Across South America, variations of almojábanos and almojábanas abound, from fluffy baked rolls to rice flour fritters. But only in Panama is there a four-day festival celebrating the snack, which in this country is shaped like an S and eaten all day long: first for breakfast, then later as a side dish with a bit of smoked pork.
Technically, the festival celebrates almojábanos con queso, which in Panama means a salty, white cheese. It goes into a bright yellow dough made from milled corn, water, and salt. The fritter is always rolled by hand—first into a tube, then pinched in two places to make the customary curl, which mimics the shape of Panama. Hot from the fryer, the cheese should stretch when the crispy exterior is broken.
Every January, thousands of people flock to the northern district of Dolega to indulge in the traditional cheese curl, which is sold by dozens of vendors, each using their unique family recipe. Over the years, the festival has incorporated more elements of folklore, with groups arriving from across the country to play Panamanian music, perform traditional dances, and to ride in a parade with ox-pulled floats.