Homemade Panamanian Mafá


Near my home in Panama there was a “tienda”,  a dry cleaners, the “55” (some sort of mini market belonging to Enrique and his wife Elsa), a chicken slaughterhouse (led by Enrique’s brother) and a large store for building materials and knickknacks (our favorite place for buying mother’s day presents with our precarious savings), all run by Chinese families, the fruit of the landing in Panama of the first Chinese, who arrived on March 30, 1854, aboard the Sea Witch.

I used to visit the tienda very often. Just a few cents were enough to make a very good purchase: chewing gum, chocolates, candies and cookies were all there waiting for me. Many of these products were to me as Panamanians as the Seco Herrerano, but reveal themselves as another expression of how multicultural my dear Panama really is.

A clear example of this are the Mafás, one of my favorites. Twisted bread-like snacks that cost no more than 5 cents back in the day (yes, I’m that old…). Its real name is Máhuā (麻花), which means twisted, and is a very popular snack in the Beijing-Tianjin area, although likely to be consumed throughout the country.

Here’s the recipe, and I don’t know if nowadays the Panamanian version follows the same recipe that I found, but to me they tasted just the same…

I hope you like them too.


  • 60 g bread flour
  • 60 g cake flour
  • 50 g Water
  • 25 g Sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
  • Oil for frying (preferably peanut)


Measure the ingredients and sift the flours.

Put all ingredients in a bowl and start mixing lightly with chopsticks or knives, then knead with your hands until the dough is no longer floury. It should be smooth and cohesive.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, it will be very elastic. Now it’s time to shape it into an oval and divide it into equal portions. With these quantities, you will get about 6 pieces, but you may double this recipe without any problem.

Roll each portion into a ball and open a hole in the middle of it (Keep the dough you’re not working on covered to prevent it from drying out).IMG_6015

Use your fingers to slowly stretch the hole, forming a ring with the dough of slightly less than 1 cm thick. The thinner, the better.

IMG_6016The ring must be about 30 to 40 cm long. Then hold both ends and start twisting, tighter and tighter, until  the point when you bring the ends together, and it becomes twisted on its own.

To close it and avoid them to open while frying, just put one end in the ring on the other end.

Deep fry the sticks slowly in fairly cool oil, for about 5 to 6 minutes, depending on their thickness; just make sure to cook them thoroughly to harden them.

When they are golden brown, take them out of the pan and drain the excess oil on paper towels. IMG_6019


Adapted from: https://washoku.guide/recipe/948413

12 Replies to “Homemade Panamanian Mafá”

  1. Gracias por la receta y la historia. Me hizo viajar en el tiempo y visitar el pequeno centro comercial en la entrada de mi barriada, en Juan Diaz!

  2. A) I love your website. Mi esposo desde Panamá! We are raising our daughter with both of our cultures, so it’s important that I learn to cook Panamanian food.
    B) Do you have any idea if this recipe would work with gluten-free flour?

    1. ¡Hola Pamela! Thanks a lot for your comment. Me alegro mucho de que te guste mi web 😊 I’m not 100 % sure if it will work without gluten. You should try a small batch and see how it goes. I know gluten free cake flour works almost as the regular flour. As for the bread flour, there must be a good substitute too.
      Give it a try and please let me know how it went.
      Thanks again for your comment. Hasta pronto! Un saludo

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