Eating

In Panama City the range of food available is very broad with a profusion of restaurants and well-stocked supermarkets. In the interior tastes are simpler and available ingredients less varied. Most food is boiled or fried in vegetable oil (usually soybean oil). Virtually every restaurant will have a
comida corriente
(meal of the day), which will include a serving of meat, chicken or fish, white rice and a salad, a dish of boiled beans garnished with a
tajada
(slice) of fried ripe plantain. It will cost about US$2 in towns, perhaps more in the city, less in villages. A bowl of
sopa de carne
(beef broth with vegetables) or
de pescado
(fish chowder) is usually available as a first course for US$0.50. Breakfast normally consists of eggs, a small beefsteak or a slice of liver fried
with onions and tomatoes, bread and butter and some combination of
frituras
.

The staple of Panamanian food is white rice, grown not in paddies but on dry land, and usually served at every meal, often with the addition of chicken, shrimp, vegetables, etc. Meat is usually fried (
frita
) or braised (
guisada
), rarely grilled except in the better restaurants. Beef is common; pork, chicken and the excellent fish are usually a better choice.

The national dish is
sancocho de gallina
, a stew of chicken, yuca,
ñame
(dasheen), plantain, cut-up pieces of corn on the cob, potatoes and onions and strongly flavoured with
culantro
, an aromatic leaf similar in flavour to coriander (
cilantro
).
Ropa vieja
('old clothes') is beef boiled or steamed until it can be shredded, then sautéed with onions, garlic, tomatoes and green or red peppers, often served with yellow rice (coloured with
achiote
). Piquant
ceviche
, eaten as a first course or a snack with cold beer, is usually raw corvina or shellfish seasoned with tiny red and yellow peppers, thin slices of onion and marinated in lime juice; it is served very cold with crackers (beware of the bite). A speciality of the Caribbean coast is
sao
, pigs' feet pickled with lime and hot peppers. Also try
arroz con coco
, coconut rice, or the same with
tití
, tiny shrimp; also
fufú
, a fish chowder with coconut milk.
Mondongo
is the stewed tripe dish called
menudo
in Mexico; the Panamanian version is less spicy, but very well seasoned.

Most
panaderías
sell good pastries: in Panama City most of the European standards are available; in the country, try
orejas
,
costillas
or
ma'mellena
('fills me up more', a sweet bread-pudding with raisins);
dulces
(of coconut, pineapple, etc), are cakes or pastries, not sweets/candies as elsewhere (the latter are
confites
). Among the items sold at the roadside you may see bottles stopped with a corncob, filled with
nance
, a strong-flavoured, yellow-green fruit packed with water and allowed to ripen and ferment slightly;
pifá/pixbae
, a bright orange fruit which, when boiled, tastes much like sweet potato (two or three will see you though to your next meal);
níspero
, the tasty, acidic yellow fruit of the chicle tree.

There are dozens of sweetened fruit drinks found everywhere in the country, making excellent use of the many delicious tropical and temperate fruits grown here:
naranja
(orange),
maracuyá
(passion fruit),
guayaba, zarzamora
(blackberry),
guanábana
, etc. The generic term is
chicha dulce
, which also includes drinks made with rice or corn. Most common carbonated canned drinks are available. Panamanian beer tends to be low in alcohol,
Panamá
and
Soberana
are the most popular locally.
Chicha fuerte
is the alcoholic form of corn or rice drink fermented with sugar, brewed mostly in the countryside. Sample with care. The local rum, for example
Carta Vieja
, is not bad.
Seco
, a harsh brand of 'white lightning' made from the juice of sugar cane, brand name
Herrerano
, deserves respect.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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