While there are supermarkets in Panama, my family members, for the most part, shop at the many little corner stores that can be found all over Panama. Some of these stores are like little mini marts where you can walk around. Some of them are fenced in (for the shop keeper's safety) so that you can go up and ask for what you want but you can't walk around to browse. In Panamá Viejo and in other poorer areas in Panama, people tend to shop just for the meal they are about to eat. At my Tía's house we sometimes shopped for a meal later on in the day but only if we needed to work on it throughout the day. The reason for this I believe is because the refrigerators that my family have, as well as other poorer families, are smaller versions of what we use here in the U.S.
Yaya's refrigerator is stocked much differently than my refrigerator here. In my refrigerator I have a bunch of junk that hopefully I will use but realistically I know that a bunch will get tossed out after a while. Yaya's fridge stores mostly water in various types of pitchers so that there will always be something cool to drink. There is also a bit of butter for bread but it really doesn't hold much more than that. The freezer portion of the fridge at my house stores tons of frozen meat that I buy in bulk at Costco. At Yaya's house it stores some ice and that is it. They wouldn't dream of buying meat to freeze it - it wouldn't be fresh when they ate it!
Where my Tía Yaya lives in Panamá Viejo, there are 3 different little stores that we shopped in throughout the day each and every day. The store that we frequented the most is the one across the street. It is the Panadería Azul.
At one point in time, you could walk around the Panadería Azul and then go up to pay for your purchases when you were done. Due to the high volume of crime though, it has been boarded up on one allowing people to only enter in one area. At the entrance, you are greeted by a counter with iron bars that reach to the ceiling. You have to order at the counter to get what you want at this store. The store opens at 6:30 am and we are there shortly after that to get piping hot bread and juice to have for breakfast. One morning as I was buying bread, a man was buying his breakfast foods. His order included 1 egg, 2 pieces of bread, and a pint of juice. Shopping like this is so different than how I usually shop! My order was 4 pieces of hot yummy bread, 2 small juices - jugo de manzana y jugo de pera, a package of galletas de limon for Sabina and I think the total was 55 cents - wow!
The second store that the family shops at in Panamá Viejo is at El Rambo. This store is 1 block away. A rougher crowd is to be found here since it is a bus stop and there is a laundromat next door to it. Purchases made at El Rambo include laundry detergent and meat.
The third store is 3 blocks away and that is my store. It was the only place that I could find in Panamá Viejo where I could find bottled water! Yaya's fridge stored lots of water but I opted for the bottled water instead. I ended up storing it in the freezer section of Yaya's fridge since it was mostly empty.
There are plenty of big supermarkets to be found in Panamá that are very similar to our grocery stores here in the US. In fact, at one point I completely forgot that I was in Panama when I went down the cereal aisle at the Super 99.
You can choose from Rey, El Machetazo, Super99, and a fancy one called Riba Smith. I had to check Riba Smith out because I remembered that Melissa mentioned that she liked this one! My family does do some shopping at these supermarkets but only if they happen to be out and about around town.
The Specialty Markets:
El Mercado de Abasto:
This market carries all kinds of produce.
Not only does it carry a big variety but it carries VOLUMES of each item. I couldn't believe that there was SO MUCH of EVERYTHING there.
The market has a slight smell of rotting produce but if you can get over that, there are lots of good finds both in price and quality. We bought a bag or oranges to make chicha de naranja with. A bag of 100 cost only $2.50!
There were so many amazing deals here.
El Mercado de Mariscos:
This is the Seafood Market. I was very eager to go here to see all of the seafood. I was especially excited about checking out the langostinos or HUGE SHRIMP that I love to eat in Panama.
This market also had an "interesting" odor (you can imagine!) but I loved it. As soon as I figured out that I need to tread carefully on the slick floors and neede to make sure I didn't let my clothes brush up against the fish, I fully enjoyed this experience.
There were more kinds of fish and seafood than can even remember for sale. There were HUGE fish and smaller ones.
Vendors were hard at work trying to persuade customers over to their booths to sell their fish.
It was a loud and busy place and I couldn't get enough of it.