Casco Viejo (Old Town) in Panama City, Panama.
Aside from visiting the beautiful beaches of Panama, the canal, and historic landmarks like Casco Viejo, which is pictured above, you should try out some of the food delicacies that are home to the country. My father was born and raised in Panama so I was exposed to a lot of the dishes and specialties like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) as a child.
There were other foods that I was introduced to from my father's side of my family like cou cou or beef patty that I assumed were Panamanian dishes. However, these dishes orginated from the Caribbean or West Indies.
For instance, Cou Cou is home to Barbados and the beef patty is home to Jamaica. Many people do not know that there is a huge population of Panamanians who are descendants of West Indians. Consequently, there is a Caribbean influence on some of the food in the country.
With that said here are the five Panamanian food specialities or delicacies that you should try when you visit the country of Panama.
Patacones, which is essentially part of the Panamanian diet, from green plantains. The plantains are sliced up and then fried twice. Firstly the plantain is sliced into what will look like banana slices. The slices are fried on both sides for about 2 minutes until golden brown. Then the slices are taken out of the grease. After the excess oil is removed the plantain is smashed or pounded with something called a tostenera. I have also seen people use glass coke bottles or the bottoms of drinking glasses to smash the plantain. Once the plantain is pounded flat it is fried once again until they are crisp.
Patacones can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In most restaurants in Panama you will have the option to order french fries (pappas fritas en espanol) or patacones to go with your meal. In my opinion it is actually a perfect substitute to french fries. I am not sure if it is any healthier.
Patocones are usually served with salt. They are also tasty with a little ketchup. I do not prefer to eat patacones this way but I have seen some of my cousins in Panama melt cheese on theirs. I guess it is similar to eating cheese fries.
All I can say about hojaldas is, "Oh my goodness". This is one delicacy that I was, thankfully, introduced to at an early age. While I grew up eating hojaldas with a little honey or syrup, in Panama there are restaurants like The Trapiche that offer you hojaldas sandwiches.
Hojaldas is basically fried dough. It is made from flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, butter, and water. Like patacones, hojaldas can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In Panama people will eat hojaldas with any type of meat. A typical breakfast will consist of a hojalda and some sausage. Hojaldas also make for a good snack.
Carimanola, which is also known as a yuca roll, was a specialty that I was not introduced to as a child. When I came to Panama I was able to try it out and I was very pleased. A carimanola is made from yuca fritter wrapped around some meat, usually beef.
Carimanola is usually eaten for breakfast, but I do not see the problem with eating it during any parts of the day. This dish is only found in Panama and Columbia. Ironically, Panama was once a part of Columbia.
Cerviche is a seafood dish that his very common in Panama. It is normally made using corvina or, what is otherwise known as, white sea bass. Shrimp and other types of fish can be used as well. The other ingredients include lemon juice, onion, celery, habanero pepper, and sea salt.
It is not uncommon to see cerviche sold in small packets in the refigerated sections of supermarkets and small convenience stores, as well. Cerviche is also usually on the menu of several restaurants in Panama, especially establishments that specialize in traditional Panamanian food.
You will also see cerviche served at special events like weddings and birthday parties as appetizers. Cerviche is normally served in little shells called canastitas which is resembles a mini version of a taco salad shell. It is also common to see it served in small cups which are accompanied by little spoons. Many people eat the cerviche straight and some eat it with crackers.
I was a little nervous when my cousin introduced me to cerviche because it does not look to enticing at first glance. Nevertheless once I tried it out it was not that bad.
Tres leches, which is literally translated in English as three milks, is a cake that is made with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and whole milk. It is said that this cake was shipped all the way from Panama to England for the Queen's wedding.
I was firs introduced to the cake at a office party in Panama. It was being served in a plastic cup. What kind of tripped me out about the cake was it was wet. To me, being from the US, that is not normal. The reason why tres leches is wet is because it is basically a sponge or butter cake that is soaked in milk. The other thing that interested me was that the there was pieces of fruit inside the cake. To top it off the cake had a whip cream topping.
The texture of the cake is different but I was okay with the taste. Tres leches, which is chilled, is usually sold in traditional restuarants and can also be found in most supermarkets. You may notice differences in the tastes from restaurant to restaurant and store to store, but overall I think that you will enjoy tres leches.
Out of the five Panamanian delicacies that I think you should try four will definitely add on pounds to your figure. Hojaldas, carimanolas, and patacones are all fried full of carbs while tres leches is a cake smothered in three types of milk, including the sweetened kind. With that said, plan on cancelling your healthy diet as you vacation in Panama and endulge a little.
If you have tried any of these dishes, then let me know what you think about them in the comments box below.
Also if you have any questions about Panama or the food leave them in the comments section below as well.