Those who know me, know that I have been addicted to octopus for years. So, when I heard there was a fish market and restaurant on the docks of downtown Panama City that serves octopus fresh from the sea, I had to make it part of my itinerary.
Casco Viejo is the spot where Panama City was relocated to after Captain Morgan sacked the original city in 1671. It’s considered the historical district and cultural hub of Panama City. Located at the entrance to Casco Viejo, Mercado de Mariscos is definitely not the place for anyone hoping for ambiance, exceptional service or clean shoes.The blue and white two-story building which sits on the harbor is, after all, a fish market. This humble, hard-working emporium, however, is recommended by The New York Times when you only have 36 hours in Panama City to kill. The first floor is taken up by countless stalls of fishmongers, sporting colorful signs covered in stickers of favorite football clubs. Mercado de Mariscos supplies local restaurants as well as the public.
If you’re put off by the smell of fish, or don’t like to get your shoes dirty, traversing the aisles to get to the second floor restaurant will be difficult. Those willing to brave Davy Jones’ meat locker are rewarded with the freshest catch the city has to offer for unbeatable prices.
Do yourself a favor and start with the ceviche mixto ($4.50), the restaurant’s specialty with octopus and shrimp, marinated in lime, onions and spices. Keep the adventure going with pulpo al oleo ($7, pictured above), succulent chunks of octopus poached in fragrant olive oil. If the appetizer doesn’t sate your desire to tangle with beasts from the deep, order the pulpo ajillo ($8), plump octopus tentacles in a light, white wine garlic sauce. It is served with French fries and a green salad.
If you’re feeling a bit tame, you can’t go wrong with corvina ($8), a popular Panamanian sea bass that shows up on almost every menu. Fried, breaded and tossed with tomatoes and red onions, it is playfully framed with yuca—large pieces of lightly fried, sweet cassava that balances the savory fish.
The simple yet extensive menu offers shrimp, squid, lobster, fish, even beef, chicken, paella and flan. But come here for seafood fresh from the boats, which is well worth its weight in pirate gold.
Mercado de Mariscos
Avenida Balboa y Calle 15 Este
Panama City, Panama
Open daily from 6 am – 5 pm, except the third Monday of each month.
Mary was born and raised in New York City where her family owned restaurants. Instead of eating dirt on the playground, she ate duck blood, beef tripe and pork belly. She cut her teeth at The Mandarin Oriental and The Ritz-Carlton hotels, working with Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Williams, Michael Stipe, LeVar Burton, Jane Krakowski and others. Mary founded Girl Meets Food in 2009 as a cover for her debilitating addiction to fried chicken and was named Washington Post’s “Favorite Local Foodie.” After 13 years in hospitality, she started freelance writing for USA Today, The Washington Post, Eater, Washington City Paper, and more. Today, she provides digital marketing for hospitality clients as a content creator who’s contently creating content.