The contents of my freezer looked pretty skimpy this morning when I opened it to take something out to thaw for dinner tonight. Grocery shopping here in Panama is similar to, but not the same as, it is in the States.
I do my major grocery shopping in David since there are only a couple of small “Chinos” here in Boquerón. “Chinos” are convenience stores which, throughout Panama are mostly owned by Chinese. In David there are four supermarkets: El Rey, Romero (which is owned by El Rey), Super 99 (owned by Panama’s president Ricardo Martinelli) and Super Barú. There is also a PriceSmart which is Panama’s answer to Costco. There are a couple of other chain supermarkets in Panama but the ones I’ve mentioned are the ones that are here.
You can’t do all your shopping at any one supermarket. El Rey, which is the biggest here, could stand shoulder to shoulder with almost any supermarket in the United States. In fact, you can buy a lot of the same brand names here in Panama as you can in the States though you’ll pay a little more for brand names you recognize. But sometimes the extra money is well spent. For example, peanut butter. I’m sorry, but nobody anywhere else in the world makes better tasting (to American palates, anyway) peanut butter than Jiff, Skippy and Peter Pan. Nor does anyone make better tomato paste than Contadena or Hunt’s. For the most part I buy more locally made products and do fine with them but some things just can’t be substituted.
Another thing one soon learns about shopping in Panama is this…if you see something you like on the shelves BUY IT NOW! There’s a very real chance it won’t be there when you might want it later on. If there are three of whatever you like, take TWO. I always leave one for someone else.
A lot of Panamanian businesses have a very tenuous grasp of the concept of marketing. Perhaps you’ve bought something several times in a store and now, for some strange reason you can’t find it any more. You might find a manager and ask why you can’t find your favorite item any more. They will often tell you with a straight face, and mean it, “Oh, we don’t carry that any more because it was too hard to keep on the shelves.” Well, GEE ZUS!!! That’s the whole idea of retail marketing. Find an item that people want and then sell the shit out of it. Why is that concept so hard to grasp?
As I said, you can’t get everything you want at any one single supermarket. I get most of my non-perishable items, canned goods, etc., at El Rey. But if I want to get Kikkoman soy sauce I have to go down the block and across the street to Super Barú. They stock it, El Rey doesn’t though you can get Kikkoman Teriyaki Baste and Marinade at Rey. Barú is about half the size of El Rey and there are a few other things they stock that you can’t get at El Rey. After a few months you get to know which store you have to go to to get certain things.
Each of the supermarkets has a produce section, El Rey’s is the largest and most attractive, but if you want really fresh fruits and veggies at prices that aren’t extortionate, you do that kind of shopping at small, roadside stands that specialize in produce.
Anyway, I needed to pack in a supply of meat. That’s right, MEAT. Fruits and vegetables are fine as far as they go but I also like a slab of bleeding dead cow meat on my plate now and then. The different markets have differing qualities of dead cow, pig and poultry. The ground beef at El Rey, though, listed as low-fat, is just that. There’s almost no fat at all and it doesn’t make for the tastiest hamburgers. Everywhere in Panama beef is really TOUGH. It’s all grass-fed cattle with no feed-lot grain feeding to fatten them up and it’s the fat in the meat that makes it tender.
I’ve found that PriceSmart has about the best ground beef in the area and they have very good cuts of pork and poultry at very competitive prices though not necessarily lower than at the supermarkets. So that’s where I went today. PriceSmart is on the Inter-American highway a couple of miles outside of David and a couple of hundred yards from the Chiriqui Mall. There’s a road connecting the two about a hundred yards in from the highway. The bus stops at the mall but not at PriceSmart so you have to get off at the mall and walk over to PriceSmart.
At the corner of the road that connects the two complexes there is a billboard promoting the Super Barú market at the mall. It’s a small store compared to the one in David. Maybe a third its size and really small compared to El Rey, Romero or Super 99. I couldn’t believe the slogan on the sign for the Chiriqui Mall Super Barú. It read…
“Esta Mejor Que Nunca!” For those of you who don’t understand Spanish, it means, “It’s Better Than Nothing!”
Maybe I’m wrong, but I think someone needs to rethink that slogan. It sure doesn’t do much to inspire confidence.