With no set plans for lunch, my guide suggested we try out the local fish market, Mercado de Mariscos, on the sea front of Panama City just a few minutes from the Casco Viejo (old town). Having grown up in a key fishing town off the North coast of England, I’m a serious lover of seafood and always crave fresh fish whenever I’m travelling abroad and have the good fortune of finding myself on the coast.
The mercado was a large open-plan building like a school gym, with a high ceiling to make it airy to avoid that intense fish smell that can be a little off-putting to even the most dedicated piscivores. The room was full of stalls/stations all displaying an array of produce on ice, freshly caught from the sea, such as seabass, snapper and langoustines. All the workers in their plastic aprons and gloves were preparing the fish with expertise right there for you to watch every step of the process (which is usually done behind closed doors in the UK), from cleaning to gutting, chopping with oversized machetes and then weighing to sell.
We wandered through amongst the locals who were carefully selecting their Sunday supper, and some stalls were preparing large pots of ceviche (a traditional and popular dish in Panama) that you could buy by the cup/cone with a slice of lemon for a simple and delicious lunch on the go. A fantastic little hidden gem is the small restaurant in the corner where you can take your chosen fish from the abundance on offer in the market and they’ll cook it for you to your preference, then and there, to enjoy your lunch ‘on-site’. Being tight for time we opted for the very casual restaurant on the mezzanine overlooking the action of the mercado (our guide ensured us it was very safe to eat the produce there), which was clearly a popular choice amongst the locals as we were the only tourists in sight. The real treat was the vantage point as I was able to watch the fishmongers from above, bustling around and carrying out their trade with a lot of noise and humour, hard at work, as I lazily indulged in a prawn cocktail, engrossed in the show before me.
One of my favourite things when travelling is finding the perfect spot to just sit and take in local life passing you by – the Mercado de Mariscos is definitely a must visit for a tasty break in Panama City.