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.



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. :)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


12/12/12: I love numbers!

Well, it’s actually already 12/13 around here (or 13/12, as the Spanish would write it, forever causing me unwarranted confusion), but who’s counting?

I did a little bit of a blog refresh today and changed my header image to reflect what’s happening these days: less running (and no races), more traveling, the same amount of (daily) chocolate.

And while I updated the blog’s look, I re-read a few posts. It startles me that I wrote this one just over a month ago. Things were a little shaky that day, no?

Reading something like that initially stirs up embarrassment. I don’t really like airing dirty laundry on the internet (even if I do try my best to skirt specific details). (P.S. See how I just used “dirty laundry” and “skirt” in one sentence? That’s a writing no-no because it’s just so devastatingly punchy, but I’m going to leave it in because I’m too lazy to self-edit at the moment.)

But, more than embarrassment, it makes me feel freakin’ proud and resilient. A lot has changed in 5-ish short weeks. To wit:

  • I moved to a new apartment, and I fell in love with the neighborhood. I like its vibe. I feel at home here.
  • I got hired to do some freelance writing, and it’s putting food on the table! (Yay, income.)
  • I made a few new friends and navigated a potentially super stressful housing situation (I’m moving again next month, but sticking to the same neighborhood) without freaking the fuck out.
  • I slowed way down emotionally and did some reading & journaling & reflecting (all that stuff I’d been putting off), and I came out on the other side feeling calmer and lighter.
  • I went to Istanbul and had my mind blown!

Forging this international path feels good. Finding my way toward contentment feels even better. I hate admitting that I was a wound-up stress case at the beginning of 2012, but I was. And that stress monster haunted me a little bit when I first arrived in Spain.

Now I’m feeling more like me (or the me I’ve wanted to be but couldn’t quite find), and that’s, well, it’s rad.

Bring it on, universe. I’m game.

Fuzzy brain, fumbling words

My friend Jessica wrote a post about making language mistakes & feeling embarrassed that is speaking to me in so many ways today. To be sure, Jess’ Spanish is leaps and bounds beyond mine, but it shows that we all hit a wall of frustration at certain points, no matter how advanced our language skills. We’re not native speakers, and we can’t change that.

I went to Istanbul for the weekend (I loved Istanbul and will write about it soon), and upon returning, it’s as if I’ve completely forgotten how to string together a sentence in Spanish.

This morning, I ran into the yoga instructor that teaches at the little studio next door to my apartment (the studio where I paid for a month of classes). I’ve decided not to renew for December because I’ll be traveling and having a visitor from the states and moving to a new apartment (yet again, more on that later). (And I didn’t really enjoy the style of yoga, but that’s beside the point.)

The instructor said she’d been wondering where I’ve been and asked if I’d be returning to take classes. I meant to say that I’ve been busy and out of town, but might consider it in January.

Instead, I completely fumbled.

I couldn’t get a sentence out. I couldn’t conjugate a verb. I basically spouted a few disconnected words, and she tried to fill in the rest, and I just nodded at what she was guessing, even though it had no bearing on the truth.

By the end of the conversation (if we can even call it that), it’d been determined that I’m leaving Barcelona next week because of money and I’m going back to my home in the states and ending my visit here.

Um, yeah. None of that is true.

I was just so flustered and frustrated that I couldn’t even attempt to get the conversation back on track.

She gave me dos besos and wished me a wonderful Christmas in the states and a good life!


Inevitably, I’m going to run into her next week – or next month (though I’m moving to a new apartment, it’s just around the corner) – and she’ll be perplexed why the stupid American girl who can’t speak a lick of Spanish is still wandering around the streets and not headed home.


A little preview of my 3-day trip to Istanbul …

spice market

blue mosque


Living abroad: 8 things I miss about the U.S. – and 3 things I don’t

Don’t get me wrong, living in Barcelona hasn’t provided the kind of adjustment and culture shock that living in a remote village without plumbing would, but there are definite differences that cause me to celebrate or, at times, grumble. I’m kind of good at grumbling when things tick me off, so I tried not to write this post too early in my adventure, lest I blow everything out of proportion.

portland happy hour

Enjoying happy hour over the summer in Portland – and displaying my extraordinarily long shins. (photo by my friend, Jill)

I still have a lot to learn about life here, but I think I’ve gotten enough of a flavor of the city and its tempo to evaluate what I wouldn’t give up, what I could do without, and what I really miss about life in the states. Today I’ll focus on that last part, and in an upcoming post, I’ll speak to the things about Barcelona I’m falling madly in love with.

8 things I miss about the U.S.

1. Food carts. I’m speaking mostly about Portland here, but DAMN, I miss our food carts. We’re spoiled in PDX. Fresh, cheap, delicious, organic food from hundreds of carts, representing every kind of craving and cuisine. Yeah, sometimes too many choices are overwhelming, but what I’d give for a steaming $4 bowl of kale, quinoa, black beans and spicy sauce. Or a drippy delicious egg sandwich from The Big Egg. Or a plate of nachos covered in jalapeños. Or anything covered in jalapeños.

food cart pdx

Portland food carts, I love you so hard.

2. My grocery staples. Almond butter, almond milk, turkey breast, vanilla granola, whole wheat tortillas, hot salsa, protein bars. Before you go telling me that I can find substitutions and approximations for all those things, let me stop you. They’re just not the same! (And they’re damn expensive here.) I miss you, Trader Joe’s. I miss you, New Seasons.

3. IPA. You’ve heard me wax nostalgic about IPA, and it’s the truth: I love a hoppy beer. The wine in Barcelona is lovely, but the beer is abysmal. It’s all watered-down, Pilsner-style, flavorless ick. I’ve gotten in no less than three arguments with Europeans – and even an American here – that the beer in Barcelona is better than in the states. Every time, I’m like, But have you been to Portland? No? You haven’t? End of discussion. ;)


Remember that time I found an IPA in Barcelona and got all teary-eyed?

4. Meal times. My preferences are very slowly changing, and sometimes I like the long lunches and late dinners in Barcelona, but for the most part, I miss eating and going out at what felt like “civilized” hours. I know saying that is near blasphemy in these parts, but staying up until 2:00 am every day (or later on the weekends, when people don’t even start the night until after midnight) is catching up with me. There are days I really miss meeting for happy hour at 5:30, eating dinner at 7:00 and making it home in time to curl up on my couch and watch Bravo.

5. My gym membership. I don’t exercise here as much as I’d like, for a number of reasons, one being that I get really bored when I don’t have easy access to a variety of workout options. I miss taking classes like Zumba, Pilates & whatever fancy name they’re calling the weightlifting class these days. Here, monthly gym memberships are really pricy, unless you sign a long-term contract (even then, they’re more expensive than the states), and I can’t sign a contract without having a Spanish identification number.

6. Having a steady income. I guess this one isn’t U.S.-specific, but it’s specific to my experience at home. I took for granted the calm that comes with getting a regular paycheck, knowing how much to expect every two weeks and being able to budget accordingly. My finances are all over the place here, and though I’m learning to deal with the anxiety, it’s not my happy place.

7. Skiing. As winter approaches, I’m getting all bugged out over missing the ski season in Portland. My friends and I had a nice little routine of meeting at the parking lot on weekend mornings, carpooling up to the mountain, stopping for breakfast burritos, beating the crowds to the hill and stopping early in the afternoon for, yes, IPAs. (I have gear, equipment and a ski pass at home so it’s not a big expense the way taking a weekend trip to the Pyrenees – or wherever the closest skiing is – would be here.)

8. Friends & family & football. Of course, friends and family would be on my list no matter which country I’d relocated to. Not seeing friends from home is an adjustment enough, but it’s really the time difference that gets me riled up. It’s a challenge to find times to Skype, and sending texts and emails just isn’t the same. Oh, and have I mentioned how nearly no bars show NFL games here? (Those that do show them inconsistently at best.) I miss watching the Packers and checking my fantasy scores incessantly and acting a fool with my friends. (We can get into a discussion later about how being a football fan maybesortakinda goes against some of my beliefs – and how I could try to get into soccer here in Barcelona – but for now, let’s just leave it at #PACKERNATION and #GOPACKGO.)


Despite appearances, we didn’t even pose for this pic.

3 things I don’t

1. Working a 40-hour week. In my circle of acquaintances here, the 40-hour week is unheard of. And I don’t just mean because work is hard to come by, which it is, but that people choose to work less if given the option. The mentality is so much less work-work-work-move-up-move-up-move-up than it is in the states. I love the focus on balance and enjoyment. Life is tranquila, and that pace agrees with me.

2. Driving. The public transportation in Barcelona is legit. I can walk or take the metro everywhere I need to go. It’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s not stressful (except when there’s a transportation strike and trains are running 30% of the time and I’m late to work). ;) I love not worrying about paying for gas, paying for insurance, finding parking, etc. I sort of never want to own a car again.

3. Owning shit. I absolutely love being mobile. No mortgage, no car, no furniture, no accumulation of piles of crap. I love that when I moved from one apartment to another here, I packed up all of my stuff into three suitcases and got on the metro, and that was that. The need to be mobile has also changed the way I shop. I’m not tempted to buy clothes (other than a couple wool sweaters when I realized I didn’t pack anything remotely winter-appropriate) or trinkets or candles or cupcake platters or whatever other shit I used to put into my basket at Target. Maybe this’ll change one day, but I’m digging the simplicity of not having stuff.

Tell me: Have you lived abroad, or are you living abroad now? What sorts of things do you miss about home?