Food and housing are usually the biggest expenses of daily living. Here in Panama I hear a variety of comments from – living here is so much cheaper, to – it’s more expensive here than in the US!
We are very lucky to live in Chiriquí where the majority of the produce is grown. There are numerous roadside stands, people selling produce out of the back of a truck, and there is our friend Enrique who comes to our door every week with his truck loaded with fruits and vegetables. Supermarkets also sell produce, as does Pricesmart, our version of Costco.
What you buy and where you buy it can make a huge difference. You can find pretty much anything you want here, but if it’s imported it will be expensive. I thought I had to have sweet potatoes so I bought these two smallish ones in El Rey supermarket.
That comes out to $2.60 per pound. I remember being shocked at what sweet potatoes cost in the US so maybe this is a good price, but here it’s in the expensive treats category. They were very good though. There are usually employees hanging around so I don’t feel comfortable snapping photos, but I was surprised at some of the other prices, like $3 for a tiny head of cauliflower with brown spots. For comparison, Enrique weighed a good size head and said it would cost $1.25, and it was super fresh.
We have bought produce at Super Barú occasionally because their prices aren’t too bad, and it was convenient. Prices at Pricesmart also seem better except for things like blueberries or cherries that you would expect to pay a lot for. Generally though we almost never buy produce in a supermarket.
We do buy chicken at El Rey though. They have price control chickens for 2.60/kg or $1.18/lb and they are really good. If we get a nice plump one for $6+, it’s good for four meals, and then soup or a batch of dog food.
I suppose it’s like anywhere. You learn to shop where you can find decent prices on the things you buy the most. The best plan of all is to find a tight fisted Panamanian and go shopping with them! One friend found what she thought was the cheapest market in town, and then would only go when she knew the trucks were arriving with the freshest produce.
For us, at our age and money not being super tight, convenience is becoming a bigger factor in our decisions. My friend’s market may save us a couple dollars but it’s not worth the hassle of driving downtown. Someone who knows what we like and stashes the freshest broccoli under the seat just for us, oh yes.
I think this cost $16-17, if I remember correctly. Broccoli, cauliflower, chayote (a mild squash like veggie), cucumbers, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and passion fruit (a bit expensive but I love it!) all fresh this morning and delivered to our door.
We feel that we eat well here – healthy, delicious, locally grown food and we don’t break the bank to do it. Thankfully we both have a lifetime of experience of getting the most value for our money, and we enjoy our own cooking more than eating out, so we feel fortunate rather than deprived of anything.