The signature dish of Panama is sancocho, and its full name is sancocho de gallina Panameño. There are several variations and unique versions of sancocho that can be tasted throughout all of Latin America, but it is beloved most of all in Panama. This delicious stew is a staple for all meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack, comfort food, hangover cure – whenever you need it, it’s there for you. Sancocho is regarded almost as an elixir of life in Panama. So what makes it so special?
Panamanian sancocho originated in the Azuero region of the country, and Panamanians swear by eating a bowl of the hot soup for lunch on the hottest days, to help cool off.
Local Panamanian chef Francisco Castro swears that cilantro is the not-so-secret ingredient that makes Panamanian sancocho the best of all – it’s the most distinct of all the tastes that can be discerned within the stew, even more than the chicken, corn cob, pepper, garlic, oregano, and onion.
To eat sancocho the Panamanian way, it is served with white rice on the side. Sometimes, the rice is mixed into the soup; or you can take a bite with each spoonful of soup. It is often accompanied by the much-loved patacones, fried plantains, which are another staple in the Panamanian diet.
While the Panamanian sancocho is packed with flavor, it is almost never spicy. Panamanians don’t love spicy foods, and most dishes are blander than they are zesty. Sancocho is usually a light brown color because of the root vegetables that are used in the stew. In the town of La Chorrera, you will find sancocho chorrerano, a variation of the soup that is the exception to the rule about spice, as it’s made with chili peppers and ñame (yam). The Chiriqui version of sancocho, known as sancocho chiricano, is made of an entire garden of ingredients, including squash. If your sancocho is yellow or orange in appearance, you can expect to taste pumpkin or squash.