Panama dining offers a range of choices, and though the food in Panama isn't necessarily why people come here, more and more quality restaurants are popping up across the country. The ethnic food of Panama is a result of the many different cultural influences that have occurred in Panama's history. Europeans and North Americans are among the immigrant groups with a strong presence in this melting pot country, and Afro-Caribbean influences are most commonly found on Panama's northern Atlantic coast. Panama is a tropical country, linking Central America to South America, and you'll find no shortage of fresh and healthy fruits here. Due to Panama's relatively small size, you can find typical Panamanian food dishes on the menu throughout the country's different regions. If you're feeling especially daring, you might sample what the Panama street vendors are offering.
Panama dining is probably best enjoyed in Panama City. Here, you will find the biggest variety of restaurants, some specializing in Panamanian food, and others offering international selections. The ethnic food of Panama City ranges from Thai and Japanese, to Italian and Middle Eastern. The Spanish, who figure prominently in Panama's storied history, have definitely left their mark on the food in Panama. Ceviche, which the Spanish more or less invented in Peru, can be found throughout Latin America, and Panama is no different. You can get Ceviche pretty much anywhere you go in Panama, and it generally is composed of fresh corvina fish that is chopped and "cooked" in lemon juice. Other spices are added, and the overall tanginess of the dish is part of what makes it so popular. Panama City has a variety of fast food-style restaurants, and grabbing a quick hamburger is easier than ever. Due to the increasing presence of North Americans in Panama, cafes and bistros are increasing in number. Outside of Panama City, your choices for restaurants will diminish significantly, but as tourism increases and more and more foreigners invest in Panama real estate, the choices keep getting better every day.
To start your day off in Panama, you might grab a cup of coffee and some "hojaldras". The Panamanian food version of doughnuts, hojaldras are deep fried dough pieces that are doused in sugar. Panama coffee can be quite good, and it is perhaps best enjoyed in the western Panama Chiriqui Highlands. Here, on the lush mountain slopes, coffee plantations churn out high-quality coffee beans. In the town of Boquete, the January Flower and Coffee Festival celebrates the region's coffee crop. It's surely one of the more interesting Panama festivals. Gallo Pinto is a Panama food dish that consists of pork, rice and beans. It is often enjoyed for breakfast across Panama, accompanied by eggs. Tortillas are a Panama food staple, and in the morning, many Panamanians like to start their day with a tortilla topped with eggs, beans, cheese and whatever else might be available. The Panama tortilla tends to be thicker than what you will find in other Latin American countries, and it is commonly deep fried. In the northwest Panama Bocas del Toro Province, fresh coconut often makes it to the table, and you might enjoy a nice "batido", or fruit shake. Afro-Caribbean cultures on Panama's north coast tend to enjoy greasy meats for breakfast, which while high on cholesterol, are quite savory.
Since Panama is very much dependent on its maritime links, you can bet that seafood is offered throughout the country. When you visit the San Blas Islands, for example, the Kuna Indians that will supply the bulk of your meals tend to offer rice and fish as primary staples. Red Snapper and Corvina (Sea Bass) are common fish that are found in Panamanian food dishes, and shrimp, lobster, and octopus are in ready supply wherever you go. Common at small food stands by the Panama beaches are "empanadas". These tasty snacks can be found all over Panama, really, and consist of flour turnovers that are filled with either meat or cheese. Sometimes, it's customary to sprinkle a little sugar over them. When it's time to enjoy a staple Panama food main course, a dish known as "Sancocho" is a good place to start. More or less a soup or stew, Sancocho is a combination of spices, chicken, and vegetables. Sancocho varies a bit depending on who prepares it, and sometimes other meats are added with the chicken. Exhibiting a bit of a Spanish influence, the Panama food dish known as "Casado" is sure to fill you up. It consists of rice and beans that are mixed with different meats and fish.
In the western Chiriqui Highlands, the volcanic soil and Spring-like climate lend themselves nicely to the cultivation of fresh vegetables. When exploring the Panama dining options in the Chiriqui Highlands, you'll find the salads to be a little more dynamic, for sure. Yucca is a common vegetable staple in Panama food, and is a starchy vegetable that grows best in the tropics. The Yucca root is generally fried or deep fried, and replaces french fries in many ways. "Carimañola" is a popular yucca dish, and consists of a yucca roll that is stuffed with meats and eggs. "Culantro" characterizes Panama food dishes, and is akin to cilantro, only it has a bit more flavor. Partly due to Afro-Caribbean influences, "platanos", or plantains, are a common Panama side dish, especially on the Atlantic coast. Though they look like bananas, plantains are noticeably different. Cut into slices and fried, platanos make for an excellent side dish. When the tropical Panama heat is getting to you, all you have to do is track down a street vendor selling "raspados". These vendors are easy to find, and they serve up shaved ice snow cones. You can choose from different flavors, and surely at some point you'll be tempted by these refreshing treats.