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Shopping at the Grocery Store in Panama
Grocery stores in Panama are plentiful and varied. Panama neighborhoods have “tiendas,” pronounced tee AYN dass. There are American style supermarkets throughout Panama City and the country. You will pay for your groceries in dollars although they are called Balboas in Panama. Expect to have your groceries bagged for you at the checkout counter at Panama grocery stores and carried to your car or taxi. Expect also to pay a tip of a quarter for the service.
The Tienda, a Panama Neighborhood Grocery Store
In Latin American neighborhoods people do their daily shopping at one or more of the local tiendas close to their home. A central Panama City neighborhood may have three or four tiendas or small grocery stores in the same “manzana,” pronounced mahn SAH na, or city block.
By the way if you are asking directions the length of a city block is a “cuadra,” coo AH dra, so when you are asking directions the manzana where your hotel is may be a couple of cuadras, from where you are standing.
The local Panama grocery store or tienda will have everything from tooth paste and toilet paper to platano, individual eggs, chorizo, and beer. The prices are a little higher than the supermarkets but you can walk to the tienda and pick up four eggs, three chorizos, two platano, and a quart of milk and be back home making breakfast in five minutes.
Supermarkets, the Big Panama Grocery Stores
American shoppers will feel right at home in the big Panama grocery stores. The signs over the isles are often in English as well as Spanish and the layouts are familiar. Brand names will be familiar for North Americans although the printing on the package may or may not be in English.
Prices of imported items in Panama grocery stores are higher than you would pay back home and prices of items produced locally under license with a North American company are typically less.
Vegetables, “verduras,” bear DO rass, in Panama grocery stores are less expensive than you are used to as are meat and poultry. Most meat and poultry is selected, cut, and packaged by the butcher at the counter in back. Thus you may want to know a few useful words.
Panama Grocery Stores and a Few Useful Words
You will be surprised at who speaks reasonably fluent English in Panama. Do not be surprised at a Panama grocery store if after you stumble through a request for chicken with the butcher and he responds in English. But, if the butcher, cashier, etc. does not speak English here are a few useful words.
A libra (LEE bra) is a pound (not a libro which is a book). “Dos libras por favor” will get you two pounds of whatever you are pointing at. Holding up two fingers also works.
Carne (KAR nay) is meat. Carne de vaca (BAH ka) is beef and carne de cerdo (SER doe) is pork. Pollo (POE yo or POE joe depending upon accent) is chicken. Pescado (pess KA doe) is fish and marisco (mar EESS coe) is non-fish sea food such as shrimp or camarones (kam ah ROE nays). These words work in the restaurant too.
If you want pork chops ask for chuletas (chew LAY tass) or point.
Panama Groceries Stores and Transportation
If you are driving to the grocery store in Panama City you will find easy parking at Riba Smith, El Rey and Super 99 (SOO Pair no BAIN tah ee new AY bay. However, taxis are reasonably priced and will save you the hassle of rush hour traffic. In fact, if you are having a problem finding a taxi on the street during rush hour go to the nearest supermarket and wait.
We hope this primer in Panama Grocery Stores helps. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at ABPanama. We may be in the business of real estate but we eat too.