Where to grocery shop in Barcelona: affordable stores & specialty shops

By now you probably know that I talk a lot about food. A good meal is pretty much my love language, and I count eating well right up there with living well. Of course, when I travel, I want to discover local, authentic restaurants and try the dishes of the region.

I’ve lived in Barcelona for four months, and I’ve eaten my fair share of delicious food: tortilla de patatas, pimientos de Padrón, chorizo, patatas bravas and various seafood dishes.

Regrettably, I can’t eat out every meal, and I want to recreate healthier versions of these dishes for myself. I also want to cook up the kinds of foods I miss from the states that I can’t find in abundance here (burritos, fish tacos, huge salads, anything spicy).

Markets (like the Boqueria on Las Ramblas and the Mercat de l’Abaceria in Grácia) and fruterías are the best places for fresh fruits and veggies in Barcelona, but if you want to do all of your shopping in one place – or if you’re looking for international foods – you might prefer to shop in supermarkets.

Here are my picks for the best grocery stores in Barcelona, based on price & inventory …

Best prices

  • Consum: I think this is my favorite everyday grocery store. The prices are great, the selection is good, and it seems they restock with new items regularly.
  • Sorli Discau: The selection is a bit more limited here, but prices are still good.
  • Dia: For some reason, I’m not a huge fan of Dia, but it’s reliable if you need to stop in for something kind of normal (packaged foods, etc).
  • Mercadona: There are lots of Mercadonas around the city, and the big ones have a good inventory of international brands, too.
  • Lidl: Lidl and Mercadona are pretty equal in my eyes.

A bit more expensive, but also a little higher in quality

  • Bon Preu: I especially like the bakery section of Bon Preu.
  • Caprabou: Options are a bit limited in some cases, but they carry a good selection of things like yogurt (lots of Greek flavors), wine and pre-made meals.

For American products and other specialty items

  • Carrefour (at Glories shopping center) and Carrefour Express (La Rambla, 113): The Carrefour in Glories reminds me a bit of a Costco. Lots of items in bulk, including a large bath/beauty section.
  • A Taste of Home (c/ Floridablanca, 78): A good spot for British foods like crisps, chocolate and flapjacks (which aren’t pancakes, as we think of them in the USA, but are more like dense, sticky oat bars)
  • Taste of America (c/ Balmes, 322): This little shop is wildly expensive, but it’s the only place I could find canned pumpkin when I wanted to make a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. It also has Duncan Hines cake mix, Nerds candy, Goldfish crackers & more.
  • Corte Ingles (Plaza Catalunya): I don’t go to Corte Ingles because I don’t like fighting the crowds, and it’s pretty expensive, but if you’re looking for international brands and nearby, it’s worth a visit.

For organic/vegetarian/vegan items

  • Veritas: A good range of healthy stuff like muesli, wheat bread and almond milk, but the prices reflect it.
  • Deli Shop: These small shops carry good beer, pre-made meals and curry sauces.
  • Various Bio shops (RecambBIO, etc): Most of these are local, not chain shops, and they sell quinoa, specialty oats, a wide variety of tea, etc.

For Asian/Indian sauces, noodles & snacks

  • Nearly all of the Basar/Xines shops, but especially Barcelona Store Exotic Thai (c/ Compte D’Urgell, 24)

Where I won’t shop

  • Open Cor: It’s open 24 hours, but it’s crazy expensive.

Love peanut butter as much as I do? This section’s for you …

I’ve been on a comparision-shopping hunt for the best/cheapest peanut butter in town since I arrived. I’m a complete PB snob and prefer the natural kind (two ingredients only: peanuts and salt), and I’ve had a hell of a time finding it here. Actually, I still haven’t found it, but more on that in a second.

The other kind of peanut butter – with sugar and hydrogenated oils – is relatively easy to find. Carrefour carries the Spanish brand, Capitán Mani, at the best price: 3.80€ for a 510g jar. Caprabou also carries it for around the same price. Carrefour carries the same brand for 4.10€, and the Deli Shop carries an American brand (Jiff? Skippy? I don’t remember) for 5.85€ (yikes). Taste of America carries an American brand too, for around the same price.

I’ve been eating this sickly-sweet PB for the last few months (because any peanut butter is better than no peanut butter!), and I about cried tears of joy when a friend from home sent me a Costco-sized jar of the natural stuff from home.

peanutbutter

PEANUT. BUTTER. DANCE.

I am dying to find natural peanut butter in Barcelona. And recently, I got a few promising leads! (I am not being dramatic here. Finding PB is BIG STUFF.):

  1. A local friend said that the Suncoast brand (or Sun-something) is available here, and they make a natural option. I tracked the brand down, but only found a tiny jar that had hydrogenated oils in it. PB fail.
  2. I went to brunch with a friend at Juicy Jones, and they served crackers with natural peanut butter. Holy shit! I asked the waitress where they bought it, and she said she didn’t know because it was her first day, but you better believe I’ll return to Juicy Jones to ask again.
  3. Another local told me that some of the Bio shops have grinders, and you can buy a package of nuts and ask them to grind them for you. If this is true, I will be in heaven. Fresh peanut butter, almond butter and … cashew butter too?!? PINCH ME.

Clearly,  my nut butter search is not over. I shall report back. :)

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Spanish word(s) I love: michelín

Today’s word: michelín

Say the word a few times, and perhaps it’ll conjure images of this guy:

The Michelin Man

The Michelin Man

And you’re well on your way to understanding this word’s meaning already.

Michelín means roll of fat or spare tire, and it’s used like, “Tengo un michelín por todo el pan que he comido!” (I have a spare tire because of all the bread I’ve eaten!)

I like to think it’s a little bit impossible not to acquire un michelín after living in Barcelona for four months and indulging in bread, wine, potatoes and lots and lots of olive oil.

Have you heard this word in other Spanish-speaking countries? Is it used in other ways?

Where to go in Barcelona: Caelum Café

I first read about Caelum Café at New Life in Spain, and knew I had to go. It’s a Spanish bakery with a twist: all of the sweets are made by nuns and monks from around Spain, and its location is a former Jewish bathhouse (in Barcelona’s Gothic neighborhood).

Its first floor looks fairly standard:

caelum upstairs

Try to get a seat downstairs in the former bathhouse room:

caelum downstairs

They serve all sorts of desserts, from cakes to bonbons to anise-flavored cookies:

caelum sweets

And if you feel inclined to buy gifts, my address is they’ve got a good selection of packaged sweets too:

caelum packaged sweets

Details …

Location: Calle Palla, 8, 08002
Hours: 7 days a week, from 10:30 am to at least 8:30 pm (later on weekends)
Closest metro: Liceu
Website: caelumbarcelona.com

Spanish word(s) I love: montón

postre

un montón de postre!

Today’s word: montón

Montón means lots & lots, similar to mucho, but used to express extremity. I’ve heard it used in the following ways:

  • un montón de gente = tons of people
  • un montón de cosas que hacer = tons of things to do
  • un montón de tráfico = lots of traffic
  • un montón de tiempo = tons of time
  • un montón de ruido = lots of noise

My online dictionary tells me montón can also be used to mean the following:

  • ordinary, average … as in, un hombre del montón (“just an average guy”)
  • to stand out from the crowed … as in, salirse de montón
  • there were lots of potholes … as in, tenía baches a montones

Another fun fact: I don’t think it has any relation (can someone correct me if it does?), but there’s also a pueblo in Zaragoza, Spain called Montón. The best part? It only has around 150 inhabitants, not tons & tons.

5 signs I’m becoming Spanish

late-night meal

A fairly typical late-night meal of vino, tomate, queso y pesto.

Appearances may be deceiving, but I’m starting to believe that I’m becoming just a little bit Spanish day by day. The evidence:

1. These days my normal bedtime is around 2:30 am, and I wake up at 10:00 am. Dinnertime is 9:30 pm or later.

2. I’m peppering my sentences with words (and sounds) like vale and joder and buuuffff and oyyy.

3. I now prefer cafe cortado and cafe con leche to the large (watered-down) coffees in the states. Also, I have a special affinity for pimientos de Padrón and pan con tomate.

4. My students have discovered that I understand more Spanish than I’ve let on, and they’re talking to me (in Spanish) outside of class. (Though Antoni is quick to note that he will still consider me a guiri until I’ve lived here for a year.)

And the biggest indication of all …

5. I had a dream in Spanish last night! Holy. hell. That has never happened before.

+++

Are you living abroad? When did you know you’d become part of your community and no longer an outsider?

Living abroad: 8 things I love about Barcelona – and 3 things I don’t

Last month, I shared 8 things I miss about the U.S. – and 3 things I don’t, and now I’m flipping the script to talk about my deep love (most of the time) for Barcelona.

8 things I love about Barcelona

1. The shopping experience. I mentioned that I miss grocery staples from the U.S., but I actually enjoy the experience of shopping more here. Everything is right out my front door. I can walk across the street to the grocery store, turn the corner and meet a fruit stand, walk two blocks to a pharmacy. I have to pop into more places than I would in the states, but it’s faster overall because I don’t have to drive anywhere, and I can make a quick trip right before dinner when I realize I’m out of avocados or whatever. Also, the open-air markets in each neighborhood are the shit. I’m just up the street from the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central on Calle Verdi, where I can find fresh fruit, veggies, ham, cheese, nuts, dried fruit and more.

2. The architecture, plazas & narrow streets. So. much. dreaminess. I have to pinch myself every day that it’s a totally normal experience for me to walk past a building from the Roman era and stop for café con leche in a plaza filled with orange trees. I have time in my days to get lost in the city’s winding, narrow streets and to drink wine in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday.

3. Its walkability. I should invest in a pedometer because I’d love to know just how much I walk here. The metro and train system are super easy too, but I prefer walking when I can – and it’s safe to be out at all hours. I’ve learned my way around the city by walking from end to end, and I’ve still got much more to explore.

4. The language. I’ve written about trying to immerse myself in Castellano more and about my frustrations when I fumble, but the ups and downs are all worth it. Learning a new language is a huge challenge for me, and I love it. I also love that I can’t understand every single conversation that’s happening around me, so I’m never stuck unintentionally eavesdropping on anything bothersome. (In the states I catch myself getting really ticked off when someone is talking too loudly on a cell phone or having an inane conversation in public; here you could be talking about something wildly inappropriate at the table next to me and I likely won’t even know it.)

5. Abuelitos. Oh my word, I’m smitten for the old men and women in Barcelona. They stay out nearly as late as the younger generations here, walking the streets arm-in-arm, drinking beers at outdoor tables. They dress to the nines, and seem just as in love as the day they met. I’m a hopeless romantic, so of course it makes my heart flutter. The day my Castellano is good enough to strike up a conversation with an older couple and learn their secret is the day I’ve arrived. ;)

6. The pace of life. This is wrapped up in nearly every other thing I love about Barcelona, and I’ve said it before, but the pace of life agrees with me. It’s such a treat to linger over lunch, have wine in the afternoon, wake to sunlight and not the blaring of an alarm. I sleep more deeply here, have wildly vivid dreams and feel like I weather stress better than I did in the states.

bcnbeach

Watching the sunset & sailboats on the beach in Barcelona.

7. Cheap wine & montaditos. Speaking of wine, it’s good and cheap here. Almost too good and cheap. (It’s true that it’s the same price to buy a glass of wine as a bottle of water in many bars.) And montaditos – small open-faced sandwiches with cheese, veggies, chorizo or tortilla de patatas – are the perfect snack. Some of my favorite dinners here have been a shared spread of five or six montaditos with a couple glasses of wine – all for under $10 per person. I’m also a big fan of tapas, especially when served with a side of spicy sauce.

Tapas

Pimientos de Padron y pulpo a la gallega with my new flatmate, Eliana.

8. Proximity to different countries & cultures. Since I’ve been here, I’ve made quick trips to Cadaques, Sitges, Tossa de Mar and Montserrat. While not quite as close (but still easily accessible), I’ve flown to Istanbul and Paris. When I studied abroad in Sevilla 10 years ago, it wasn’t so easy to get to other places in Europe, and I’m really enjoying Barcelona’s location in northern Spain. I’m not sure if my budget will allow for any more flights while I’m here, but I plan to explore La Rioja and the Basque country, and hopefully spend a weekend in Madrid.

Cadaques

Take me back to Cadaques any day.

3 things I don’t

1. The smoke & piss & spit. Ewww, right? I can’t go anywhere without seeing a frothy spitball or stream of pee in the street, and it seems that everyone smokes. (Lucky for me, Barcelona instituted a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in 2011 so I don’t return home from a night out smelling like an ashtray, but people still smoke in the streets all the damn day.) The Barcelona Reporter says that 35% of the general population over 16 years old in Spain smokes, and 24% of people in Barcelona smoke. From my experience in the streets, I say people are under-reporting their habits! In some ways I’ve become used to the smell of smoke, but the pee (and shit!) is another story. This certainly goes along with the lack of green space in Barcelona. We do have some beautiful parks, but not in the same abundance as Portland, and you can forget about grass-lined sidewalks. With no dirt or grass in sight, dogs (and dudes) pee on the cobblestones, and I’m forever dodging little rivulets of smelly liquid.

2. The economic crisis. This sort of goes without saying – and it’s not endemic to Catalonia only – but the economic crisis and job market woes are definitely putting a damper on the quality of life for locals and visitors to the city. I count myself lucky that I’ve found enough odd hours of work to get by, but I know that I’d be in a better situation if it weren’t for the scarcity of job openings here. And there would, I hope, be less conflict and consternation among locals. The mood here is still very much life-is-good, but I would like to see this city thriving even more!

3. Being “The American Girl.” Here’s a point I’d like to examine a bit further in a future post, but I do feel the mark of being a tourist/outsider. Service in restaurants is notoriously poor in BCN, but sometimes it’s downright abysmal when you can’t speak the language properly. (However, I don’t want to generalize too much because I’ve also had some holy-wow-fantastic service experiences here.) Sometimes I think people (read: men) approach me because I’m something of a novelty, someone to just practice English with or to test their knowledge of the United States.

WHAT’S MIAMI LIKE??!

Um, Miami is more than 3,000 miles from where I live … It’s sort of  like me asking you what Afghanistan is like.

Okay, that’s a stretch – and I’ve never actually answered someone that way. But, still, I’m a little tired of speaking for “all Americans” and giving token-ish answers on the state of affairs in American politics, culture, etc. Rather than being seen as a tourist here, I’d really like to integrate more. Of course I’ll never be accepted as a local, but I’d like to feel a bit more woven into the “real” fabric of life here.

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To end on a positive note(!): I’m seriously enjoying this adventure and all Barcelona is offering me. It’s good for my mind & good for my soul! It’s shaking up how I conceive of my strengths and weaknesses & how I relate to others. And it’s (fingers crossed) leading to the ever elusive bilingualism.

shelby

Shout-out and besos to Shelby, who’s been my partner in crime these last few months. She left Barcelona today, and it simply won’t be the same without her.

Happy New Year!

Feliz año, amigos! I’ve had a very busy few weeks and little time to write, but I’m hoping to get back on something of a schedule soon. I have so many things to catch you up on: Istanbul, Paris, holiday fun with a friend from Portland, moving to a new apartment (that’s 3 homes in 3 months!) and more.

For now, this post is just a preview because I’ve got some other writing assignments I need to get to first, so I’ll leave you with a picture from last night’s Three Kings parade in Barcelona.

Here’s hoping 2013 brings you much love, adventure, growth and happiness!

dia de reyes