We also have all kinds of vegetables. There are roots that people like to eat in their soup like ñame, otoe, and other staple foods that are unique to Panama. We also have yuca, which people fry up like French fries, and which make a delicious breakfast. There are also bananas, plantains and all kinds of good stuff.
If you go to the market, you’ll get a good deal on all these items. The supermarkets charge a bit more but these items are fresher in the markets.
In Panama, there is a difference between what we call “supermarkets” and what we call “markets.” We have supermarkets, which are the big chains like Super 99 and El Rey. We also have the high- end supermarket called Riba Smith, which sells international goods. The supermarkets sell the same produce as you’ll find in the markets (defined below), only that they are packaged and they cost a little more.
The supermarkets here in Panama are similar to an average American supermarket, except that we have little more variety. Let’s say you are going to a US supermarket and you buy a head of romaine lettuce. Here, romaine will be a little harder to find, and it might cost you a little bit more. But if you look at the full spectrum, because you are adding the whole variety of tropical fruits found here, you’ll find a bit more variety than you would Stateside and the goods overall are cheaper. A pineapple that might cost US $5 in the States, would cost only 99 cents here in Panama. Mangoes can cost as much as $3 - $4 each in the States, yet here, mangos just spoil on the side of the road during mango season. You can practically go to the side of the road and pick some up.
The markets, as opposed to the supermarkets, are the stalls (pictured above). Sometimes the government sets up an area for the stalls in specific places. The vendors in the stalls get the produce directly from the farmers, which is why it is cheaper and fresher. The difference is, in the supermarkets, you’ll shop in a building and you use your shopping cart, whereas, in a market, there is a lot of noise, but it is quite an experience because people negotiate and deal there. When you go to the market, you are supposed to bargain. If you like that kind of action and you want to get immersed in the Panamanian culture, you should definitely check it out. They are open to tourists, too. They won’t treat you in a weird way. If you try with whatever Spanish you may or may not have, they will really appreciate it, and you will have a great time. It is really safe, but of course, I wouldn’t go with gold jewelry. If you go in just shorts and sneakers, no one will bother you and you’ll have a great time.