Beyond its diverse culinary landscape, Panama City provides a welcoming haven for kosher enthusiasts. The city’s offering extends to more than 40 kosher establishments, ensuring a comprehensive and satisfying experience for travelers and tourists. Whether craving the simplicity of a casual pizzeria, the exotic flavors of Israeli-style shawarma, or the refined ambiance of upscale dining, there’s a venue to suit every palate. Sushi bars, bakeries, delis, ice cream parlors, and even Starbucks-style coffee houses contribute to the rich tapestry of kosher options, allowing visitors to explore and enjoy a wide spectrum of culinary delights during their stay in Panama City.
Adding to the culinary richness of Panama City is the impressive 80,000-square-foot Kosher Supermarket, a longstanding pillar in the community that has faithfully served locals and visitors for over five decades. Boasting a diverse array, the supermarket features an extensive selection of over 10,000 kosher products curated from Panama, Israel, the U.S., and Europe. Fresh, locally sourced fruits and vegetables, along with a variety of meats, chicken, and global selections of fresh fish, are readily accessible to patrons.
To enhance convenience, the supermarket offers a home delivery and pick-up food section, catering to the needs of all customers. This robust and comprehensive supermarket experience not only contributes to the local community’s culinary vibrancy but also extends a warm welcome to visitors, ensuring a delightful and accessible kosher shopping experience in Panama City.
In addition to its robust amenities, the mega supermarket in Panama City creates a truly immersive shopping experience. The on-site bakery fills the air with tempting aromas as it produces fresh goods, while the two restaurants offer diverse culinary options for shoppers. Families can enjoy a convenient and enjoyable visit with the dedicated play area for children.
The supermarket’s commitment to diversity extends to its selection of kosher wines, providing a sophisticated array that competes favorably with offerings in New York. Going beyond the essentials, the facility houses its own bank and pharmacy, providing a one-stop shopping destination. The extensive section dedicated to housewares and Judaica items further adds to the unique character of the supermarket, offering shoppers a chance to explore and discover beyond their grocery needs.
The remarkable growth of the Jewish community in Panama City, from 6,500 kosher-observant Jews in late 1999 to over 15,000 today, is a testament to the city’s welcoming atmosphere. This expansion has not only led to the establishment of multiple synagogues but has also contributed to the flourishing of a diverse array of kosher restaurants. As a result, Panama City has emerged as a secure and thriving hub for those seeking a dynamic Jewish life, with an impressive 90% adherence to kosher practices among its community members.
Having the privilege of meeting both Abraham and Moise Zakai, whose family legacy in the food business dates to 1907, was an enlightening experience. The Zakai family’s journey began with their immigration from Jerusalem to Panama in the 1900s. Moise recounted his father’s role as a chazzan in Colon, a city situated on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal, which was home to a significant portion of the Jewish population. In the 1950s, the family made a pivotal move to Panama City, initially establishing a small store. Their journey culminated in 1994, when they relocated to their current, expansive location.
Moise gave me an in-depth tour that offered me an unusual glimpse at all aspects of activities, from the complex receiving and merchandising processes to the smooth distribution of goods. Moise shared with NYJTG, “We operate a substantial facility here. In the basement beneath the supermarket, we conduct kosher slaughter of chickens, with an average of around 5,000 chickens per week, catering to the needs of the community.” He also highlighted that cuts from approximately 100 cattle per week are delivered from a butcher, underscoring the supermarket’s commitment to providing diverse and high-quality products.
This immersive experience provided insights into the Zakai family’s dedication to their community, evident in the meticulous operations of the supermarket. From its humble beginnings to becoming a cornerstone of kosher offerings, the Zakai family’s journey reflects a commitment to culinary excellence and community service that spans several generations.
The Zakays’ commitment to maintaining competitive pricing for their kosher food offerings, in contrast to non-kosher selections at other markets, is a testament to their dedication to accessibility and affordability. Rabbi Sion Levy z’l, a steady presence in the Shevet Ahim Synagogue, provided the inspiration for this dedication. The increase in cost for kosher meat and poultry cuts remains modest, typically ranging from 12% to 15%. This access is enabled by the community’s active participation in paying the shochtim’s (ritual slaughterers) salary, demonstrating a shared commitment to upholding and maintaining kosher customs.
The supermarket’s influence extends far beyond the Jewish community, drawing a diverse clientele in Panama City. The capital city’s large diplomatic community, comprising Europeans, Muslims, Hindus, and Panamanian Christians, appreciates the offerings of fresh vegetables as well as the high-quality meat and poultry. This inclusivity reflects the supermarket’s role as a culinary hub catering to a broad spectrum of tastes and preferences.
Despite the initial challenges faced during the supermarket’s inception when people were not observant, the Zakays remained steadfast in their goal to create a beneficial resource for the community. Moises highlighted their commitment to making kosher observance easy, a factor that has contributed to a significant majority adopting kashrut practices within the community. This dedication has not only facilitated the growth of the supermarket but has also transformed it into a central pillar for those seeking a seamless and accessible kosher experience in Panama City.
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