Panamanian cuisine is a mix of African, Spanish, and Native American techniques, dishes, and ingredients, reflecting its diverse population. Since Panama is a land bridge between two continents, it has a large variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs that are used in native cooking.
Typical Panamanian foods are mildly flavored, without the pungency of some of Panama's Latin American and Caribbean neighbors. Common ingredients are maize, rice, wheat flour, plantains, yuca (cassava), beef, chicken, pork and seafood.
Corn-based dishes come from the kernel, cooked in water and then ground in order to obtain a dough (as opposed to using corn flour to obtain the dough). Fresh corn is also used in some dishes. Due to the multicultural background of the Panamanians, many of its dishes are heavily influenced by the cuisine of other Latin American countries and also the Caribbean as well as European. Some of the main meals, dishes and specialties include:
Bollos – corn dough wrapped in nahuala palm leaves, corn husk or plantain leaves and boiled. There are two main varieties: fresh corn bollos (bollos de maíz nuevo) and dry corn bollos. The dry corn type is sometimes flavored with butter, corn, or stuffed with beef, which is called bollo "preñado" (lit. "pregnant bollo"). Bollos have been described as a type of tamale.
Carimañola – similar to an empanada, but made from yuca and stuffed with beef
Traditional coffee drying at the Alto Boquete plant of Cafe Ruiz, Boquete, Panamá
In Panama there were bars that catered to local businessmen, tourists and gamblers and some that were frequented by US military personnel. The latter mostly had a reputation as "shot and beer" dives with unknown names. One of these bars, Kresch's Place published a drink recipe book. Several of the drinks are named after bases, submarines, forts, ships and other military institutions. The "U.S.S. 44 Special" was Old Tom gin, sloe gin and lime juice. The U.S.S. Mallard was aged rum (Panamanian, Venezuelan and Colombian), red vermouth, Bénédictine, absinthe, Angostura bitters garnished with lemon peel. The cover of the recipe book shows soldiers, sailors and an Army officer drinking.
Fresh fruit juices (licuados or jugos naturales) – pineapple, passionfruit, papaya, orange, tree tomato, etc. are prepared by blending fresh fruit and straining; typically heavily sweetened and optionally with condensed milk added
Malteada – a malted eskimo-like milkshake without ice cream
Aji chombo – a hot pepper grown in local regions
The traditional Panamanian dish for Christmas usually includes chicken tamales, arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), puerco asado, pernil, pavo (turkey), and relleno (stuffing). Bowls of fruits and fruitcake are set out on the tables along with the dishes. Along with these foods and dessert, a traditional drink is served called Ron Ponche (eggnog), and different recipes are available. An easy one consists of two cans of condensed milk, three cans of evaporated milk, six eggs, and a half a bottle of rum and nutmeg for some extra flavor.