Recipe: Panamanian Corn Tortillas

Cooked hominy tortilla

If there is something that I have eaten the most in my life I can probably mention 5 main ingredients and one of them is certainly corn. Both my grandmothers make tamales, bollos, empanadas and tortillas. While growing up my traditional Sunday breakfast would consist of seasonal fruits, hot tea, two proteins and 2 fried foods, maybe one tortilla and an empanada, or a tortilla and a carimañola (fried stuffed yuca empanada). The two proteins were either eggs and cheese, or cheese and meat. The vegetarian/vegan options: beans and dairy-free cheese. A good tortilla can be eaten on its own as it should taste like pure corn and a touch of queso fresco.

When I first came to DC many folks asked me why I talked so much about the Panamanian tortilla, why do I have to make it myself and can’t I just buy it at grocery stores. I haven’t found Panamanian tortillas in DC or NYC, nor when I visited the West Coast. I have found arepas (Venezuelan and Colombian corn dish) but the only ones that I’ve enjoyed are served at restaurants and not sold at grocery stores. I enjoy the Central American and Mexican tortillas, which you find everywhere, but they are something completely different than what I look for when craving a Panamanian tortilla.

I thought making my own tortillas would be very complicated since I never made them myself in Panama. My grandma visited (still does) during the weekends and would bring her tamales and tortillas so we never had to make them at home. I did help my grandma many times to make tamales back in Panama and it was a full day of work (she made by the hundreds), more on tamales soon, I really owe my grandma a tamal post!

I don’t own a food processor, but I borrowed one and then making the tortillas was then a piece of cake. Seriously, you HAVE to make these tortillas, if only for a one time brunch.

You can also grind the cooked corn in a traditional molino like this one, and I own one, but I wanted to experiment with the food processor, plus I don’t have the proper table to use a molino in my apartment.
molino para maiz panama

I have so much to share when it comes to corn and many anecdotes with my grandma’s corn dishes, but I’ll keep it short and go straight to the recipe.

maiz viejo cocido

Recipe for Panamanian Corn Tortillas
Makes 6-8 Tortillas

1 lb of uncooked Golden Hominy Corn (dried corn)
5 oz of queso fresco (creamy unaged cheese you can find even at Giant or Whole Foods)
3 tbs of unsalted butter (you could leave this out or use margarine/coconut butter)
Oil for deep frying (read notes for baking the tortillas instead)

1. You can leave the corn overnight soaking in water and rinse thoroughly before cooking in the pot.
2. I decided to make tortillas the same day I bought the ingredients so instead I rinsed the corn and then cooked it in a pot filled with water 2-3 inches above the surface of the corn. (Add some salt to the water like you do when cooking pasta).
3. Cook at medium-high heat (simmer) 50 mins-1 hour until corn looks more plumped and breaks softly when you bite into it, but not too soft.
4. You can get rid of the water once the corn it’s cooked or you could save it to make Chicha de Masa (another upcoming recipe post)
5. Once your corn is cooked and still warm, divide it in two parts to work it easier in the food processor, adding butter, cheese and salt.
6. If your masa (dough) is too dry, you can add a bit of the water to make it softer. (I prefer my dough a little on the drier side).
7. Taste the dough before you remove it from the processor, you need to make sure it has a touch of salt before frying them.
8. Once all the corn has been ground with the cheese, salt and butter, work it with your hands and shape* balls with an amount of 1/3 cup approximately of the dough to end up with tortillas 2.5″x2.5″
9. Once you have a few tortillas shaped it is a good moment to start frying them and serve immediately.

– It’s always better to eat the tortillas right after they’ve been fried, but you could also fry them all in advance and then reheat them at 425F in the oven for 3-4 minutes.
– Baked Tortillas: you can bake the tortillas in the oven 3-4 mins per side at 450F, they won’t get very crispy but they will still be delicious and without any oil.
– Shape them thin to make a Tortilla Sandwich, it’s wonderful and a different way to eat the tortillas.
– It made a difference to use a food processor over a molino, but it was pretty practical and the dough was still a bit crumbly the tortillas held their shape and fried just fine.
– You can add other ingredients to the masa, for my upcoming empanadas recipe I added herbs and spices, so get creative!

maiz molido panama

masa para tortilla


tortilla dough fritura

* Shaping the dough: When forming your balls of dough, you can shape it several ways, with a ball in your hand and going around with the fingers until getting the shape that you like, or you could put the ball between to plastic sheets and rolled out flat with a rolling pin. Once the dough is flat you can either push it forming it to look like a circle or cut with a big plastic container or anything that has a circle shape and an edge to use as a cutter.

tortilla masa shape

deep frying tortillas

Yuca and Corn Empanadas and Tortillas are among my most favorite fried foods.

tortilla panamena

This is how I had my tortillas fritas, as an open egg sandwich and a side of queso fresco and peaches.  Such a great brunch dish to start summer, highly recommended!

panamanian brunch tortilla


¡a comer!


  1. It is Oct 2023 & liked reading your story. On Sunday we would drive from Colon to Panama City to visit with majority of Family. I recall riding thru Panama with Uncle Leon looking for fresh ‘corn tortillas. Women on side walk with big black cast iron pot cooking tortillas. Leon would buy a bunch then we head to Bakery for Mecha(sp)/like mini French bread. Then home to eat. Maid would have Delicious coffee served & we all sat and chatted. Older sister visits & brought us a bag of Tortillas from Panama. They where ok but not as tasty as fresh from the women on the side walks. You have to wake & find Very Early in the morning before all Sold Out. Happened to us one Sunday. Yes, living there in 40’s-50’s was the best memories.

  2. Hi, what type of queso you mixed with the corn is queso fresco or cheddar cheese while grinder the corn thanks

  3. If you can’t find queso fresco at your grocery store, you could use ricotta, or just leave the cheese out altogether. I have done it without cheese and served it with a nice salty melting cheese or cheddar if you prefer intensity :)

  4. how lovely, thanks for sharing that memory with me. If there was something I wish would go mainstream where I live (Maryland, US) it would be tortillas. haha Pan micha! yes like a mini French bread, for sure a classic for breakfast too in Panama. Making me miss my motherland!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *