Produce is generally cheap here in Panama compared to the US because most of the produce we buy in Panama is grown here. Most of the fruits and vegetables that I eat, except for the gala apples that I buy at PriceMart, are grown here.
Normally, I buy my fruits and vegetables at the farmers' market or the municipal market, but it was torn down and it is now in the process of being rebuilt for a few months. When its ready, I will go back to the two vendors where I bought everything because is it a pleasure to deal with the folks who grow the produce. The way it worked from the day I came here, up to the time when they tore down the building to make it much larger to accommodate more, is basically, the farmers have little stalls or booths, which are probably around 4 feet by 10 feet, depending on their location within the building.
You can also buy meat at the farmers' market. The meat gets cheaper as the day goes on because they do not have any refrigerators. You will actually see the carcass hanging from a hook and they custom butcher it for you. The vendors know that they have to sell what they have towards the end of the day because of the refrigeration issues, and they do a good job at doing that.
The price of the vegetables here in Panama is substantially less expensive than in the US and the meat is somewhat less expensive. I am a former 91R20, which means that I was trained as a food inspector by the United States Army, so buying meat that is carved out of a carcass is something I would not want to do, and as a result, I do not buy the meat at the farmers market. I only buy the fresh produce.
One of the nice things about going to Habla Ya (Spanish school) here in Boquete is that Lorena, our teacher, took us out to go shopping. She said, “OK, let’s get up and go shopping. The first thing you need to know is how to go shopping.” So we first went to Romero’s, which is a big supermarket chain in Panama. We toured the aisles, and she taught us the words we need to say to buy the things we want to buy. Then she took us to the farmers' market and introduced us to the two vendors, Mediana and Jorge, who are the vendors that I continue to deal with to this day.
When you go to Romero’s you will find a wide selection of goods because there is a significant expat community here in Boquete so both Romero’s and El Rey (which has the same parent company as Romero’s) has items that expats have asked them to bring in. The Super Baru, which is another supermarket here, has what we lovingly call “the gringo corner”, which has all the items that you cannot find anywhere else.
The farmers' market is the least expensive; it is about 10% to 20% less expensive than the stores. The produce in the farmers market are not all washed and polished. When you buy a tomato at Romero’s it is bright, shiny and washed, whereas if you buy from the farmers market, you need to go home and still wash the tomato. The supermarkets here in Panama are around 30% less expensive than the supermarkets in the US. But you will not get a big bargain on things like Campbell soup because they basically sell unit price across the world. Where you will get your biggest bargains are on things that are produced in Panama.