The College of Saint Rose and UDELAS in Panama

A partnership about education, culture and the exchange of ideas

Food, Music and Celebrations in Panamá


In Panama, you can come across McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts and other very Americanized cuisines.  However, if you look closely, you can discover true Panamanian cuisines within the malls, school cafeterias and a few other places like Niko’s Café.  Foods such as tostones (fried plantains) fish, shrimp, white rice, fried and grilled chicken, meat empanadas, churros, and fruit such as pineapples, bananas, apples and melons, are all very common foods to encounter at any Panamanian restaurant.  Below is a picture of the meal we received when visiting Fundación San Felipe, a school children are able to take classes, but also a place where children go for lunch because they are unable to afford food at their schools.  It was a hotdog topped with lettuce, ketchup and mustard.

During the week I talked to many different and interesting Panamanians to compile research for this blog.  A student from the drug therapy program at the university UDELAS, Eduardo, told me a typical day would consist of tostones, eggs and orange juice (which tastes like SunnyD) for breakfast; chicken and rice for lunch; meat and soda for dinner; and popcorn and milk right before bed.  Another man, Julio, said he usually had emparedados (sandwiches) of cheese and ham with a glass of orange juice for breakfast; soup, rice, pineapple and jugo natural (all natural juice) for lunch; and macarones (spaghetti) with chicken, salsa pomodoro (marinara sauce) and fresh fruit such as pineapple again for dinner.

Music is important in the Panamanian culture.   There is a wide range and variety of music listened to here in Panama, just as there is in the United States.  Eduardo preferred Spanish romantic music and Panamanian artists such as El Roockie, Angel Phas, Danger Man, and El Kid.  Julio also listened to suave and romantic Spanish music and artists such as Myrian Hernandez, which when I listened I thought she was a Spanish Celine Dion.  My co-workers at the accounting office at the university also listen to romantic music by artists like Carlos Baute and Marta Sanchez.

Other university students I met whose names where Yaritzel, Yetzabeth and Eylin told me they liked to listen to tranquila (relaxing) Spanish music like the group, Camila, and also other American artists like Chris Brown and Justin Beiber.  Who knew Panamanians had the ‘Beiber Fever’ too?! Additionally, the eighth graders at a local school, IPA, said they listen to artists such as Lady Gaga, Linkin Park, Paramore, Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus.

However, the nightlife music is very different.  DJs play more Spanish reggaeton, salsa and meringue music with artists such as Daddy Yankee and Don Omar.  One of my favorite songs that I discovered here in Panama is Danza Kuduro by Don Omar.  To my surprise, DJs also play house, hip hop and rap music from the US with artists such as JaRule, Enrique, 50 Cent, Wiz Khalifa and Ludacris.  Listen to Danza Kuduro here:

As for the celebrations here in Panama, Eduardo and Julio both said biggest and most important celebration that is celebrated by all the people in the country is Separation Day and Flag Day, which is the 3rd and 4th of November.  Eduardo said he also celebrated Colon Day, Panama’s Columbus Day, which takes place on November 5th and Valentine’s Day which is the same day in the US, February 14th.  Julio added that he celebrated Christmas on December 25th, and his birthday on April 30th.

I also decided to research Panama’s celebrations and holidays that the country acknowledges that didn’t come to Eduardo and Julio at the time of the interviews.  The website informed me that the country celebrates thirteen public holidays listed below:

January 1 – New Year’s Day
January 9 – Martyr’s Day
Monday Before Ash Wednesday – Carnival Monday
Tuesday Before Ash Wednesday – Carnival Tuesday
Friday of Holy Week – Holy Friday (Death of Christ)
May 1 – Labor Day
November 3 – Separation Day
November 4 – Flag Day
November 5 – Colon Day
November 10 – The Uprising in the Villa de Los Santos
November 28 – Independence Day
December 8 – Mother’s Day
December 25 – Christmas

Some of the holidays as you can see are similar to the holidays we have in the United States such as Labor Day, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Day, Flag Day and Independence Day.  As for the other holidays, I decided to research more as to how they came to be and its significance to the people of Panama.

Martyr’s Day is celebrated every January 9th and is a Panamanian holiday which commemorates the January 9th, 1964 riots over sovereignty of the Panama Canal Zone.  The riot began after the Panamanian flag was torn during the conflict between the Panamanian high school students from Instituto Nacional and the Canal Zone Police officers, over the right of the Panamanian flag to be flown alongside the US flag.  The US used powerful guns and grenades or projectiles containing tear gas which ended up killing and injuring many innocent Panamanian people.  This holiday is the day to remember the people who lost their lives and suffered from the riot.

Carnival celebrations originated in the early 1900s, take place four days prior to Ash Wednesday.  Work comes to a complete stop for the week and many restaurants, stores and even bars close so everyone can take part in the parades and other celebration festivities.

Separation Day began November 3rd, 1903 when Panama formally separated from Columbia and established the Republic of Panama.

The Uprising in Villa Los Santos that is celebrated every November 10th is the day that the citizens of Los Santos in Panama’s southernmost province declared their independence from Spain in the year 1821.

In conclusion, one can see how there are many similarities and differences between the Panamanian and American culture.  From early mornings of 5am (schools start promptly at 7am), the clothes (pants are the norm even in 95 degree weather), to the food and music, I believe this week I am finally becoming more accustomed to the way Panamanians eat, act, and go about their lives each and every day.



  Anita wrote @

Hi Lauren, Very interesting. Similar holidays. Was surprised to see they have Mothers day but not Fathers day.

  foxa488 wrote @

This is Abby’s blog, but I was also very surprised to see that Panamanians do not have Father’s Day!

  cziamandanis wrote @

What a ton of info on Panamanian culture! I also love Danza Kuduro. Did you know that reggeaton started in Panama, and not the DR or Puerto Rico? True!

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