I had my first foray into the local Panamanian market life when I ventured to the fish market and the farmer’s market last Saturday. Needless to say, I took a taxi. The drivers, just like other Panamanians, are super friendly and will chat you up, but they never seem to have change for bigger bills when you ask. Carrying small bills will be beneficial to my budget in the future when I decide to take this form of transportation.
I couldn’t describe to you the smell that assaulted my senses when I walked into the warehouse-like structure that housed the fish market. Pungent would be one polite word that came to mind. I mean, I grew up in the country and I know my share of funny smells, but I could hardly handle it. The image of the vats of olives in Toronto’s old Greektown came to mind; the ones in highland farms. Just translate that to a humid and hot warehouse full of fish and various other forms of seafood. I ended up purchasing 2lbs of shrimp for $6 and a whole sea bass (which they gut and fillet for you upon request) for $7.50.
Seafood is a big thing in Panama. So is sea bass, which is not commonly found in North America. One of the most popular dishes in Panama is Ceviche. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Ceviche is chunks of raw fish (usually sea bass, but it can be made with really any raw seafood chunks) marinated in lime juice and onions. The acidity in the lime juice and onion actually ‘cooks’ the fish so it isn’t raw at the time of consumption, but it is served cold. Shopping alone, I chickened out on purchasing my first Ceviche dish, but in the Panama spirit, I poached my sea bass in lime juice and onion. Didn’t turn out too bad, actually; the lime gives it a good kick, but not too big.
Stop number two was the farmer’s market. It was right on the edge of Panama City, but it was worth the trip. A maze of dirt roads lined by stands and warehouses, every in-season fruit and veggie you could want was here. And at incredible prices too; it was here that I saw how inexpensive the local eats could be! Supermarkets around my apartment (and shopping centers in Punta Pacifica, the downtown core) are very American, and cost about the same overall. At the local market, I got everything in the picture below for just $12US! Crazy. I’ll be eating healthy and fresh while I’m here, for sure!