Panama, a narrow strip of land that separates Central America from South America, is a place of diverse cultures, with a population made up of native Indians, Spaniards, Chinese, Italians and Greeks. With a mix of traditional cuisine and European influence, the tastes of Panama have developed into rich, globally-inspired dishes. Its proximity to the ocean keeps a variety of seafood making its way into many recipes, combined with a plentiful supply of fresh vegetables and herbs.
An Abundance of Fish and Game
Traditional food in Panama is heavy in protein because of the abundance of fish and game. Used often in soups and stews and accompanied by plantain, these dishes are simple recipes; rich, hearty and filling. A few favorites are sancocho, a spicy stew prepared with chicken and the root vegetable ñamé, and arroz con pollo, a hearty and flavorful chicken dish served with rice, capers and green peas.
Fried food is commonplace in Panama. Panamanians enjoy hojaldras, a doughnut prepared from fried bread that is sprinkled with powdered sugar and fried plantain, a variety of bananas that are eaten like potatoes. Plantain are served by just about every restaurant and street vendor, as well as at sporting events.
With the abundance of tropical fruit, Panamanians enjoy tropical shakes, called chichi, with pineapple and papaya. Street vendors throughout the towns make these readily available anytime.
Tamales served in Panama are different from the ones we would typically find in Mexico, which are wrapped with corn husks. In Panama, tamales are filled with pork or chicken and spices, and then wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled. Another excellent side dish is ceviche; fish marinated in lime--which actually cooks the fish--and then seasoned with onions and peppers.
Global influence provides an array of exotic tastes, including kebabs, a traditional Middle Eastern food, with pork, chicken or beef, sold by vendors in the quaint Caribbean markets. This meal is typically followed by freshly steamed yucca with a side of chimichurri type sauce.
In most food establishments, patrons will find seco, an alcohol distilled from sugar cane and served with milk and ice. But the most popular alcoholic drink in Panama continues to be a cold beer, which fits this warm tropical environment.
- Photo Credit palms image by michael langley from Fotolia.com
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