In Panama's capital, near the entrance to Casco Viejo, is Panama City's fish market. Known locally as Mercado de Mariscos, it's a top attraction in Panama's capital, 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. These rainbow-hued fish are so beautiful that it almost seems a shame to see them on ice.
Mercado de Mariscos from a patron's point of view
This fish market is also home to a restaurant and food stalls. We learned quickly that we should pick up cups of the local specialty, ceviche, to snack on while we walk through the market. It's a terrific bargain, not to mention delicious.
And the seafood is an even bigger bargain. We constanly marvel 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.
For the freshest fish and best selection, it's best to get there really early and purchase what you need before the restaurant buyers get everything. Well, that's in the ideal world. 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.
Eating at Panama's fish market
Panama's mercado is split up into two areas; inside, where you can get fish by the pound and outside, where most of the ceviche stands and food stalls are. The outside areas are relatively new. The traditional dining site is a restaurant on the second floor that will cook whatever you buy.
Tip: Consider a food tour for a different way to see Panama City.
Between the upstairs restaurant and the food stalls outside there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy fresh fish on site, but we've never bothereed with that. Our usual routine: Take our purchases home, divide them into portions and drop them into heavy-duty, zip-lock bags destined for the freezer.
But there has always been some that didn't make 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. 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!