La Chiricana - Straight from the interior of this country comes my favorite milk, the red and white box with the cow on the front, La Chiricana. This milk only comes "whole" so it's not the best option for anyone looking for fat free or slim. It comes in a Tetrapak, so it doesn't need to be refrigerated. I was a little bit weary about drinking milk that didn't need to be refrigerated, but my whole Panamanian family drinks it and I just eventually followed suit. All milk here tastes a little bit different from what I was used to back in the States. However, La Chiricana grew on me quickly. To this day, it's the only milk I can drink straight from a glass. I love milk, and this one, when cold, tastes great.
You'll notice the price tag in the photo. $1.35 for a quart of milk isn't cheap. Milk period isn't cheap in Panama. I'm not sure what a gallon goes for in the States, but I'm pretty sure it didn't cost over $5, which is what a gallon would cost if you picked up 4 of these cartons. I'll get to refrigerated milk in a second, but an actual gallon here costs about $4.65. I'm curious. Can someone reading this please comment on the cost of a gallon of whole milk wherever you're from?
Lactose Free Milk
Dos Pinos Brand Lactose Free Milk - If your'e lactose intolerant, like my wife, you won't find many lactose free options in Panama. Not unless you shop in speciality stores. You might find more options in stores like Deli Gourmet, which is like a mini-Whole Foods here. My wife has tried the couple of brands out there for lactose-free milk, and she swears by the one in the photo above. She likes the semidescremada, which is like semi-skimmed milk. It's her favorite, but again, not super cheap. $1.69 for this little carton isn't a great deal.
Since she doesn't drink whole glasses of milk and just uses it for coffee or cereal, it lasts a little longer than our family's whole milk, so it's ok.
Estrella Azule's D'oro milk - This is my favorite refrigerated milk and costs about $4.69 per gallon. I like the red La Chiricana milk better, but if I know that I want cold milk for something right away, or I can't find the other, or I just want to save a dollar on a gallon, I'll buy this one.
My biggest complaint with milk in Panama is that the taste isn't consistent. One gallon of this D'oro milk will taste great right out of the glass. Then, the next one I buy, might taste a little strange. Not bad, just not great all by itself. A little chocolate poured in might doctor it up, but I like just plain ol' milk right out of the glass. Still, of all the milk I've tried, this is the best refrigerated one. I drink whole milk, so unfortunately I can't tell you much about the tastes of the others.
Duran Cafe Instant Coffee - I'm always on the run it seems, so I like instant coffee. I like to throw a mug of water into the microwave, heat it up for a minute, then dump a couple teaspoons of this stuff in, mix it up, add a little cinnamon, pour in a couple packets of Dulce artificial sweetener, throw it over some ice, and off I go.
Anyone who has read my past posts knows that I'm a fan of Starbucks. Duran is the Starbucks of Panama. They have several very nice cafes in town, and it's the only coffee that really wakes me up. The jar above is the medium sized one (85g), and costs $4.29. The best place to buy this instant coffee is at Pricesmart, where you can pick up the large one for just over five bucks.
Duran Cafe Puro - If instant coffee isn't your thing, and you're one of those people who just love to have the scent of fresh brewed coffee wafting through your home, then try out the traditional Duran coffee. You can pick up a 425g bag for about $4.89. Of course, if you live in Boquete and you're reading this, you might disagree. A lot of people in Boquete grow their own coffee, so you might be able to pick up something super fresh for a lot less money.
Passion Fruit Juice
Estrella Azul Brand Maracuya Juice - The first time I visited Panama, about 12 years ago, I fell in love with this juice. I'd never tasted anything like it. It's still a staple in the Powers home. Maracuya juice is the same thing as passion fruit juice. For the longest time they didn't carry it in the States. Then I saw that Welch's started carrying passion fruit juice. If you've never tried this stuff, you need to give it a try. It's really sweet though. My wife adds a little bit of water to hers. You can pick up a cold half gallon for $2.09.
Jumex Apple Juice - Apple juice is crazy expensive in Panama. The best place to pick up what you're used to is Pricesmart, where you can find two huge jugs of Mott's apple juice bundled together for about $11. My problem is, with four kids, I don't have time to run to Pricesmart every time we run out of juice. So I tried buying a few of the Panamanian brands, and they all tasted funny to me. It was like apple candy in a jug.
Finally, I stumbled on this Jumex apple juice. It's the closest thing to Mott's, and a heck of a lot less expensive. A liter of this juice costs about $1.05. It's sweet, but at least it actually tastes like apple juice and not apple drink. Make sure you pick up the apple juice or Jugo de Manzana. If you by Nectar de Manzana you're going to get that thick nectar. The cartons look identical, so make sure the one you buy says jugo or juice. Oh, and the Jumex jugo de uva (grape juice) is probably the closest thing you'll find, in taste, to Welch's grape juice, for cheap.
Del Monte Juices - When you first move to, or visit Panama, you might find yourself shocked by the juice aisles. Other than the strange mixes, like Strawberry Kiwi, you find in the U.S., the juice flavors are pretty consistent. You're probably used to seeing apple, orange, pineapple, grape...and that's probably about it, right? Not here.
Panamanians drink pear juice, peach juice, mango juice, guava/guayaba juice, papaya juice, passion fruit juice...and just about everything else. The Del Monte brand juices are usually pretty good. They're thick though and sweet. Melocoton (or peach juice) tastes to me like I'm sipping cold peach cobbler. I'm still not used to it, but the kids love it. My kids love the mango juice too. My favorites are Piña (pineapple), Ponche de Frutas (fruit punch), and mango. These are usually about $1.35 per liter. They're great for kids' school lunches too and cost about 38 cents for the kid juice box size.
Sugar-Free Drink Mix
Clight - I'm always on the lookout for sugar-free stuff. Someone just wrote me an email yesterday asking about the availability of diet sodas here. When I first moved here, nearly four years ago, Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi (Coca-Cola Lite and Pepsi Lite here) were the only two diet sodas available. Riba Smith slowly started to add more diet sodas to their aisle. Diet A&W Root Beer, Diet 7-Up, Sprite Zero, Diet Dr. Pepper, and even Diet Mountain Dew showed up. Now, may of the Super 99, Rey, and El Machetazo supermarkets also carry more options for diet sodas. At somewhere between $.65 and $.89 per can, these diet sodas aren't what you'd consider affordable though.
It's amazing what you'll pay here that you'd never pay in the States. A 12-pack of soda here costs almost $8. I think I used to pay like $4 back in Ohio. People usually just buy the 2-liter bottles (for about $1.89), and for those your options drop back down to Coca-Cola Lite, Pepsi Lite, and sometimes Coke Zero.
Other sugar-free drink options are very limited. You'll see Crystal Light here, but it's pretty expensive. So one day...while holding a tube of Crystal Light in my hand, I noticed that parked right next to it was something called Clight, which has Splenda in it. A packet of Clight, which is really two packs in one, each side having enough powder for 1 Liter, costs only 69 cents. I usually just pour both packs into a gallon and fill it up. It comes out a little bit watered down, but I'm not into super sweet drinks anyway, so it works out for me. You'll find strawberry, orange, tangerine, lime, and green tea flavors. There may be more.
Balboa Beer - I love my Coors Light, which you can pick up for about $.65 per can or I think about $.75 per bottle. If you want to stay on the more affordable side of things, try to get used to local beers. Balboa seems to be the manly beer here in Panama. It's the party beer. Of the Panamanian beers, it's probably my favorite.
Atlas Beer - I consider Atlas to be like Balboa's little sister. They're made by the same company, and since Panama doesn't really have any light beers, Atlas is probably the closest you'll find. You'll notice that both Balboa and Atlas can be picked up for $.49 per can, which comes out to about $3 per 6-pack or $6 for a 12-pack. That's not bad at all. A 12-pack of Coors Light comes out to just over $8.
Panama Beer - This is the rival to Balboa and Atlas. I kind of like Panama, and for awhile, it was my second choice (after Coors Light of course). It's listed at $.53 per can.
Soberana Beer - When I first visited Panama, about 12 years ago, this was "the beer." It's what everyone at the bars and nightclubs was drinking. I remember buying everyone a round at one of the bars I visited. Then, when I moved back here many years later, I only saw Balboa, Atlas, and sometimes Panama. Apparently, Soberana got pushed to the side for some reason. It's still around, but you won't see nearly as many billboards advertising the stuff. During this visit to the supermarket, it was was priced at $.58 per can.
Imported Beer - You have to be careful when picking up imported beer. I got excited the first time I walked down a Riba Smith beer aisle and saw beers I hadn't had in so long. I put a few bottles of Yuengling into my car, then nearly fainted when I saw the shelf and realized that each of those beers was about $2. I took the above photo two days ago in Riba Smith. It was the Dolphins logo that originally caught my eye. Miami Dolphins...in Panama? Then...Bud Light...in Panama? Coors Light and Miller Light are the two main American brands here. Other imported beers you'll commonly see are Hamm's, Milwaukee's Best, Budweiser, Heineken, and Corona. For other brands you'll have to check Riba Smith, but make sure you're comfortable with the price per bottle/can before you start stocking up. $1.75 for one can of Bud Light is nuts.
Sangria - If you're not a beer drinker, you have to try sangria. It's very popular here in Panama, and can be found at every party. It's cheap too. The two brands in the photo above are the brands my family members pick up and bring to the party. Usually they'll mix one of these boxed wines with chopped up apples and grapes and serve. Some people add a little bit of white wine, rum, or passion fruit juice to the mix. Look at the prices in the picture. A liter of Don Simon is only $2.19. My wife complains that the Don Simon one is too sweet. The Penasol Sangria is only $3.19. Of course, you'll find many many other brands of Sangria, but these are the affordable ones.
Ron Abuelo - Ron Abuelo is Panamanian rum, Panama's answer to Captain Morgan or Bacardi (both of which are also popular here, but not as affordable as Ron Abuelo). Ron Abuelo can be picked up for about $7.19 per liter.
Seco Herrerano - Every country has its own "drink you have to stay away from." In Korea, it was Soju. Here, it's Seco. I've tried it once, but just a little. It's triple distilled from sugarcane usually mixed with fruit juice, soda, or sipped straight. It's strange stuff too. I was at a party once and watched a friend of mine staggering around, leaning on people, like he wouldn't last another five minutes...then five minutes later it was like he hadn't been drinking at all. I think he was just an odd fella. It probably had nothing to do with the drink, but the fact that he kept yelling "Woohoo Seco!" made me think Seco was to blame.
If you can handle it, you won't find a less affordable, quite as powerful drink here in Panama. For only $5.59 you can pick up a liter of Seco Herrerano...but buyer beware.
Ok, I think that covers most of the drinks in Panama. If anyone has anything to add, please do so in the comments section. The next installment will be on the cuts of meat here in Panama, something that has probably baffled many of us expats at some point in time.
Thanks for reading,