Bread pudding is not something that we Americans consider one of our best or most sought-after treats. When a country has things like brownie sundaes or white chocolate-macadamia nut-toffee cookies, who even thinks about a bread pudding? The idea of using old bread to create a new dessert is just simply un-American. If we have old ingredients we throw them out. If we have potential extra bread, we make a three-tiered sandwich instead (club sandwich, anyone?). Old world cultures are the ones who created new from old, who recycle their daily bread to use it the next day as toast, bread crumbs, or to sweeten-up as a bread pudding. Being that I was raised on chocolate chip cookies, muffins, and cupcakes, my experiences with bread puddings are relatively new. I cannot say that it is a favorite of mine, but I am always intrigued by it when seen on a menu or glaring at me from the pastry counter. I am curious to know what is in this or that version, what texture it is going to have, and whether or not it will be served with whipped cream, ice cream, or straight up.

Panama is a country seriously lacking lacking in the delicious-decadent-dessert department. Sweets here tend to be too sugary, cooked with oil or margarine instead of real butter, and are often too crumbly (in more of a sandy way that a streusel way) to even keep themselves together. I rarely turn down a sweet, but in Panama have found that they rarely entice me and almost never satisfy my hankering for a sinful, post-savory finish. But there is one contender.

The bread pudding in Panama is known as a mamallena, a stuffed mama, which is how you feel after devouring one of these hugely-portioned dense pieces. The mamallena has a texture different to other countries’ bread puddings. Let me elaborate.

Mamallena is not eggy, it is not cakey, it is not bready. A mamallena is mushy, spongy, and resilient. I am assuming it is the quantity of sugar used that makes the mamallena so glutenous.

Take a bite, but don’t chew yet! Use your tongue to press the mama against your upper palate in an attempt to break her mushiness into digestible pieces and you will find yourself hard-pressed. The mama does not yield to this force; she maintains her integrity. It will become evident that you will need to masticate the mama to get her down to swallowable morsels. Her toothsome, dense, and sugary bite is most satisfying only when an enormous bite is taken, which is fine as here in Panama mouthfuls tend to be no smaller than the circumference of the consumer’s wide-open mouth. Take a big, nasty bite and have a good time bouncing your teeth up and down, breaking the mama into bits and pieces with a possible surprise of a raisin, a maraschino cherry, or some fruitcake-esque dried fruit bits. On a world scale, the mamallena does not make the list of Tastiest Bread Puddings, but in reference to Panamanian desserts, she is your best bet for a satisfying sweet treat.

Where to get ’em/ How to find ’em: The best mamallena found yet is at the Panadería Avila located in an area known as the 24 de Diciembre. On your way out of the city towards the east (i.e. Darien or San Blas trips) have the bus stop at the Super X-tra in the 24 de Diciembre. When you get off the bus, the large supermarket will be in front of you and the bakery right behind you (a little over your right shoulder). If you aren’t headed east, most local bakeries have some sort of mamallena on offer. They are cheap, so give it a try and if it is of poor quality, you are only about 50 cents lighter.