My mom-in-law was in the process of making a big meal for a family member's party when she realized she didn't like the potatoes she was using. They weren't coming out right for whatever it was she was making (I think potato salad). She asked if I'd drive her over to the market real quick. I've seen these markets all over the place, but I'd never been to the one in Rio Abajo. It's so amazing how these things just pop up on the weekends and disappear by Monday.
It's these markets that help make Panama such an affordable place. It's kind of hard to see in the photo above, but the pieces of cardboard sticking up have the prices marked on them, so there's no need to haggle and hope you're being offered the true price instead of gringo inflated prices. Plus, scales were readily available at the Rio Abajo market, so you can check the prices yourself. You can bring your own reusable bag if you'd like, or you can take your purchases home in one of the vendor supplied plastic bags.
If you can learn to pick up all of your fruits, vegetables, rice, and other items at these outdoor markets, you can save quite a bit of money. You can find all of this stuff at the supermarkets, but I'm telling you, if you buy your bananas at Riba Smith, you're not cutting costs, you're shopping for convenience.
If you look at the photo above, you can see what my mom-in-law picked up for $8.50. I was surprised when she told me the price because that seems a bit costly to me, but I think potatoes are among the more expensive produce here. I've heard of people leaving these markets with huge bags full of tomatoes for very inexpensive.
Sometimes, at least here in the city, you'll hear someone shouting through a megaphone and wonder what the hell is going on outside. It sounds like someone is announcing an air raid of some sort. Usually this is just another of Panama's entrepreneurs taking to the street to provide you with your necessities. Pickup trucks stuffed with pineapples, mangoes, melons, and a variety of vegetables often drive up and down the streets, bringing your dinner side dishes straight to your front door. Take advantage of these things. They're part of what makes Panama great.
A street-side vendor in Coronado
So if you're planning a trip to Panama, or if you're already here, don't be afraid to check out these local markets. You moved (or are planning to move) to Panama for a reason. You want to have a different lifestyle. Get out and do things the way Panamanians do them. I know they have these markets all over the isthmus. I've seen them set up in Coronado, El Valle, David, Boquete, and practically everywhere else. Learn to buy what you can at these markets and remember that when you do, you're helping out the farmers, these locals who put so much time and effort into gathering these items to bring them to you.
When you see the ladies sitting outside a mini-super selling bags of lentils or beans or cilantro, buy it from them. It's different here. I know you'd be a little bit weary of picking up a bag of vegetables from a dude sitting outside of a 7-11 back home, but it's just a way of life here, and for many Panamanians, especially in the interior, this is how they make their living. They're not supporting habits, they're supporting their families.
Thanks for reading,