Down in Panama's capital, at the end of Avenida Balboa and the entrance to Casco Viejo, is Panama City's fish market. Called Mercado de Mariscos in Spanish, it's a colorful market full of interesting characters, both human and marine.
Restaurateurs and locals know that this is THE place to go for fresh seafood. Walking through the market you will find just about anything that comes from the ocean. The selection is truly amazing … oysters, lobster, shrimp, and fish so fresh that their eyes are still clear. Some days there are even parrot fish, a familiar sight for divers, rainbow-hued fish so beautiful that it almost seems a shame to see them on ice.
Inside the Panama City fish market
The fish market is also home to a restaurant and food stalls. We haven't spent much time exploring the options (yet) but we have bought cups of delicious, fresh corvina (sea bass) ceviche for $1.25 to snack on while we walk through the market. It's a terrific bargain. We're always amazed at the low prices the fishmongers charge. Tuna for $3 a pound? Salmon for $1.50 a pound? Incredible!
Whenever we go we enjoy watching these warm and friendly fishmongers wield their hatchets and knives on the fish. Just select a fish and they'll quickly fillet it on the spot, then wrap and bag it with ice for you. Your purchase even includes the head, if you wish to make chowder, at no extra charge. They even sell heads by themselves.
Buying fish at the market
For the freshest fish and best selection it's best to get there really early and buy what you need before the restaurants get everything. We prefer to get there after we've had coffee and the traffic has subsided. The trade-off is that some of the stalls have sold all their fish … but we never have a problem finding something that looks appealing, so it's not important to us.
Between the restaurant upstairs and the food stalls outside there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy fresh fish onsite, but we never do. Our usual routine is to take our purchases home, divide them into portions and drop them into heavy duty zip-lock bags destined for the freezer.
But not all of it makes it to the freezer: We slice up the best-looking fish for a sashimi lunch and make a batch of fresh ceviche for lunches later in the week.
Yes, it's that fresh.
On our last trip we turned a $60 investment into 32 servings! Just think: 16 seafood meals, for less than $2 per serving. How? One grouper, a mahi-mahi and two Red Snappers, combined with some very good knife work, yielded four servings of homemade ceviche (two mixed, two Mahi Mahi), nine servings each of Red Snapper and Grouper, 10 servings of Mahi Mahi, and two servings of fresh sashimi.
The only challenge is when it comes time to decide which fish we want to eat for dinner. They all look good!