By James Bloomfield
Ah, the Mercado.
Hub of working class Panamanian life (especially in the early morning), this is one of my favourite places to spend an hour or so. I pretty much divide my time between shopping for vegetables and necessary household items (coconut oil, I’m looking at you!), chatting to stall owners, and eating at the insanely good value central cafe.
Inside, the mercado publico is divided into 4 or 5 main sections, each containing a separate type of food or product. Meat, vegetables, food stuffs like honey and coco rayado (shaved coconut), get their own sections, while a large food court dominates the center of the building. There are about 18 food stalls here, serving everything from fried fish to bistec, platanos to sweetened yuca, sancocho to lentejas (lentils).
There’s even a bank branch here, for those looking to fit in some serious savings amongst the serious shopping.
I love visiting the market with my flatmates, who are a goofy bunch at the best of times. Drop them into the middle of what is traditionally a purely Panamanian experience and it’s surprisingly easy to make friends. I was going to include a photo of one of our favourite vendors, Victor, who has been going to school again to learn arithmetic and basic counting skills. Unfortunately, he was very ill and his son had taken over for the week. Hopefully we will see him next week, well on the road to recovery.
If you’re going to try and save money on great quality produce and escape the somewhat soulless grind of shopping at El Rey, Riba Smith, or Super 99, this can be a wonderful way of reacquainting yourself with the reason why you leave the house to do that whole “shopping” thing. It’s a great experience and nearly everyone we meet is incredibly friendly and patient with our ridiculousness, as well as helping us to learn more about the produce itself. The juice ladies are particularly close to our hearts, with any drink labelled “Siete Potencias” or “Boroja Fuerza” destined to become firm favourites.
Go and visit today. You’ll love it and learn a bunch – about the city, Panamanians, and also how to save money on your shopping. GO NOW!