Panama has a rich culinary history that visitors can explore during a visit to the country.
Its indigenous traditions are deeply rooted in the country’s epicurean heritage which has many layers. As Panama grew as a nation, the country developed its culinary traditions from many places around the world, including Spanish colonists, enslaved people arriving from Africa, Chinese railroad workers and the French, West Indians, Europeans and Americans who worked to construct the Panama Canal.
This exchange of ingredients has come to create unique and distinct Panamanian dishes that visitors can try in the country today.
Panama City has been designated a UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy and is home to a stellar bar scene, buzzing restaurants, traditional cart vendors and more. It is also a hotspot for young chefs, coming to debut their contemporary dishes that have been derived from Panama’s gastronomic traditions.
Visitors can visit Chef Ariel Zebede’s A to Z restaurant in Panama City where they will find an immersive, pop-up experience and a multicourse chef’s table tasting menu.
José Olmedo Carles Rojas is the executive chef at Fonda Lo Que Hay in Casco Viejo and La Barca y Los Náufragos at Eco Venao in Playa Venao. Fonda Lo Que Hay serves up a shareable menu filled with Panamanian dishes that have tantalizing names such as “Concolon Sexy,” pan-stuck fried rice.
Chef Patricia Miranda-Allen heads Cerro Brujo Gourmet, a restaurant in the rural city of Volcán. The establishment has been serving up sustainable gastronomy and dishes made with local vegetables from area farms since 1999.
The Chiriquí Highlands are known for another Panamanian tradition—coffee.
It’s the highest point in the country, and its rich volcanic soil and mild temperatures form the ideal environment for growing beans. Geisha, an Arabica bean brought to Panama from Ethiopia, is one of the region’s most recognized varieties.
Coffee farms, such as Don Pepe Estate Coffee, which was founded in 1898, offer tours for visitors.
Visitors can pair their coffee with another Panamanian treat—chocolate. Bocas del Toro is where cacao is grown and turned into confections sold throughout the country. At Nomé Chocolate in Panama City, visitors can enjoy a “bean to bar” lesson in the kitchen.
Travelers interested in Panama’s Indigenous communities can get to know their culinary traditions as well. The Emberá people permit scheduled tours of their village within the Panama Canal watershed and offer lunch to visitors.
Tours can also be arranged to visit with the Ngäbe-Buglé people and prepare dishes with the women of the village who are the cooks. These visits can be made through SOSTUR the Panamanian community tourism network, which promotes the strengthening and development of rural and community tourism enterprises in Panama.