How prices at Market Basket compare with those in rural Panamaplus, a simple recipe for Chicha de Nance, a refreshing summer drink

This month, Nibble will be exploring the relationship between the food we all discover when traveling abroad, and the food found right here in the ‘ville. We’ll start by looking at prices.

As most Somervillians know, Market Basket in Union Square offers rock-bottom prices—not to mention the vicarious thrill of feeling like you are circumnavigating the globe as you peruse its aisles. We know Market Basket prices are essentially half of what you’d pay at Whole Foods. Yet how do the store’s prices compare to prices of the same products overseas? We posed this question to ex-Somervillian, Catherine Aiello, who is currently spending two years with the Peace Corps in rural Panama. On a recent visit back home, she stopped into Market Basket to compare prices with those in Panama. Here’s what she told us…

“Overall prices were not as drastically different as I had imagined. Rice is about the same, 60 cents a pound. Cooking oil can be had for 5.99 a gallon, only a dollar less than where I buy it. Tuna and sardines were about the same: $1 to $1.50 and 69 cents, respectively. The major disparities were in things like tropical fruits: mangoes go for 99 cents and more here in Somerville; in Panama, they are virtually free. Pineapples go for $2.79 and up here; in Panama, they never go for more than $1. May is avocado season in Panama and I was buying big Florida avocados for 50 cents before I left, versus $1.49 for little Hass avocados in Somerville.

Strangely, apples, which Panamanians see as an expensive foreign fruit, are cheaper there! Apples go for 25 cents versus 35ish or more here. And then there’s the fish. In Panama, I live in a fishing village, about an hour up river from the ocean, so fresh, ungutted fish sells for 50 cents to a dollar depending on the type. Fish at Market Basket was $3.99 a pound, and I know you can spend much, much more.

The biggest surprise to me was the fact that Market Basket sells nance (canned, in a light syrup), a fruit I had never seen before going to Panama.  I never imagined I would see nance (also spelled “nanche”) outside of Panama, but now I know where to find it if I want to make chicha de nance, a Panamanina drink! [Editor’s note: We’ve seen fresh nance at La Internacional on occasion; it’s also popular among Haitians.] Finally, Market Basket carries the same exact brand of powdered milk I buy in Panama, for the same exact price. Maybe reverse culture shock won’t be so bad after all!”

To make a pitcher of Chicha de Nance, simply mash the contents of 1 bottle of nance. Add about a quart of water. Add sugar to taste and serve very cold or over ice. It’s the perfect summer drink!

What do you think of the prices at Market Basket and other Union Square markets? How do they compare to prices  in other markets—whether locally or overseas?