Some foods are very cheap, such as local fruits and vegetables, fish and even chicken. Anything with a Western brand has to be imported, which naturally increases the price. The highest priced items are American items that require refrigeration or freezing. It doesn't take a Panamanian rocket scientist to figure out that the food has to be brought down in refrigerated containers, which typically doubles the price. But for every American brand, there is a local brand. Sometimes the local brand isn't as good... sometimes it's twice as good. For example, Queso Crema puts Philadelphia Cream Cheese to shame and costs about one-third of the price.
There are only two Western foods that I have not been able to find in Panama... Fresca and Cajun seasoned salt. I'm not someone who drinks diet drinks regularly, but sometimes I love the freshness of a Fresca. They do have Fresca here... but it's not diet. My body doesn't handle big infusions of sugar well, so I stay away from regular sodas. Although Coca-Cola Light is readily available, it doesn't taste the same as Diet Coke.
A month away from an ice cold Fresca, and I was developing a serious craving. I started dreaming about how many Frescas I would drink when I went back to Dallas. Dreaming about a diet soda? That's when I knew I was in trouble.
I went shopping at Riba Smith today, the high-end gourmet grocery store in Panama City. In the first aisle, I found Diet Sierra Mist. It's not as good as Fresca, but I literally almost cried. I couldn't put the 12-pack of diet sodas in my cart fast enough. When I got to the checkout stand, I almost wept again when I saw them ring up the soda at the exorbitant price of $7.80... more than twice the price of a 12-pack in Dallas. But when you're having a craving, price doesn't matter.
To round out my splurge, I spent $1.50 on an empanada for lunch to go with my $.65 soda. Even with the inflated prices on imported brands, $2.15 for lunch is more reasonable than I get could in the U.S.