Panamanian Food: 32 Dishes & Drinks to Try in Panama

by | May 18, 2023 | Food, Panama, Travel

Are you planning a trip to Panama? Wondering what to eat while visiting the country?

In this guide, I’ll share with you the most popular and traditional foods of Panama. Hopefully, these ideas will help you know what to order in restaurants. I’ve tried everything on this list during my 2 months traveling around the country. Most were good but a few not so good.

You’ll also learn where you too can try these foods in Panama City, Bocas del Toro, Boquete, Santa Catalina, and El Valle de Anton.

So let’s get started!

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Table of Contents

Check out my 2023 Panama Travel Guide for more tips, tricks, ideas, and inspiration for visiting this beautiful and diverse country. You’ll find travel articles to help you explore the history, culture, food, and natural beauty of Panama.

About Panamanian Food

One of the many things that surprised me about Panama was how ethnically diverse the country was. Besides the indigenous groups like the Ngobe and Guna, the country also has a mix of Mestizos, Africans from the Caribbean, Europeans, Chinese, and more recent immigrants from Colombia, Venezuela, and North America.

This diversity has had a major impact on the cuisine of the country. African immigrants from Barbados and Jamaica have heavily influenced the food in Bocas del Toro and Colon. You’ll find a lot more dishes with ingredients like coconut and curry. Rice plays a large role in Panamanian cuisine thanks to the Chinese immigrants. Finally, if you stay in Panama City, it’ll be hard to avoid the culinary influence of Colombia and Venezuela—arepas, empanadas, tequeños, etc are everywhere in the capital.

Is Panamanian Food Spicy?

Panamanian food is not spicy.

However, you’ll find a bottle of habanero on nearly every table. Don’t expect something mild. This stuff is SUPER spicy!!!!! I’d say it’s comparable to what you’d find in Mexico or Thailand. Not like the very mild spicy (and a bit sweet) condiment that you see on tables in Costa Rica.

Typical Ingredients in Panamanian Cuisine

a fruit stand filled with fruit

Panama uses similar ingredients to those found in the rest of Central American cooking: corn, wheat, plantains, yuca, yams, beef, pork, chicken, fish, and seafood. You’ll also find lentils as a side dish, which is something I hadn’t seen traveling in other places in Central America.

Panamanian food uses an herb called culantro, which is a stronger version of cilantro.

You’ll also find sugar cane in drinks and lemonade and desserts.

Coconut also plays an important role in sweets and on the Caribbean side, it’s added to fish and seafood dishes.

Typical Dishes in Panama

Stews and soups are a big part of Panamanian cuisine. Usually, the soups include a protein and a starch like yuca, yam, or potato.

You’ll also see a lot of fried foods in Panamanian cuisine: empanadas, carimañola, yuca fries, and patacones.

And Panamanians love coffee! It’s probably the BEST I’ve ever had in my life.

How Much to Spend on Eating Out in Panama?

a plate of fried chicken, rice, salad, plantain and a cup of lentils
Typical lunch at a fonda for around US$5

You can eat pretty cheaply for lunch, even in Panama City, for around US$5 at a fonda (cheap eateries). This is usually a set meal consisting of a protein, salad, rice, lentils or beans, soup, and a drink. It’s very filling. But to get this price, you’ll need to eat outside of the tourist area of Casco Viejo.

You can also get an empanada for US$1. Two empanadas are usually enough to fill me up. But if they’re deep-fried, they’re not the most healthy foods.

For medium-priced sit-down restaurants, expect to spend between US$10 and $20 for a meal and a drink. This includes a meal of fresh fish, ceviche, or any of the traditional dishes on this list of the best food in Panama.

You can of course easily spend even more than that the nicer the restaurant.

A western continental breakfast will cost you a minimum of US$7.

One last thing: taxes! Sometimes the price on a menu doesn’t include tax. When you get your bill, restaurants like to give you a surprise at the end with a tax added on. Nicer restaurants will also add a service charge.

Top Traditional Dishes of Panama

Here’s the good news: Panama has some REALLY delicious traditional dishes like sancocho and arroz con pollo.

But here’s the bad news: It’s not always easy to find restaurants that serve these traditional dishes.

Not to worry. I’ll give you some tips on where you can find them.

1. Arroz con Pollo

a plate of arroz con pollo
Arroz con pollo

“What’s your favorite dish?” I asked nearly every Panamanian I met.

Nearly everyone answered, “Arroz con pollo.”

Then they would often add, “Especially, the con pollo my mother makes.”

The first time I tried it, I mistakenly thought it was a Chinese dish of fried rice.

But it’s not.

It’s simply rice that’s cooked (not fried) with shredded chicken and an assortment of vegetables like carrots, peas, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. The rice is usually colored orange thanks to the addition of annatto spice.

It’s hard NOT to like arroz con pollo. It’s simply a very delicious, savory, and filling dish.

You can also get arroz con camarones (rice with shimp).

Where Can You Try Arroz con Pollo?

You can get arroz con pollo at the very popular El Trapiche, a restaurant famous for its traditional Panamanian cuisine. There are 5 El Trapiche restaurants in Panama City. Locals say that the best one is the San Francisco branch. I always ate at the one on Avenida Argentina in El Cangrejo since it was close to my hotel. There’s also a branch at the Allbrook Mall. The other two restaurants aren’t in the center of the city.

The arroz con pollo dish I had cost me US$6.25.

2. Sancocho

a bowl of sancocho soup

Another Panamanian dish you have to try is sancocho.

Sancocho is a thick soup made of chicken, name (a type of yam), and culantro (like cilantro but stronger).

The same soup is part of Colombian and Ecuadorian cuisine. I had it in Quito, and it was not as good as what I had in Panama.

The dish in Panama usually comes with a side plate of rice that you can add to the soup.

A local told me that it’s better to try sancocho in a small town like El Valle, where the chickens are free range than in Panama City, where the chickens come from factory farms. I did thankfully follow her advice and I have yet to have a better sancocho than in El Valle.

Where Can You Try Sancocho in Panama?

I had sancocho for the first time at a little restaurant behind the main market in El Valle de Anton called Restaurante Massiel. The chicken was out of this world—tender, juicy, and flavorful. You could tell the chicken was not raised in a cage or a factory. It cost US$4.50.

3. Ropa Vieja

a plate of french fries, ropa vieja, and potato salad with beet root
Ropa vieja with french fries and potato salad with beetroot at El Trapiche in Panama City missed the mark.

The next traditional Panamanian dish is one that you’ll find in several other Latin American countries like Cuba and Colombia. It’s ropa vieja and it literally means “old clothes.”

The story of its origins is just as cute as its name. An old man was too poor to buy food for his family, so he cooked his clothes and then prayed over the boiling soup of clothes. By some miracle, the clothes turned into a rich and delicious meat stew.

What is Ropa Vieja Exactly?

It’s a stew made of shredded beef and vegetables like bell peppers, onions, peas, and carrots that’s been slowly cooked in a tomato-based sauce.

Where Can You Try Ropa Vieja?

I had ropa vieja twice in Panama.

The first time was at Donde Ghiselle in Boquete. It was part of a local dish called El Mono (I’ll tell you about that dish here). I absolutely loved it. So flavorful and complex. I paid around US$15.

The second time was at the very popular restaurant, El Trapiche, in Panama City. I have a feeling that there might have been some miscommunication with my waitress. But the dish did not come with rice, which would have made it so much better. Instead, I got a side of French fries and Panamanian potato salad, which tasted better than the ropa vieja. I paid US$7.95. Cheaper but definitely not as good.

4. El Mono – The Monkey

a green leaf unwrapped showing "El Mono" dish
“El Mono”

El Mono is one of my favorite dishes in Panama. It’s eaten specifically in Chiriqui Province.

El Mono literally means “the monkey.” But not to worry, it’s NOT made of monkey.

The origins of the name of the dish go back many years to when farm laborers would wrap their lunch of rice and beans in bijao leaves and hang it from trees to keep insects and animals away while they worked. The food hanging from the tree looked like a monkey, so people started calling the food “the monkey.”

What is El Mono?

El Mono is made of rice and beans topped with ropa vieja and fried plantains wrapped up in a bright green bijao leaf.

Where to Try El Mono?

When I was in Boquete, lots of locals recommended trying El Mono at Restaurante Donde Ghiselle. I went and I was blown away by the presentation and flavors of the dish.

El Mono came to my table wrapped prettily in a bright green bjiao leaf. It was rich and the meat was tender and juicy.

The dish at Donde Ghiselle was pricey but sooooo worth it! Expect to pay at least US$15.

5. Ceviche

a bowl of ceviche and plantain chips
Ceviche with plantain chips

Ceviche is just as much a part of Panamanian cuisine as it is Peruvian and Mexican.

You’ll find it everywhere in Panama City.

The Panamanian ceviche is different from what is eaten in Mexico. In Panama, it’s usually made with sea bass (corvina) but you’ll also find octopus and shrimp. The fish or seafood is marinated in lemon (limon in Spanish), onion, culantro (Panamanian cilantro), and habanero for at least 2 hours before being served. When it’s marinating, a liquid form, which locals call leche del tigre.

Even though it’s marinated in habanero, it’s not spicy.

Sometimes you’ll get plantain chips on the side to eat with your ceviche.

Where to Try Ceviche in Panama?

I had ceviche several times in Panama—twice in Bocas del Toro and twice in Panama City.

The first time in Bocas I had fish ceviche at the Bambuda Lodge, and it was rather bland (not sour enough). The second time was at Palmer Beach Lodge and the ceviche had a nice kick to it.

In Panama City, I had ceviche twice at Mercado de Mariscos, a loud, lively, and huge fish and seafood market near Casco Viejo. The market has countless fish and seafood restaurants. It’s very popular with tourists and locals.

Both times at the Mercado, I was given a small cup (vaso) of ceviche with my plate of fish for free. The first time was fish and the second time was octopus (pulpo). I preferred the octopus.

But you can also order the ceviche as a main dish. It comes in various sizes from a small cup (US$2-3) to a gallon (US$25). You can choose from fish, shrimp, octopus, or mixed.

6. Guisado de Pollo (Chicken Stew)

a plate of guisado de pollo, rice, salad, and a bowl of beans
Guisado de pollo with rice, salad, and beans at Restaurante Tom in Bocas del Toro

You’ll find guisado del pollo on almost every menu in every inexpensive restaurant in every town you visit in Panama.

Guisado means “stew” in Spanish and pollo means chicken. Basically, it’s just chicken slow cooked in a brown or red-colored liquid. I usually got a chicken thigh on bone, never chunks of chicken or chicken breast.

How much I liked the guisado de pollo depended on the quality of the chicken. Sometimes it was dry and overcooked, while other times it was tender and moist.

Where to Try Guisado de Pollo?

In Bocas, I had guisado de pollo at Restaurante Tom, an inexpensive and popular local restaurant in Bocas Town. Here the stew was given the additional description of “special-Criollo style stew.” To be honest, I don’t remember if there was any difference between the one in Bocas and the one I had everywhere else in Panama. It was delicious and the price made it even better: US$5.

In Boquete, I had guisado de pollo a few times at this inexpensive and popular cafeteria-style restaurant called Restaurante El Sobrason #3. Sometimes the chicken was dry, other times it was tender and juicy.

In El Valle de Anton, head to Restaurante Massiel for their guisado de pollo (US$5).

7. Guisada de Res

a plate of beef stew and fried egg over hojaldre
Beef stew and fried egg over hojaldre

The dish that made me fall in love with the food of Panama was beef stew with a side of hojaldre (fry bread) and 1 or 2 fried eggs. Honestly, I could never figure out what the official name of the dish was. I think it’s just called guisado de res (beef stew).

The stew is made of chunks of beef cooked with red bell peppers and onions in a tomato-based stew. The secret spice, one of the staff at Bambuda Lodge told me, was “caldo rica.” I later found out  “caldo rica” is just MSG mixed with red food coloring. No wonder it tasted so good!

This dish is commonly eaten for breakfast.

Where to Try Carne de Res:

I had guisado de res with 2 hojaldres and 2 fried eggs nearly every morning for breakfast when I stayed at Bambuda Lodge in Bocas de Toro (it’s called “Panamanian breakfast” on the menu).

The second time I had this dish for breakfast was at Restaurante El Sabroson in Boquete and the meat was tough and the dish was cold. Terrible!

The third time was also in Boquete but for dinner at Meye Bounore and it was PERFECT. 

8. Bistec Picado

Bistec Picado and patacones
A very delicious Panamanian dish is Bistec Picado and patacones

Bistec Picado is another popular and delicious dish from Panama. It reminds me of a Chinese stir fry.

Bistec Picado is made of beef strips that have been marinated in garlic, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce and then stir fried with vegetables like red peppers, green peppers, carrots, and onions.

Where to Try Bistec Picado?

El Trapiche in Panama City has this dish on its menu. It usually comes with a side of French fries or patacones. It costs US$7.75.

9. Tamal de Olla

a bowl of tamal de olla
A bowl of Tamal de olla at El Trapiche in Panama City

Tamal del Olla intrigued me even before trying it. In English, it’s described as a casserole. I don’t like casseroles. They’re what I used to eat growing up in a small town in Minnesota, and I disliked them then and still dislike them today.

On the other hand, according to recipes online, it’s supposed to come with two of my favorite foods: olives and capers. A nice dose of acidity, I thought, should give this dish a lot of complex flavors.

So I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about tamal de olla. Would it become my favorite food in Panama or my least favorite?

Before I tell you how it turned out, let’s look at what’s supposed to be in the dish. There are actually tons of ingredients and according to YouTube videos, cooking it looks really complicated. Tamal de olla is made with chicken or pork, red or green bell peppers, and onions and then mixed with cornmeal and tomato sauce. Like I said, olives and capers are supposed to be added as well.

However, what the waiter brought to my table was not what I expected.

It’s kind of like a very thick stew with chicken, small bits of overcooked green pepper AND…

something brown, soft, and oval-shaped that I couldn’t identify at first.

Lots of these brown things were in the dish.

Before I figured out what they were, I thought the dish was just OK. Nothing special.

Sadly, I didn’t see or taste ANY capers or olives. No bite to the dish whatsoever.

As I kept on eating it, I did some further research on my phone and found out that those weird brown things were raisins.


I like 99.9% of the foods that exist. Except raisins. I hate raisins. I abhor raisins.

Once I found out what was in this dish, I had to force myself to finish the rest of the tamal de olla.

Some recipes list raisins as an optional ingredient.

Overall, I didn’t like the dish. If you like raisins, you might.

Where to Try Tamal de Olla?

But if you still want to try it, you can get the same dish at El Trapiche on Avenida Argentina. Cost: US$6.95.

10. Corvina

a plate of fried corvina, patacones and salad
Corvina at Mercado de Mariscos

Whenever you see fish on the menu in Panama, it’s most likely going to be Corvina.

What is it?

It’s a white fish found all over Central America. It’s supposedly the same as seabass or at last similar to seabass.

You can get a whole fried or steamed corvina for between US$8 and $15. Usually, it comes to your table with the head and taill still attached. The dish comes with patacones or fries and a salad. In some places like at The Fish House in Boquete, it comes as a filet.

Where to Try Corvina?

a plate of white rice, a green salad with tomatoes and fish with capers and a lime at the Fish House in Boquete
Corvina is my favorite Panama foods – The Fish House in Boquete

I had corvina several times with prices ranging from US$8 – $15. These are some of the places that I tried it:

  • Fish House in Boquete (US$10.95) – This fabulous restaurant has corvina fillets cooked in countless ways. I had it with lemon and capers. Soooooo delicious. It came with rice and salad. (Google Maps)
  • Restaurante El Pacifico in Santa Catalina (US$8) – A whole fried fish with patacones and salad came to only US$8! Wow! (Google Maps)
  • Mercado de Mariscos in Panama City (US$10.70-$13) – I had a whole fried fish at the seafood market in Panama City. It came with patacones and salad. The fish here was tastier than the one I had in Santa Catalina. (Google Maps)

11. Shrimp with Coconut and Curry

a plate of shrimp, patacones, and white rice
Shrimp with garlic sauce at Tropical Birds in Bocas del Toro

On the Caribbean side of Panama you’ll find loads of fish and seafood dishes with coconut and curry. My favorite dish in Bocas del Tora was the shrimp with coconut. It’s super delicious.

When you’re outside Bocas, be wary about ordering shrimp. If it’s not the season for it, it’s frozen and not really worth it.

Where to Get coconut shrimp?

Do NOT leave Bocas del Toro without ordering shrimp with coconut sauce (or garlic sauce) at Tropical Birds Restaurant in Bocas Town (Google Maps). They do not skimp on the shrimp. It comes with patacones and coconut rice. I think one of the BEST shrimp dishes I’ve ever had.

Side Dishes and Street Food of Panama

Now let’s take a look at the street food of Panama and some of its most common side dishes.

12. Hojaldre

2 hojaldres with a bowl of guisado de res topped with a fried egg
Panama Breakfast at Bambuda Lodge in Bocas del Toro

The most common breakfast food in Panama is the very delicious but unhealthy, hojaldres.

Yeah, it took me a long time to master its pronunciation.


An hojaldre is just deep-fried round flat bread made of wheat, salt, and water. It’s like the fry bread that you get in Belize and in the Navajo communities in the American Southwest.

The bread is often eaten for breakfast. You can find it anywhere from sit-down restaurants to food carts.

13. Patacones

a bowl of patacones
Patacones made at a cooking class in Panama City

Patacones are the ultimate side dish in Panama. They’re like the American version of French fries. When you go to a restaurant, you’ll often be given the choice of patacones or French fries.

Patacones are usually made from unripe plantains, which are usually green and savory. If they’re ripe, they’re yellow and sweet. Panamanians prefer the savory ones. I prefer the sweeter patacones sprinkled with salt.

The plantains are deep fried and then smashed until they form flat round discs. Finally, they’re deep fried again.

You can dip them in ketchup, habanero sauce, or mayonnaise.

Where to Try Patacones?

Everywhere and anywhere. They come with nearly any dish you order.

I took a cooking class listed on Airbnb and learned how to make patacones.

14. Changa Tortillas

a plate of a tortilla, scrambled eggs, cheese, and ham

Tortillas in Panama look and taste NOTHING like the ones in Mexico.

They’re different in a number of ways:

Panamanian tortillas are made of corn dough and are thick (about a half inch). In Mexico, tortillas are made of corn cooked with lime and are thin.

The other difference is that Panamanians sometimes mix shredded or grated white cheese and mashed-up plantains into the corn dough. This is called changa tortillas.

They’re often just eaten for breakfast in Panama.

15. Ensalada de Papas

a plate of fish, rice, potato salad with beetroot, and a bowl of lentils

Panama’s version of potato salad is a delicious side dish consisting of boiled potatoes mixed with eggs, mayo, AND beetroot. Its the beetroot that gives it that fun pink color.

16. Carimañola


Another delicious but unhealthy fried food in Panama is carimañolas. They are deep-fried yucca fritters stuffed with ground meat (carne), chicken, or potatoes.

You’ll also find carimañolas in Colombia.

Where to Try Carimañolas?

I had a carimañola at El Trapiche restaurant in Panama City (Google Maps).

17. Empanadas

El Rey de Empanada in Panama City is a great place to get empanadas.

One of my favorite things to eat in Panama was an empanada. It’s delicious, as cheap as US$1, quick to chow down when you’re in a hurry, and can easily fill you up.

Empanadas are made with either corn dough or wheat dough. The dough is then stuffed with whatever you like–meat (beef, pork, chicken), seafood, potatoes, beans, and/or cheese, etc. And finally either baked or deep-fried.

You’ll find them all over Panama—street vendors sell them especially in the morning for breakfast. Sometimes you’ll find little shops that just sell empanadas, or you’ll find them on menus at sit-down style restaurants at cafeteria-style restaurants. Pretty much everywhere.

My favorite fillings are mechada (beef) and plantains with cheese.

Where to Get Good Empanadas?

If you’re staying at my favorite budget hotel/hostel in Panama City (Panama House Bed and Breakfast), there’s an amazing empanada place a few blocks away on Via Argentina called Pa’Que Nelson, owned by a Venezuelan. Their mechada empanadas are very good. (Google Maps)

Another popular place in El Cangrejo is El Rey de Empanada. Their empanadas are large and delicious. (Google Maps)

18. Elmojabano


When you’re in Boquete, make sure to try an elmojabano. A snack food originating in Chiriqui province, elmojabanos are made of corn and cheese, shaped like the letter “s,” and deep fried.

Elmojabanos are so important to Boquete that the city holds an annual festival in honor of them.

Where to Try Elmojabano:

I tried elmojabano at Meye Bounore Restaurante in Boquete.

Colombian and Venezuelan Food in Panama

There are lots of immigrants from Colombia and Venezuela in Panama. Over the years, they’ve opened up restaurants all over Panama City serving their country’s cuisine. If you’re staying in the El Congrejo neighborhood, it’s hard to miss them.

19. Arepas

Arepa from Frens Restaurant in Panama City

An Arepa is a type of sandwich from Colombia and Venezuela. You’ll find restaurants serving arepas all over Panama City. And they are sooooo good!

The bread is a flat round dough made of maize that is then stuffed with a variety of different fillings of your choosing like chicken, beef, pork, chicharron, cheese, egg, avocado, etc. A special sauce is drizzled on and inside the fillings. Depending on what you put inside it can be healthy or not so healthy.

Where Can You Get Arepas?

The absolute BEST place to get arepas is a Colombian restaurant called Cali Aji Restaurant (Google Maps). The line on the weekend in the evening to order their arepas is long but worth it. I paid $4.25. Two warnings: they are not the healthiest arepas and they do not have vegetarian ones. But once you try one, you’ll be hooked FOREVER!

20. Tequeños

a basket of tequeño and empanada
A basket of tequeño and empanada at Pa’Que Nelson in Panama City

Another Venezuelan food that you should try while in Panama City is a tequeño. This street food is so popular in Venezuela that in 2023 it was officially declared part of the country’s cultural heritage.

Tequeños are basically breaded cheese sticks that have been either baked or deep-fried. I usually had mine together with an empanada for lunch.

Where to Try a Tequeño:

In El Cangrejo neighborhood in Panama City, there’s an empanada shop called Pa’Que Neson that sells really good tequeños for $1 (Google Maps). The owner is originally from Venezuela. They also sell really good empanadas for $1. You could get a meal for $2 or $3.

Panamanian Desserts and Sweets

Here are a few popular Panamanian desserts and sweets that you should try while visiting Panama.

21. Raspado

a man pouring syrup over a raspado

When you’re wandering around Casco Viejo or the malacon in Panama City, you’re going to get hot and sweaty. To quench your thirst and cool off, stop by one of the many street vendors and get a raspado.

Raspado is shaved ice drizzled with flavored syrup and sometimes condensed milk.

If you’re lucky enough to make it to the restaurant Fonda Lo Que Hay, get the raspado for your dessert. (Google Maps)

22. Cocadas

a bowl of cocadas
We made these cocadas during a cooking class in Panama City

If you like coconut, you will love cocadas.

There are just three ingredients: shredded coconut, sugar cane syrup, and chopped-up cashews. The coconut and sugar cane are sauteed until soft. After they’re cooled, the cashews are added. Then you roll the coconut and cashews into small balls. And eat.

I made this delicious dessert in a cooking class I took in Panama City.

23. Chocolate

a glass cabinet filled with chocolates
Chocolates from Perfect Pair Chocolate and Coffee Shop

Chocolate originated in Central America but sadly most of it is now grown in Africa.

However, recently there has been a cacao-growing revival in Panama. In Bocas del Toro, the Ngobe-Bugle people are growing cacao.

The portion that isn’t exported is bought by specialty chocolatiers in Panama City and Boquete. Some of them have set up shops where you can buy the locally-grown chocolates. You can find chocolates filled with passion fruit, strawberries, and rum.

Where Can You Buy Chocolate Made from Panamanian Cacao?

  • Nome Chocolate – Located in Casco Viejo, this chocolate factory has really good chocolate and offers chocolate-making classes. (Google Maps)
  • CACAO Bar Selection – Beautifully designed selection of chocolates (Google Maps)
  • Perfect Pair Chocolate and Coffee – This coffee shop/chocolatier is a great place to grab some chocolate and coffee or take a chocolate-making workshop. (Google Maps)
  • Oreba Chocolate Tour – You can tour this cacao farm run by the Ngobe-Bugle community of Bocas del Toro. Tour: US$30 (Google Maps)

24. Duros

a hand holding a duro

Duros are the perfect snack to eat when it’s hot and humid outside. They’re a bit like popsicles and made with fruit, water, sugar, and evaporated milk or condensed milk.

You can get all kinds of flavors: strawberries (most popular in Boquete), pineapple, rice with pineapple, mango, coconut, etc.

25. Fresa con Crema

fresa con crema
Fresa con Crema from • Las Princesas de las Fresas

One of the best things to do in Boquete is to go to a strawberry shop and order a fresa con crema (strawberries with cream). It’s A VERY popular snack in the highlands of Panama.

You’ll find little shops all around Boquete selling ONLY dishes made with strawberries: strawberry ice cream, strawberry smoothie, strawberries with chocolate, strawberries with caramel, etc.

But the most popular dish is the strawberries with cream. The strawberries are fresh and the whipped cream is homemade. It tastes 10 times better than the whipped cream that you get out of a can in supermarkets in the United States.

Why so Many Strawberries?

Chiriqui Province is where strawberries are grown in Panama.

Where Can You Try Fresa con Crema?

Here are a few strawberry shops in Boquete:

  • Las Princesas de las Fresas – Right next to the bus stop for the buses to David and across from the central park in Boquete is a small little building with pics of strawberries painted all over it. This is where I had my first fresa con crema and it was later recommended to me by a local. It cost $3.50. Nearly everything cost $3.50 on their menu. (Google Maps)
  • Fresas Café – Another local recommendation, this shop is on the outskirts of Boquete. They have an even bigger variety of strawberry dishes, a nice place to sit, and friendly staff. I had the fresa con naito (naito – watery cream with a distinct flavor that’s popular with locals) (Google Maps)
  • El Poder de las Frutas – Another place recommended to me by a local. It’s across the street from Fresas Café. (Google Maps)
  • Boquete Flower and Coffee Fair – This botanical garden also sells locally grown products like strawberries. Plus, you can find food vendors selling strawberry desserts along the road in front of the Fair. (Google Maps)

Most Popular Drinks in Panama

Finally, let’s take a look at the most popular Panama drinks.

26. Coffee

a white cup and a glass pitcher of coffee
Coffee at Mentiritas Blancas

Promise me one thing:

You will not leave Panama without trying its coffee. Even if you don’t drink coffee, try it at least once.

In my opinion, Panamanian coffee is the best in the world.

In addition, Panama has one of the most expensive coffees in the world: Geisha coffee. Geisha is a variety of Arabica coffee bean that grows at very high elevations. It’s a light roast with a floral flavor—kind of like a cross between coffee and tea.

You can try Geisha coffee in coffee shops and coffee farms all over Boquete and Chiriqui Province. But if you can’t make it to the highlands, you’ll also find coffee shops in Panama City selling Geisha coffee.

It can be expensive, though. A cup of Geisha might set you back around US$10. If that’s a bit too pricey, I recommend getting pacamara coffee. It’s got a fruity flavor like cherry, pineapple, or lychee along with a hint of chocolate.

When you order a cup of specialty coffee in Panama, you need to sometimes choose whether you want washed (lavado) or natural beans. Washed means that the sugar has been washed out of the beans during processing. You then get a bitter cup of coffee (this is what you’ll find in North America and Europe). Natural means that the sugar is left in during processing and thus, you get a sweeter cup of coffee. After drinking natural coffee, I much prefer it to washed.

Also, make sure that the barista makes your coffee using the “pour over” method called filtrado in Spanish. Supposedly, you get a better-tasting coffee that way.

Where Can You Try the Best Panamanian Coffee?

  • Mentiritas Blancas in Panama City has a good selection of specialty coffees including geisha and pacamara (Google Maps)
  • You can also get geisha and pacamara at Buckle Tip Coffee Shop and at Kotowa Coffee Shop in Boquete (Google Maps)
  • For a complete list of coffee plantations and coffee tours where you can try the coffee in Panama, check out this amazing travel guide to Boquete.

27. Limonada con Raspadura

a glass of limonada con raspadura

One of the most popular drinks in Panama is limonada con raspadura (lemonade).

The first time I had this drink, I thought it was iced tea because it was brown.

But it tasted nothing like iced tea. It was indeed lemonade (limeade) with a hint of something else I couldn’t at first identify.

The ingredients are just slightly different from lemonade in the United States. Panamanians use lime mandarins, which are orange, but taste like lemons, and sugarcane. Hence, the brown color.

The sourness from the lemons is tempered by the sweetness from the sugar cane and vice versa. So you get something that’s not too sweet and not too sour. Very delicious!

Where Can You Find Limonada con Raspadura?

I had my first glass at El Trapiche restaurant. When I took a cooking class in Panama City, we made the drink as well.

28. Chicheme

a cup of chicheme

Chicheme is a very common drink in Panama that you can find in bakeries and markets.

A customer at the bakery where I bought my first chicheme gave me the list of ingredients: hominy (dried maiz kernels), milk, condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and lots and lots of love.

You can get it cold or hot.

It’s both savory (corn) and sweet (condensed milk). And very filling!

Where Can You Get Chichimeme?

I don’t remember the name of the bakery that I bought a cup of chicheme from. It was across from Parque Santa Ana in Casco Viejo.

29. Chicha

In the rest of Latin America, chicha is an alcoholic drink. However, in Panama, chicha is a non-alcoholic drink made of sugarcane and fruit. You can get chicha maracuya, chicha guanabana, chicha pina and so on. Sometimes you’ll just see it listed on menus as “chicha del dia” and you’ll get whatever is the fruit of the day.

30. Balboa Beer

A bottle of Balboa beer on a table
Balboa beer

The most popular beer in Panama is Balboa. It’s decent and cheap.

31. Rum

5 glasses of rum
Rum tasting at Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar in Panama City

One thing you’ve got to do when you’re in Central America or the Caribbean is to try the rum. It is one of the two most popular liquors in Panama.

Rum is basically aged sugarcane. The most common brand in Panama is Abuelo’s. A small bottle in the supermarket costs just US$2 – $3.

Another way to experience rum in Panama is by doing a rum tasting—where you get around 5 small glasses of different kinds of rum.

I did a rum tasting at Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar in Panama City. My rum tasting included: silver, blended, geisha coffee, cacao, and spiced. I loved the geisha coffee and the cacao. There are two Pedro Mandinga Rum Bars: one in Casco Viejo and another in El Congrejo. My rum tasting cost US$12.

32. Seco Herrerano

Bottles of Seco Herrerano on a store shelf
Bottles of Seco Herrerano at a grocery store in El Valle de Anton

Seco Herrerano is the other popular liquor in Panama. Someone told me that it’s 80 proof. Not sure if that’s true as it didn’t taste THAT strong when I tried it. It’s sugarcane that’s been double distilled.

For me, a shot of Seco Herrerano tasted better than a shot of rum.

Usually, Panamanians drink it with some other liquid like fruit juice or Coke.

Seco Herrano is also super cheap. You can get a small bottle in the supermarket for $2 – $3.

Final Thoughts

Those are the 32 foods and drinks that you should try during your trip to Panama.

Which ones are my absolute favorite?

Here are my favorite dishes in Panama:

  1. ceviche
  2. corvina
  3. guisado de res
  4. el mono
  5. arepa
  6. cocada

Which Panamanian dish are you most excited to try?

If you’ve been to Panama, which dishes have you tried?

PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting travel insurance. During my travels over the past 2 years, I’ve been using SafetyWing for my insurance. They’re very affordable for all ages, and digital nomads can use their insurance long-term.

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32 top dishes and drinks to try when traveling in Panama
32 Dishes and Drinks to Try While in Panama


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About the Bamboo Traveler

The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

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