I dread going to the deli or meat counter pretty much every time I make a trip to the supermarket. I think that’s why, for the first two years that I lived here, I only bought meat at Pricesmart, where everything is pre-packaged and ready to go. First, there’s always a line at the deli and meat counters, and second, I didn’t know what half the cuts were, so I would usually just pick out whatever looked nice. Then, once I figured out what I wanted, I’d have to call out to the butcher what it was that I wanted to order, with Panamanians lined up all around me. In my broken Spanish, I always felt embarrassed. I sometimes still do.
Well…until I start working on my Spanish a little more, that part of the equation isn’t going to change. However, learning the cuts of meat helps a lot. So that’s what I’ll be focusing on in this installment of supermarket tips for shopping in Panama.
I wasn’t kidding when I said the hot dog aisle was overwhelming
I guess I’ll start with chicken. First, let’s just make sure that everyone knows that chicken in Spanish is pollo. Knowing that is the first step to not sounding like a schmuck at the counter. Trust me, even if you do speak Spanish, with the gringo accent thrown in, half the time it’s still hard to get your point across. So if you don’t want to be standing at the counter, surrounded by Panamanians, flapping your arms up and down doing the chicken dance to explain that you just want some chicken wings, then make sure you’re comfortable with the list I’ll provide you below. The prices are always by the pound here. If you look closely to the signs, in the bottom right corner, it tells you what the kilogram equivalent is (some Panamanians will order by the kilogram).
Muslo Encuentro – This is the thigh attached to the leg, like you see in the photo above on the far left side. So if you know your numbers, you can simply point and say cuatro de muslo encuentro.
Encuentro de Pollo – This is just the thigh. If you wanted the boneless thigh, which you see sometimes at the meat counter, but almost always in the pre-packaged chicken, you’d be looking for filete de encuentro de pollo. Same with chicken breast, filete means boneless.
Pechuga de Pollo – This is chicken breast. Usually you can get away with just saying the number and pechuga since chicken breast is the only kind of breast you’re likely to buy. So “dos pechugas” should be fine. Or if you want to order by the pound, you would say something along the lines of, “Tres libras de Pechuga de Pollo, por favor.” This would be “3 pounds of chicken breast, please.”
Muslo de Pollo – This is the chicken leg all by itself. You don’t see it in the picture above, as they were all out of chicken legs this day. I made the mistake of going to the store on the day before carnaval started, the day when most of the meat was wiped out.
Alas de Pollo, sometimes referred to as alitas – This is chicken wings.
Filete de Pechuga – As I mentioned a little higher up in this post, filete de pechuga is boneless chicken breast.
Pollo Entero – This is whole chicken. So if you wanted a chicken to bake or to chop up for soup, this is what you’d buy. Most of the time, this chicken will come with the neck and head still attached. I usually ask them to chop it off for me, which I do by signaling with a karate chop to my own neck. Either they get it right away, or think I’m slightly insane. I don’t like looking my food in the eye, so I feel much better having them take the head off.
Let’s move on to pork. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get many pictures of pork. As you can see in the photo above, it was slim pickins.
Chuletas Frescas – This is fresh pork chops (uncooked). If you wanted to order boneless pork chops you’d ask for chuletas deshuesadas.
Costillas de Puerco – This is pork ribs.
Chuleta Ahumada – This is smoked pork chop. Panamanians usually buy these for a quick meal. You just toss them around in a frying pan with a little bit of oil until they’re nicely colored (a dark pink).
Lomo de Cerdo, same as Lomo de Puerco – This is pork tenderloin.
Tocino – This is bacon. Most Panamanians will call it bacon too.
Moving on to meat. This is where most of us get confused. You can usually look at pork chops and know they’re pork chops. You know a chicken leg or a wing when you see one. However, meat kind of all looks the same…at least to me it does. So I’ll do my best to roundup a definition of all the meats you might see a the butcher here in Panama.
Pulpa Negra – This is on the far right in the photo above. Pulpa Negra is the same as top round, and it’s one of the most popular cuts in Panama. My mom-in-law cooks nothing but pulpa negra. It’s what she uses when she fries carne (meat) and when she cooks it up with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, etc.
Pulpa Blanca – This is on the far left in the photo. I’ve had a hard time figuring out what pulpa blanca is exactly, and I don’t think I’ve ever bought it, but from what I gather, it’s bottom round, which I guess makes sense if pulpa negra is top round.
This is the same picture, but from the other side, so you can see pulpa blanca a little better on the far left side.
Babilla – is in the photo, the second from the left, and this is rump steak from what I could gather.
Rincon – is the next one over in the photo. You can see it a little bit better in the other photo, next to pulpa negra. To be honest with you, I’m not sure what this one is. I’ll have to ask the butcher next time I’m at the store. Sorry, guys. I want to say that it’s probably shoulder (or sirloin), but I’m not sure on that. I’ve tried looking it up online and the word means “corner,” but as far as being a cut of meat, it seems to be a Panamanian thing.
Milanesa – is thin cut round steak. I usually pick up a pack or two of Milanesa when I’m at Pricesmart. It is really thin though. I like it for stir fry and stuff like that. To me, it’s almost the same as pulpa negra, but I think just a little bit thinner.
Carne Molida – This is ground beef.
Ropa Vieja – Translated this literally means old clothes. Sounds gross, I know, but it’s one of my favorite things to eat in Panama. The cut of meat is just flank steak, but when it’s cooked, it’s usually shredded, almost like pulled pork. It’s excellent.
Lomo Redondo – Lomo, just like with pork, is tenderloin. So this would be meat tenderloin.
Palomilla – This is beef loin sirloin.
Falda – This is flank steak.
Carne para Guisar – Usually you’ll see this meat chopped up in chunks, or cubes. It’s basically meat used for soups or stews.
Bistec Picado – This is steak chopped up into little strips, ready for stir-fry.
My daughter trying her darndest to order meat for the family
The cuts listed above are the ones that I see in the regular supermarkets here. They’re everywhere. In the El Machetazo in Coronado, the meat department actually posts signs in English next to the Spanish. It’s the only store I’ve come across that does this. If I lived closer to Coronado I would’ve just run into the store to prepare for this article. Most of the local stores here will only have the signs in Spanish. Now, I’m going to list a bunch of other cuts you might see in the store, but they’re not as common. I’m just going to put quick definitions here, with no photos.
Paleta en Trozo – Chuck arm pot roast
Bistec de Planchuela – Chuck top blade steak
Paleta del 7 en Trozo – Chuck 7-Bone pot roast
Costillar Punta Pequeña – Rib roast
Bistec de Lomo – Top loin (strip) steak
Filete en Trozo – Tenderloin roast
Bistec de Filete – Tenderloin steaks
Pecho Entero – Brisket, whole
Pecho, Corte – Brisket, flat cut
Bistec de Centro – Top round steak
Milanesa de Pulpa Bola – Round tip steak
Pulpa Bolo en Troza – Round tip roast
Bistec Suavizado – Cubed steak
Tiritas de Carne – Beef for stir-fry
Wow, ok, I don’t ever want to do that again. That wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, haha. That ends this article on supermarket tips for shopping in Panama. I know a lot of people were looking forward to this article. I hope I was able to meet your expectations. I might be adding a couple more articles to this segment. I’m thinking about a vegetable article and maybe a trip to the deli article. Let me know if those would be helpful or a waste of time.
Thanks for reading,
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