Not Free, But Cheap Food

I recently wrote a post about how much free food was available here in Panama. Yesterday I went to a supermarket for groceries. Naturally that wasn’t free, but when I went to the bus stop to get back home there was a gentleman about my age who had set up a box on one of the two available seats. It was filled with avocados and pibas.

Now, you all know what avocados are, and there are several large avocado trees along my street. People come with long bamboo poles to knock them down.


The old man was selling them for 50¢ each. Half of what they go for in the supermarkets. They were all rather soft and ready to eat so I bought one. It was scrumptious, too. Creamy and just right. You know how avocados are judged? You buy them in the market and wait for them to soften up. Each day you give them a little squeeze and goes like this: too hard, too hard, too hard, too hard, too late it’s rotten.

He also had a dozen bags of pibá (known in English as Peach Palm fruit.).


They are seasonal and people throughout Central and South America love these. In Costa Rica they’re called pejibaye. They’re chontaduro in Colombia and Ecuador, pijuayo in Peru, pijiguao in Venezuela, tembé in Bolivia. The Brazilians know them as pupunha and in Trinidad and Tobago they’re called peewah.

Whatever they’re called they’re about the size of a golf ball and just about as hard when they’re raw. They have to be boiled for hours in order to soften them up enough so you can eat them. Most often they are cooked in salted water over an open fire in a large pot known as a fogón. Cooked this way the fire imparts a smokey flavor to the nuts. Personally I like them. The flesh, even when cooked right, is rather tough but it reminds me a bit of the flavor of artichoke hearts.

What really surprised me was what a bag of them cost. Only 25¢ for a dozen. (Don’t count them in the picture. I ate two before taking the shot.) They were so cheap I wasn’t sure I understood what he’d said the first time and had him repeat it. Twenty five cents a dozen. And they’d already been cooked. As you roam around downtown David (Dah VEED) there are dozens of street venders selling produce and now they all seem to have little plastic bags of pibá .


Filed under Uncategorized

3 responses to “Not Free, But Cheap Food

  1. John & Susan

    Ahhh! Your living the life Richard!

    Somebody has to do it. Kris Cunningham is giving it as good a run as anyone I know.

  2. Jeff Philbrick

    Here in Chapel Hill, NC Avocados go for presently about $1.39 each and sometimes as high as $1.69 at the local Food Lion. Just like you state, it’s a hit or miss proposition when it comes to ripeness. More the later then the former. I’d speculate that 80% to 85% are unripe and barely edible. So, to find a ripe one is like finding diamonds in a mountain of rubble. Last year, on occasion, they would go on special at 2 for a dollar. But, that was no great bargain if you can’t get them ripe.

    Just about everywhere outside of the supermarkets avocados are half a buck, and I bet most of them people have gotten for free off of trees alongside the road like in the pictures. Buying avocados when they’re hard you just set them on the windowsill and give them a test squeeze every day. When You think it’s ready give it one more day but no more than that.

    In the fruit stands all along the highway between El Cruce to David there are pineapples aplenty and the big ones go for a buck a piece. Smaller ones are half a buck to 75 cents.

  3. Karen Ama Panama

    I’m looking forward to trying the piba fruit. Thanks for sharing!

    Just remember, they’re seasonal.