The tropics are a fruit-lovers heaven, and Panama is no exception. Here are some of the fruits you can expect to find, where you can find them, and what to watch out for.
Grapefruit. There's nothing like having a giant bag of grapefruit right from the tree! The local grapefruit we have are white and are absolutely loaded with seeds -- so they take a little more work to eat, but they're totally worth it. Be careful in the grocery store -- they have imported red grapefruit that cost about $4/pound, but if you look around you'll find the national grapefruit for about 41 cents per pound, allowing you to buy local and save money at the same time.
Pineapple. Try to buy these from a local farmer, or ask the vendors on the street if you're not sure where they come from. Surprisingly, even though Panama grows a lot of pineapple, you'll still get imported (from Costa Rica) pineapple in the grocery store. Once, a man had a truckload of pineapple he was selling on the street. When I made mention that I wanted one, a Panamanian friend of mine wrinkled his nose and pointed out how unnaturally yellow they were on the inside....evidence of a little chemical assistance. If the local won't buy that fruit, neither will I!
Lemons and oranges. Citrus trees abound -- again, try to find a local farmer.
Avocados. The season for avocados is short, at least here in the beach area, so you'll likely have to buy imported avocados from the store if you want them year-round.
Mango. Mango season is an event in Panama. For those few months, the air is ripe with the smell of rotting fruit on the ground. That's how plentiful it is -- no one can pick it fast enough. A friend of ours has a tree in her yard, and she said that last season she picked about 50-60 mangoes every day! That's a lot of smoothies and mango salsa. Don't buy mangoes -- just go pick them. The trees are everywhere.
Soursop. Known in Spanish as the much-more-fun-to-say guanabana, this fruit is getting some press lately as containing anti-cancer properties. Whatever the cancer boards say (usually something like, "no scientific evidence to support..."), I'll eat it anyway. You'll recognize it by it's prickly green shell.
Papaya. There's a papaya tree that popped up in our yard -- the landlords say they didn't plant one! It hasn't started to produce yet, though. You can usually find local papaya in the grocery stores and from vendors on the street.
Nance. It looks almost like a tiny apple or a yellow cherry tomato. They're hard to the touch and are usually made into a dessert or juice. You don't usually find them in the store, but you'll see the trees around.
Coconuts. Plentiful and inexpensive in the stores or at the markets, if you're feeling brave you can also climb the tree and knock them down yourself. They're not as hard to open as I'd imagined: taking a meat tenderizer or a hammer, simply hit around the circumference until you hear a crack. Make sure you're holding the coconut over a bowl, because the next hit will break it open and spill the water inside. Then you can use a knife (very carefully) and wedge it between the fruit and the shell to dislodge the edible part.