There’s plenty to get used to when it comes to living in a new country. The language, transportation, and cultural customs all require some navigating and flexibility. Another unfamiliar element that’s often overlooked? Food!
Many of us love Panama for the wide range of local and international cuisines that are available. When it comes to food shopping, though, it can be hard to know where to start.
To make matters simpler, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to grocery shopping in Panama. Keep reading to find out about the top merchants you need to know about for all your food shopping needs. From modern supermarket chains to small independent grocers and farmer’s markets. This list has got it all!
Regardless of what you’re looking for, you’ll know where to find it after reading this post. So let’s get started!
The Big Four: Panamanian Supermarkets
Like anywhere, Panama has a handful of large supermarket chains that dominate. In this case, there are four: Riba Smith, Rey, Super 99 and Pricesmart.
While there are subtle differences between them, each will provide everything you need. Depending on the store and location, this may also include a pharmacy, a deli, and prepared foods.
Over the years, these stores have also come to stock more and more international products. Subsequently, you’ll hear residents debate on which of these four is the best. Most often, though, preference comes down to what is most convenient for you.
Riba Smith is a favorite for grocery shopping in Panama for expats and Panamanians alike. This grocery store chain features brands from all over the world. Some of which sell exclusively in Riba Smith. They have an excellent deli with prepared foods and a cafeteria with fresh food prepared daily in all their locations.
Riba Smith has a diverse selection of cheeses, exotic fruits, and vegetables. Likewise, you will find many American and International brands. These include salad dressings, season packets, and sauces from around the world. All these are sold uniquely in Riba smith.
Their wine selection is better than average, and they have an excellent bakery featuring local bread, pizzas, and crackers. Most locations also have a full pharmacy. They also have a great selection of special diet options like Gluten Free, low sugar, and Kosher.
Riba has around half a dozen supermarket locations across the city. Locations include Bella Vista, Transistmica, Multi Plaza, and Costa del Este.
If, like some of us, you find yourself too busy to go to the supermarket, never fear! Riba leads the way for innovative shopping in Panama with its online shopping platform. Please note, that while this is great for Panama, it may not be as great as what you are used to at home
Overall, Riba Smith tends to be the most expensive supermarket chain in Panama. However, the shelf life of their vegetables tends to be a bit longer than other grocery stores.
El Rey is an American style supermarket chain in Panama. It has everything you would expect from a supermarket back home. It’s well lit, clean, has reasonable prices, and they usually keep a good stock of items. They also have a good beer, wine, and liquor selection. Most locations have a deli with premade foods such as chicken, sandwiches, prepared salads. We love their Greek salad, and their empanadas are pretty tasty too.
El Rey is similar in price to Riba Smith and they have a very nice section for specialty diets. These include Gluten-free, diabetic, and low salt/sugar options.
El Rey has chains all over the country including El Cangrejo, Albrook, Coronado, David and more. They also offer a card where shoppers can get points towards prizes. Win-Win!
Super 99 rounds out the big four stores for grocery shopping in Panama.
They have more locations than El Rey and Riba Smith, including in the suburbs outside of the city center. One of the best Super 99 locations in the city is in the neighborhood of Punta Pacifica.
The prices are competitive with the other big four supermarket chains, the availability is good, and the store is always clean.
Finally, if quantity is what you’re after, PriceSmart is Panama’s bulk food supermarket. There are several across the city including El Dorado and Avenida BraWhether
Whether PriceSmart offers a good deal really depends on what you’re looking for. Sometimes it’s easy to justify buying a 5-gallon drum of mayonnaise. However, sometimes the PriceSmart doesn’t necessarily offer the best deals.
Granted, they have a few items that other supermarkets in Panama don’t have. Including, 5-pound bags of frozen strawberries, Land-o-Lakes turkey cold cuts and 2-pounds of Sharp cheddar.
We find that the best things to get from Pricesmart are your necessities. Toiletries, cleaning products, cooking oils, and meats, and etc.
Membership is right around $30 per year and we would say it’s definitely worth it.
Specialty Markets in Panama
If you’re looking for something special or want to see what’s out there beyond the big chains, there are plenty of smaller-scale shopping options.
Super Gourmet, Casco Viejo
One of our favorite stores for grocery shopping in Panama is Super Gourmet! Make sure to visit the one in Casco Viejo, which features wonderful prepared foods, imported beers, and fantastic baked goods. And yes, the chocolate-filled croissants are worth the drive from anywhere in Panama!
While the Casco Viejo location is the best, if you live in San Francisco or Obarrio, a trip to Grand Deli Gourmet is worth it. Both locations feature high-end meats and cheeses as well as an exquisite wine selection. And, the location on Calle 50 has, hands down, the best salad bar we’ve seen in Panama. At $8.50/pound it isn’t cheap, but the selection is fabulous and makes the perfect lunch paired with one of their soups.
Produce and Farmers Markets in Panama
If you’re looking for an outdoor shopping experience, there are a handful of farmer’s markets in Panama. The largest of these is in Calidonia, across the street from Ancon hill on the way to Albrook, Mercado de Abastos. To get there, the easiest way is to take Via Espana all the way to the end. Take a right and then take your first right about half a kilometer up the road.
As you’re approaching, you can’t really tell what it is, because there are a few nondescript storefronts. However, go through the guard station and you’ll be blown away. This market is mostly set up for wholesale shoppers, but it’s a fun experience for anyone who enjoys fresh produce. You can find everything from beans and grains to herbs, fruits, and Fonda-style.
Shelf life can be an issue for things like carrots and celery, but for the most part, the produce is very fresh!
In addition, you can save a lot of money on produce like pineapples, avocados, peppers, and fresh herbs. There are other markets scattered throughout the city, including Rio Abajo, Calidonia, Casco Viejo, and 12 de Octubre.
The best place to buy fresh flowers is, without a doubt, the farmers market in Calidonia. This is a different one from that mentioned above and is at the end of Via Espana. It’s on the left-hand side in front of a casino, and you can see the flowers on the road. They also sell things like fresh eucalyptus and medicinal herbs much cheaper than a grocery store.
We have an excellent seafood market here in Panama. In fact, it’s as popular for tourists looking to try some authentic ceviche as it is for locals shopping for tonight’s dinner. The market offers an amazing selection of very fresh seafood and they even have a nice little restaurant upstairs where you can eat the freshest seafood available anywhere in the city. Make sure to try their ceviche and the Panamanian special which is Corvina frita con patacones (fried corvina with plantains.) Grabbing lunch at the Mercado de Mariscos is sure to be delicious, cheap, and as fresh as it gets!
In conclusion, if we missed any of your favorite spots for grocery shopping in Panama, leave a comment below telling us about it!