snack food.


In Spanish, “hojaldra” means puff pastry. Imagine donuts for breakfast without all the sugar, and you capture the allure of the simple, but tasty hojaldra, a flour roll that’s fried. People refer to it as french fried bread.  Panamanians eat this staple for breakfast with fried or boiled eggs, meat balls, sausages, and black beans.  They make a tasty dessert if you add some cinnamon and maple syrup.  These are 6 favorite Panamanian treats, but there are dozens more that we will post at a later date.