Price Check: a New York Shopping List. Mac & Cheese. New York, New York, USA. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Price Check: a New York Shopping List

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One of the huge advantages of staying in the East Village instead of, say, around the Times Square, is that there are heaps of affordable supermarkets dotted about, which is wonderful if you’re renting an apartment and want to cook occasionally, or, at the very least, you want to whip up your own breakfast eggs. Here’s what it costs to stock up with our New York shopping list.

A large multicultural population means you can find any kind of food here, from packets of freshly made Polish pierogi and Ukrainian vareniki ready to boil (even better refried the morning after) to fresh corn tortillas and myriad salsas, beans and sauces from Mexico and Central America (which are great for putting together some quesadillas or nachos).

When we started researching our New York shopping list, we found that because the East Village, and especially Alphabet City, is a living-breathing barrio, with very few tourists around, the prices are significantly cheaper than they are further uptown. This also has something to do with the fact that the median income of residents here and in the Lower East Side area more generally is under half the citywide median income, with around a quarter of residents on low to extremely low incomes, but more on that in another post.

Of course, if you’re happy to pay higher prices, you can head to Whole Foods nearby at the Bowery, on the border between the East Village and Lower East Side, which obviously has higher quality produce and a much wider variety, although we’ve been fairly satisfied with our local supermarkets, such as Key Food and Associated Supermarket, and smaller grocery stores, such as Village Farm Grocery and East Village Farm and Grocery.

There is also a small green market on the edge of Tompkins Square Park on Sundays, and a larger green market on Union Square on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. In most stores you can expect to find a good range of organic fruit and vegetables, along with free-range eggs, although as you’d expect the organic produce is very expensive.

Out of the local products, what’s impressed me most has been the range of fresh juices, iced teas, and American beers, although the dearth of American wines both in supermarkets and local liquor stores, has been disappointing. You’ll also find the same familiar brands here that you’ll find at supermarkets all around the world – Twinings and Tetley teas, Nescafe and Illy coffee, and the Spanish and Italian olive oils that dominate supermarket shelves.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that we use the same list below each month, apart from the last product on the list, which is a local specialty, is something that is ubiquitous, or in season and in abundance when we’ve visited. We chose ‘Mac’n’Cheese’, because we’d never actually seen it in a packet in a supermarket before, and every shopper seemed to a box of the stuff in their trolley. Having now tried it, though, we’re baffled as to why anyone would use a packet mix and not simply add some fresh cheese to pasta. Can anyone explain?

Price Check: a New York Shopping List

2 litre water US$1.00 £0.66 €0.79
1 quart (1 litre) milk US$2.60 £1.72 €2.06
Bottle of local wine* US$12.00 £7.92 €9.50
12oz (350 ml) beer US$1.40 £0.92 €1.11
100g Nescafe US$4.30 £2.84 €3.40
250 g Organic coffee beans US$11.99 £7.92 €9.49
Tetley tea 50 bags US$4.80 £3.17 €3.80
1 kg sugar US$2.00 £1.32 €1.58
Jar of peanut butter US$2.50 £1.65 €1.98
1 loaf of bread US$2.00 £1.32 €1.58
8 oz (250g) quality butter US$4.00 £2.64 €3.17
8 oz (250g) cheddar US$4.70 £3.10 €3.72
500 ml olive oil US$9.00 £5.94 €7.12
1 doz organic eggs US$4.00 £2.64 €3.17
2.2 lb (1 kilo) tomatoes US$4.20 £2.77 €3.32
2.2 lb (1 kilo) onions US$3.80 £2.51 €3.01
2.2 lb (1 kilo) apples US$6.60 £4.36 €5.22
250 g pistachios US$6.00 £3.96 €4.75
1 box Mac’n’Cheese US$1.29 £0.85 €1.02
Total: US$88.18 £58.21 €69.79

Price Check is a series of posts from every destination we visit where we settle in for a while, that could serve as a shopping list for you to stock the kitchen at the start of your stay, as well as a cost of living index, giving you an idea as to what things cost in that place. We include some basic items to get you started, plus a local specialty or two from the place.


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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

11 thoughts on “Price Check: a New York Shopping List”

  1. Perhaps even worse than packaged Mac & Cheese is the canned Chef Boyardee microwaveable ravioli or the freeze-dried mashed potato flakes that puff up in boiling water. Gross!

    I wish I could give you an answer as to why we have those things here — really the only thing I can think of is that in the 50s, convenience food became really trendy (i.e. microwave dinners and “instant” foods”), so maybe its still hanging on from then? I’ll take home cooking over a box any day!

  2. Maybe because “Mac’n Cheese” is cheaper, faster and ready made rather than buying your own Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself? I don’t know, honestly I haven’t even noticed anything like that before in the US, but oh well, I am Italian after all, and I wouldn’t really be too keen on trying something like that ;-) (Actually the package you photographed scares me a bit!)

  3. Don’t even think about trying it! No matter how much parmesan, salt and pepper I added, I couldn’t get it to taste anywhere near delicious enough as a home-cooked Italian pasta with some parmesan sprinkled on top. I definitely do not get it, but it’s all the rage in New York now – it’s on the menu of many hip eateries specializing in comfort food. One that people continually recommended was called ‘Cafeteria’, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to go to it. Not keen on paying high prices for things out that Terry can cook better (and more cheaply) at home.

  4. Okay, I’m going to explain the Mac n’ Cheese mystery. First, I personally think you bought the wrong variety. If you’re going to buy boxed, buy Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. I don’t eat the boxed variety because I’ve got a truly amazingly amazing macaroni and cheese recipe that I make from scratch. But, when we were kids, the boxed variety used to be a staple. I don’t know many adults who eat the boxed variety but its all the rage with kids.

    And, I think you have to understand macaroni and cheese as an institution itself. It is the ultimate Southern comfort food. I know that New York restaurants are all gung ho about it, but, in truth, it came from the South as a medley of Italian and Southern ingredients and a Southern cooking method. Simply tossing cheese with pasta doesn’t cut it and neither does mixing a cheese sauce with pasta.

    A good Southern mac and cheese recipe involves making a rich creamy cheddar cheese sauce made from a sharp cheddar cheese with a hint of cayenne and golden onions, mixing with cooked pasta, then topping with crisp bread crumbs or croutons, and baking. It’s my husband’s favorite food and when a Southerner makes you mac and cheese, you unbuckle your belt and get ready for seconds because it’s hearty, indulgent, creamy, and amazing.

    The boxed version is a quick fix substitute, kind of like eating instant oatmeal rather than regular oatmeal. It’s not even 1/100th as good but it reminds of us of the original.

    It’s too bad that you didn’t try it in the restaurants because they sometimes make really good versions and mac and cheese is quintessential Americana.

  5. When were you last in an American supermarket? Most of the packaging is scary – except in Austin, where the kitsch Texan/Tex-Mex thing is going on, and in Whole Foods, with its green eco-approach.

  6. Thanks for the explanation! Convenience dinners are still big in the supermarkets in the East Village – and lots of packaged (frozen and fresh) dinners sit beside fresh organic produce. I think it’s partly because, despite the gentrification of the area and high real estate prices, there is still an extremely poor population for whom frozen food is simply cheaper; there’s a large student population; and (like anywhere in the world) people are just busy.

  7. I went for the organic, more expensive version from Whole Foods over the cheaper Kraft packet as I mistakenly thought it might taste better, but if I can ever stomach it again, I’ll take your advice next time.

    But I have to stay I’m glad I didn’t try it in a restaurant actually, as we had a lot of terribly disappointing ‘Americana’ meals in New York as it was, including a lot of greasy, creamy, over-priced hamburgers that cost three times the price they should – the worst of it that they were supposedly some of New York’s finest!

    One of our problems is that we know and love Italian cuisine so much from over a decade of travelling there, so that’s what our tastes are accustomed to, so we didn’t like American-Italian food much at all. We don’t like heavy creamy food sauces (Italians rarely use cream) and we found American lasagna to be rather frightening! I guess we simply prefer lighter Mediterranean cuisine that uses olive oil rather than heavy sauces, although having said that, love a good burnt butter and sage ravioli if we’re in the snow in Northern Italy.

    Thanks for the explanation – much appreciated – but somehow I think I’d still prefer a fresh, home-made Italian pasta, liberally doused with virgin olive oil, sprinkled with parmigiano reggiano, and salt and pepper. :)

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