It is a bit hypocritical of me to be writing this article right now, since I am not always “practicing” what I am going to “preach” here.
I am writing this in late March, the peak of the dry season, and the temperature can get pretty hot in these months (today there is a wonderful breeze blowing off the ocean, so it is not too hot). Since our house is not air conditioned, I sometimes find myself driving my wife’s air conditioned car to Romero’s supermarket (also air conditioned), possibly buying a local paper, and reading it at a leisurely pace, while I sip a Cappuccino (50 cents) in air conditioned bliss. When I am finished reading and sipping, I slowly wander through the aisles to choose my groceries in this comfortable, modern supermarket, before heading home to the family.
Produce: Cheaper & Better From Street Vendors
I know that I am paying more for groceries, particularly fresh produce at Romero’s than I would from one of the street vendors. Plus, the quality is not as good as it would be from the small street stalls, or pickup truck vendors who buy their produce directly from the farmers. They don’t take the produce to a central distribution center, as Romero’s does, before bringing it to Puerto Armuelles.
I have come to realize that, during the cooler, “rainy season” I go to Romero’s far less frequently. (FYI the rainy season is from mid-April to mid-December.) Most days in the rainy season, I ride my bike to run errands around town. Then, I avoid the modern supermarket. My family tends to eat more healthfully, and our grocery bills are much lower.
Save 50% on Food
But this article is not about our Rainy Season-Dry Season climate here in Panama. It is about how you can save about 50% on your grocery bill, as well as eating a much healthier diet, if you buy your produce from the street vendor rather than going to Romeros or another
(If you do want to know about the weather in Panama, Betsy wrote about it here.)
Dias los Jubilados – Best Days To Shop
The best days to shop are on dias los jubilados, which is when retired folks all over Panama line up to receive their semi-monthly social security check. On those days the number of vendors and the variety of items for sale skyrocket.
Find out about Chiriqui’s Organic Farm, Finca Santa Marta. They deliver organic produce to you here in Puerto Armuelles and throughout Panama. The info is under Tip #2, Eat Healthfully & Locally.
In addition to great value on super fresh produce, you can also save a bundle by purchasing fresh-caught fish from local fish buyers in Puerto.
There are several neighborhoods where a local wholesale fish buyer buys from the fishermen and will sell to you at very reasonable prices.
For example, you can always find fresh:
- Pargo (red snapper) for under $2/lb.
- Tuna, when it’s available costs, is .60 cents/lb
- Corvina, or ocean perch, is about $1/lb
I suppose that you could try to buy directly from the fishing boat, but I have a feeling that this would not go over well with the fish buyer. Generally, all fish in the neighborhood fishing fleet are sold to one or two buyers. They get a consistent product, and they provide a consistent market for the fishermen.
Of course you also run into people trying to sell you seafood out of a bag – with no ice – I always say no to that.
Beef and Pork
You can also buy both beef and pork from local ranchers, and save a bundle. You might have to buy an entire side, or quarter of a steer, or pig, but if you ask around, you can usually find some one to go in on the purchase. But to do that successfully, you will need to purchase a dedicated freezer to store your meat.
One neighbor of ours frequently raises a pig for his family’s own personal use. He has also built a smoker, so that he can custom smoke his own bacon, and he stuffs his own, custom smoked and seasoned pork sausage. Neighbors and friends who get on his “list” early can enjoy the same great quality pork products.
Chicken & Gallina de Patio
I was surprised to find that free range chickens (gallina de patio) tend to cost much more than commercially raised chickens. While a whole chicken at Romero’s, if you can find one, might cost $6 or $7, a family raised, free range bird might run as much as $13, o$14. Once I discovered just what effort it takes to raise a chicken, successfully, to adulthood, in and around one’s own yard, I understood.
An Aside: Are Chickens Stackable?
As a side note, this short video below shows the challenges we had raising gallinas de patio. Of course, our daughter would never even think of us eating her chicken friends.
The free range birds, are truly free range, and these will be the same birds that you have seen running around near the street (or in the street— so drive carefully; “You killed it, you bought it”, as the saying goes.) When people have gallina de Patio to sell they will sometime announce that fact by posting a sign saying simply, Gallina de Patio. Ask around and you can find out who usually sells them.
Important Cooking Tip For Gallina de Patio
If you decide to buy one, you cannot cook it like you would a “regular”chicken. These birds are tough. Gallinas de Patio eats mostly bugs, and table scraps, and do not usually eat any commercial (read, hormone-fortified) feed. Thus they eat a lot more protein, very little grain, and no chemicals. They grow more slowly and get a lot more exercise than their caged counterparts. In short, these birds live a life that is a lot closer to that which a wild fowl might live. As a result, these chickens are leaner (stringier and tougher) and have a stronger, “gamier” flavor.
The first time our family tried one of these birds, we put it on the grill and basted it in barbeque sauce. We just assumed that a really “special” chicken should be cooked on the grill and enjoyed all by itself, so that the flavor could be experienced.
We were wrong.
It was like chewing on a moccasin. The free range gallina de patio is better slow cooked, in a stew pot, so that the meat has time to become tender, and so that all the rich flavor of the meat can infuse the entire stew. If you try this, you will quickly discover the superior flavor of the gallina de patio. It is a delicacy. This is what chicken used to taste like, before all the gallinas de patio were rounded up and packed 7 per cage in the mega “chicken farm”.
When you move to Panama, you find that you have a lot more free time on your hands. One satisfying way to spend part of your day is to shop for, and prepare the best quality food available. You will find that you can lose weight, improve your overall health, and save a bundle on your grocery bill at the same time by taking advantage of buying directly from small local producers and vendors.