By Kenya Barrett
Panama is a beautiful country in Central America that borders Colombia and Costa Rica while sharing the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. As such, it’s no surprise that Panama is influenced by a number of different cultures and cuisines.
Read on to learn about 5 traditional dishes you must try while on vacation in Panama!
Sancocho de Gallina
If you’re a fan of stews, then you’ll love Sancocho de Gallina. As the national dish of Panama, this savory meal has garnered quite a lot of popularity as a delicious comfort food filled with a blend of diverse flavors. Initially introduced to Spanish settlers by indigenous peoples during the 16th century, the dish is seasoned with a herb spice blend and then boiled with a variety of vegetables including corn, yucca, and green plantains. While sancocho dishes in other Latin American countries can be made with pork or beef, sancocho de gallina is made primarily with chicken.
Carimanolas de Carne
Similar to empanadas, carimanolas de carne are also a delicious appetizer popular to the countries of Colombia and Panama. This finger food is essentially a yuca fritter that can be stuffed with meat and cheese and then deep-fried. While beef is typically the meat of choice, carimanolas can be stuffed with chicken, pork, or even vegetables. This dish is usually served with fresh pico de gallo or even rice and beans. Perfect for any time of the day, these appetizers can be eaten for breakfast or dinner.
Tamales are another popular dish in Panama that you cannot miss while visiting. A variation of Mexican tamales, this meal has a few adjustments that make it just as great as the original. Prepared with a dough that is made from corn meal, tamales panamenos also incorporate raisins and broth into the mixture which allows the dough to retain moisture. Once the tamale is properly shaped, it is filled with a meat of choice – usually chicken or pork. They are then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for a period of time until the meat is secured and encased in the dough. These delicious tamales are often seasoned with an array of spices that include garlic, onions, achiote, capers, and olives.
Hojaldra might have to be one of the most traditional dishes in Panama. “Hojaldres” literally translates to puff pastry, however, this food is more than just your ordinary pastry. It is a mouthwatering fry bread that's made from a few simple ingredients including flour, salt, oil, water, and baking powder. For an extra hint of sweetness, some prepare the dough with sugar. Other variations to the dough include the addition of eggs which creates a fluffier texture. Hojaldra operates similarly to pita bread and can be eaten alongside stews and other cooked meats.
For those with a sweet tooth, trying Cabanga during your trip to Panama is a must. Cabanga is made with two tropical fruits – coconut and green papaya – that are grated and combined with honey and cinnamon cloves. The ingredients are then simmered in a saucepan before being spread out on a baking tray. Once the mixture has cooled, you can enjoy it in the form of squares or roll it up into a ball and refrigerate for maximum moisture.