I spent the first half of today...well, now yesterday morning at the Ministerio de Trabajo. That's the work ministry here in Panama. Being that I'm married, and going through the process of becoming a permanent resident here, and that I don't have the lifetime guaranteed permanent $1,000 per month income required to obtain the pensionado visa, I'm allowed to work here in Panama.
However, that means that every single year I have to fill out a bunch of paperwork, pay some fees, drop the paperwork off 3 months before my work license expires, then go in for an interview with my wife (which is a joke, they literally only asked the ages of my children and my address), then wait another month and a half for them to finish up with my paperwork so that I can visit them again and get my new work license. Needless to say it's a huge pain in the butt, and it has to be done every year for ten years straight (unless you become a citizen).
Anyways...that's not what I'm writing about...not really. Just needed to vent a little. What I'm really writing about is the cheap lunch I had at Plaza Edisson, which is where the Ministerio de Trabajo is located.
After going through the interview, we were in a bit of a rush to get my wife back to work, so we ran quickly into this little bakery there in the plaza. They were selling empanadas for 75 cents each. If you've never eaten an empanada, you should. They're usually either fried or baked pastries filled with carne (meat), pollo (chicken), queso (cheese), or sometimes you even find them with tuna or ham & cheese inside. I'm more of a fan of the flour empanadas, but the corn based ones are pretty good too.
These empanadas were fairly large. They come in all sizes depending on where you're buying them. My wife's lunch came to 75 cents since she just wanted a meat-filled empanada, and she was full afterwards. I paid $1.50 for two (a cheese filled and a meat filled), and I was satisfied.
One of the greatest things about Panama is the ability to pick up cheap treats like this. I was driving home from work (back when I was working full time) and there on the side of the road, at a traffic light, was a woman selling fresh coconut ice cream on a cone for 50 cents. And they were awesome. The best ice cream I've ever eaten. It was refreshing and absurdly cheap. Try getting a 50 cent cone at Baskin Robbins (they have those here too, though they rarely have 31 flavors...more like the same ten flavors three times in a row).
In Las Tablas, a little town on the Azuero Peninsula, mostly famous for their wild carnaval celebrations, my wife and I both had a full lunch for a total of $5. I'm talking rice, beans, soup, a little salad, chicken or meat, and juice. $2.50 each. That's nuts.
Now don't get me wrong. Panama isn't nearly as affordable as it used to be, but it's still possible to find these bargain buys all over the country. I bought a phone charger for my car for $3. Again, that's nuts.
Oh...if you're in Panama...my favorite empanadas, the best I've ever had, are served at a roadside shop on the Pan American Highway, at a place in Capira, called Quesos Chela. Their cheese empanadas are amazing. The arroz con piña (rice and pineapple) juice is great too. I have to warn you though, their service isn't outstanding. The place is always packed with people surrounding the counter, shouting out their orders, and the young men behind the counter are more likely to help the beautiful young woman who has just approached the counter than a guy like me who has been waiting patiently (happened to me). You get used to poor customer service here though (man...don't get me started on that...I'll never get to bed).
Goodnight and thanks for reading.