Looking for authentic Panamanian food? Try ceviche. The traditional Latin American dish consists of fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juice, usually lemon or lime, and spiced with chili peppers. Other seasonings include onion, salt, and pepper. Ceviche may be accompanied by sweet potato, lettuce, corn, or avocado and is served chilled. Ceviche is delicious, nutritious, and most importantly, one of Panama’s most authentic dishes.
Ceviche in Panama is usually presented in two different forms — Panamanian and Peruvian. In Peru, ceviche is served with corn on the cob or cold sweet potatoes. It’s made with chunks of raw fish marinated in lemon juice, lime juice or bitter orange juice. Chili, sliced onion, salt and pepper are often added and maybe some garlic, chili rocoto or olive oil.
In Panama, ceviche is typically prepared with white sea bass (corvina) and is served in small pastry shells. The sea bass is combined with onion, celery, salt, habanero pepper, and lime juice to create a local delicacy. Other Panama ceviches recipes feature shrimp (camarones), octopus (pulpo) or a combination of the sea bass, shrimp, and octopus.
The difference between Panamanian and Peruvian ceviches are the cuts: Peruvian is more strips whereas Panamanian is cubes. The cooking process: Peruvian is almost always prepared and then served immediately whereas Panamanian is let to pickle for hours or days. Finally, the accouterment: Peruvian is served with camote (sweet potato), onion, and corn whereas Panamanian is almost always just onion and herbs.
Here is a foodie guide to Panama’s ceviche scene:
Cheapest Ceviche — Fish Market — El Mercado de Mariscos (San Felipe, Panama). The Fish Market brings you straight to the source. There is a restaurant located on the second floor. Wait times are a bit long. However, the prices are reasonable and it has the freshest ceviche in town.
But, if you are looking for the cheapest (but still delicious) ceviche, head to the main entrance on the first floor. A couple local ladies scoop you dixie-cup sized fresh ceviche for $1-$3.
Best Value – La Jarana (San Francisco, Panama). An undiscovered traditional Peruvian restaurant that few know about. The ceviche portions are overly generous and prices are a bargain. La Jaran is one of the best value restaurants in all of Panama and their presentation would impress the most purist of ceviche lovers.
Most Innovative – Ciao Pescao (Plaza Bolivar, Casco Viejo). Ciao Pescao offers an extensive list of creative ceviche presentations. Their innovative ceviche combinations transform the sometimes uneventful fish dish into something glamorous. The different styles include Oriental, Mexcian, Spanish, just to name a few.
Personally, I like to order one Panamanian and one Peruvian style ceviche. It’s like a head-to-head face off to taste which one of the founding ceviche countries es lo mejor (better). On most days, Peru’s ceviche is victorious (sorry Panama), but you can decide for yourself.
Funkiest – Ego. Try the fried ceviche. (Plaza Bolivar, Casco Viejo) Sounds funky, but the taste will be surprising. The fish pieces are lightly floured, deep fried, then tossed in a lime and chili potion. The crust picks up the texture of buffalo wings, crunchy but soggy. Sounds funky? Remember funky is good.
Inspired to cook ceviche en tu casa (at your home)? Here’s how.
PTY’ers: Is there any ceviche haunts or dishes that I missed? If so, comment below.