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Panama - Food and Drink
The majority of Panamanian main meals consist of meat, coconut rice and beans. This is often accompanied by some vegetables such as squash or yucca. This type of dish is known as "casado". Fresh seafood is very popular as well, while mango and coconut are served with many dishes. Traditional dishes include "sancocho", which is a stew that is usually made of vegetables and chicken. Other popular dishes include "empanadas", which is pastries made from corn or flour and filled with potatoes or cheese and meat, "Carimanola", which is a dish that includes meat and boiled eggs served in a fried yucca roll, and finally "tamales", which is corn dough filled with meat, boiled and served in banana leaves.
Seafood dishes are a trademark of many restaurant menus. The word "panama" can be translated as "abundance of fish" and some of the most common fish dishes include sea bass, red snapper and calamari. Some fish dishes are served "al ajillo" which is with a garlic sauce or "a la espanola", which means that it is sautéed with onions and tomatoes. Some of the more expensive restaurants also offer lobster and jumbo shrimp, but these have become expensive dishes as supplies are generally low.
Common snacks include "yuca frita", which is fried yuca root that tastes similar to French fries, with a tropical twist, and plantains which can be served in several different ways. "Gallo pinto" is a dish of rice and beans which may also be served with pork. "Ceviche" is a dish of fish and onion which is marinated in lemon juice. It is usually made from sea bass, but in some restaurants it is also served with octopus or shrimp.
Typical dessert in Panama is "tres leches cake", which is a cake that has been soaked in three different types of milk cream - sweetened, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Other desserts include a Panamanian version of snow cones, which can be found at many street vendors.
Expats who move to Panama immediately realize that there are many local beers being produced, including Balboa, Soberana and Panama Cerveza. Local beers are very reasonably priced. The local brew of "seco" is very popular as well. This is a drink made from fermented sugar cane which can be blended with milk to reduce its potency and is mainly consumed in rural areas. It cannot be found so often in expensive restaurants. Fruit juice in Panama is referred to "chichas" and there are some local flavours such as "chicha con arroz y pina", which includes boiled pineapple skins and rice or "chicha de maranon", which is made from the fruit of the cashew tree.
Wine has never been the most popular drink in Panama, but Spanish, American and Chilean wines can be found on the wine lists of most restaurants. Wine connoisseurs usually find the chilled red wine an acquired taste, but in Panama it is common to serve it this way.
Meal times are similar to those in North America, with most people having breakfast between 7 am and 8 am, while lunch is served in most eateries from 12 noon to 2pm and the evening meal is eaten any time between 7 pm and 10 pm. Those who live in small towns should know that most restaurants close around 9 pm or even earlier.
Restaurants in Panama are very casual affairs, but it is possible to find some that offer elegant dining. As more and more US citizens make Panama their home, the number of fast food outlets is increasing. It should be noted that all restaurants and bars in the country have banned smoking indoors although there are some smoking areas located outside.
Shopping in Panama
Panama is considered a duty-free country and many people come in order to save some money on designer items and luxury goods, although the prices in local towns are even higher than the shops that can be found at the airport. Locally produced goods that are popular among shoppers include jewelry made by Panamanian Indians, leather goods, handicrafts and pottery. There are several handcraft markets which are popular within tourists.
Most shops in the country are open from 9 am to 8 pm from Monday to Friday, although there are some supermarkets which are open 24 hours a day, and they are mainly located in the larger cities. Most shops accept all the major credit cards, traveller’s cheques in US dollars and cash, although it may be cash only shopping in rural areas and in some of the smaller shops.
Panama City has a number of shopping complexes, including the "Flamingo Centre" and the shopping avenue at Via Espana. In both locations there is a range of shops available from those selling locally made items such as crafts to some famous designer goods. "Multiplaza Pacific" is considered to be a quite expensive shopping mall, but it is still very popular. The "Multicentro" mall is famous for the number of boutiques it houses and the "Albrook Mall" is for low budget outlet-type shoppers.
In recent years, Panama has strengthened its regulations on consumer rights. Consumers have the right to purchase goods that are fit for purpose and that will not cause them any harm. They have the right to complain to the seller if the goods do not match the descriptions that are previously given or good that are faulty. The sellers have the right to an answer within a fixed period of time. For advice with any problems, there are several organizations which can be contacted anytime. One of these is the Panamanian Institute of Consumer and User Rights (+507 390 8899) and another is the Unión Nacional de Consumidores y Usuarios de la República de Panamá (UNCUREPA), which is for Spanish-speakers.
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