The Central American country of Panama is sorely overlooked when it comes to its cuisine, which is delicious and often unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere!
Panamanian food is supremely tasty and diverse, thanks to the wide range of different nationalities that have come to live in Panama: Africans, Indians, Chinese, Spaniards, and more.
All of these have brought hints of their own cuisines, helping to mold Panamanian cuisine into something full of different flavors, influences, and ingredients.
In our mouth watering guide below, we’ve got the top 10 traditional Panamanian foods that you simply must try.
Whether you’re visiting Panama yourself and looking to sample the best of their traditional cuisine, or you’re making these at home to enjoy yourself, then sure you’re sure to find recipes in our guide for plenty of future favorite dishes.
10 Top Traditional Panamanian Foods
1. Ropa Vieja
We’re beginning our list with this rich, hearty staple of Panamanian cuisine.
Although its name isn’t the most appetizing (it translates roughly to “old clothes”), it only carries that moniker because of the appearance of the long, shreddy bits of flank steak that it uses.
However, it’s much more delicious than its name suggests, and it’s a recipe that you’ve simply got to try!
It takes a whole variety of ingredients to make, but it’s not a complex dish by any means.
You’ll want some rich flank steak, and then delicious white rice, flavorful black beans, and even some fried sweet plantains to serve with it.
Meanwhile, ingredients like sweet paprika and cayenne pepper give the dish a strong kick of warm spiciness!
Our next Panamanian pick is cocados, which are essentially coconut macaroons.
Perfect as a snack or as a great dessert, these delicious cookies have a strong coconut flavoring, and you can even add macadamia nuts into the mix to give them a nutty edge.
Even better, these sweet treats are quick and easy to make!
All you’ll need for these deliciously simple treats is: shredded coconut, vanilla extract, an egg, sweetened condensed milk, and macadamia nuts (if you want them!).
The ingredients are all mixed together in a bowl, then scooped into separate balls and put into the oven on a cookie sheet.
That’s it! There’s no excuse not to try these wonderfully sweet, coconutty cookies.
Another classic dish that’s popular all over Panama, carne guisada is a wonderfully seasoned meal of tender meat, tasty sauce, and plenty of fresh vegetables.
It’s a great dish to make for the whole family, and it’s quick to prepare (but make sure to leave 3 hours spare for cooking!).
Stew meat or boneless beef shoulder roast is used for the tantalizingly tasty and tender meat, while tomatoes, garlic, onion, and a green bell pepper help round out the dish with vegetables and bulk.
Meanwhile, ground cumin lends the meal extra heartiness and flavor.
This next pick is another fantastic meat dish popular in Panama, which is bursting with flavor and easy to make.
It uses lean beef, spices, juicy crushed tomatoes, and more, and you can serve it in a flour tortilla.
Besides the lean beef, the bulk of the dish uses ingredients like onions, garlic, crushed tomatoes, red peppers, and bay leaves to give you a flavor palette that’s rich and diverse.
Meanwhile, you’ll also need to make your own spice mix, which uses six different common spices.
For example, it takes cumin, chili powder, and dried oregano all to help give your meal a strong kick of spiciness.
Our next recommendation is a fabulously hearty, tasty traditional chicken coup from Panama.
In fact, this is considered by many to be the national dish of Panama, so it’s one that you’ve absolutely got to try!
Better still, it’s a great dish if you’re feeling under the weather. Trust us!
This fantastic Panamanian soup is packed with flavor, from its tender chicken to its starchy vegetables.
For the vegetables, you’ll be using things like otoe (a Panamanian root vegetable), yams, yuca, or green plantains.
Additionally, onion and garlic help to add extra flavor, and cilantro and oregano give it some herbiness.
Our next pick from Panama’s finest traditional foods is the delicious beef empanadas, and this recipe will tell you how to make mini versions of them that are great as snacks or party food!
Basically, these are deliciously flaky pastry packed with ground beef and other ingredients as the filling.
You’ll need to make the fantastic dough yourself, but it’s wonderfully flavorful!
As for the filling, you’ll need ingredients like ground beef, tomato, onion, garlic, red bell pepper, and some stock.
Meanwhile, black pepper and cilantro give it an extra kick of seasoning!
This next Panamanian food is a little similar to the beef empanadas, because it’s essentially a mouth watering meat pie, filled with flavor and ingredients.
The crust is crispy yet soft, while the filling has rich meat and healthy vegetables.
The filling is densely packed with plenty of good stuff!
For example, there’s lean ground beef for the rich meatiness, and then tomato puree for a hint of sharp fruit flavor.
Meanwhile, jalapenos give the pie a kick of spiciness, as does the inclusion of deliciously warming paprika.
The recipe also tells you how to make a flavorful serving sauce to drizzle over the meat pie.
Put simply, tostones are fried green plantains. If you’ve never had a plantain before, it’s basically like a banana, but more starchy!
When they’re green, they’re also less sweet than your average banana.
Plantains are popular in Panamanian food, and this deliciously simple snack is perfect for using as a side in a dish.
Crispy and salty, tostones are quick and easy to make.
All you’ll need are green plantains, water, canola or vegetable oil, garlic cloves, kosher salt, and some juice from a lime. Easy!
If you’ve ever had a shepherd’s pie, then the tamal de olla is essentially the Panama version of it!
A doughy tamale that’s packed with tender chicken and delicious capers and olives, this is a dish that you’ll be coming back to again and again.
For the meatiness of the tamal de olla, that comes from chicken breasts and some chicken broth.
Meanwhile, typical ingredients like garlic and onions help to add extra flavor, as do green and red peppers.
These aren’t the only peppers, either, because you’ll also be using ajiés dulces, which are very mild.
Our final pick from the diverse selection that is traditional Panamanian food is hojaldres, which is one of the most popular types of bread in all of Panama.
Delicious and fried, you’ll be wanting to bake these often, using them as savory flat rolls with your meals.
To bake them, you’ll need a variety of bread baking staples, with ingredients like baking powder, flour, egg, water, caster sugar, and more.
Brilliantly, if you’re used to making bread, then you’ll be able to easily whip up this Panama classic!
Panama is packed with diverse, delicious traditional foods that you simply must try – find the very best with our guide!