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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A walking tour of Gaudí’s best in Barcelona

Want to hit up Antoni Gaudí’s most famous Barcelona buildings all in one day? It’s possible on foot, and it’s something I did a couple weeks ago. (Though I pass a few of the buildings regularly and had already been to the others, I wanted to see them back to back.)

Gaudi collage by ok-visit.com

Gaudi collage by ok-visit.com

Regrettably, I forgot to take my good camera with me, so you’ll have to deal with iPhone pics, but I’ll also post better pics by others so you can see the full effect.

Allow me (and my knowledge gleaned from Fodor’s!) to take you on a walking tour of Gaudí’s best, including some additional stops along the way.

Note: While these may be some of the more touristy places to see in Barcelona, they’re popular for a reason. They’re pretty special. But I’m also planning a few future posts of less-discovered gems in BNC. Stay tuned. :)

Start your tour: At the foot of La Rambla, close to the sea

Here, nobody says north or south; it’s “away from the sea” and “toward the sea.” So, start your walking tour near the sea, at the foot of La Rambla, and walk up Rambla, away from the sea.

First stop: Plaza Reial

This plaza’s worth a peek for its storied past. Author Gabriel Garcia Márquez, architect Oriol Bohigas, and former president of the Catalonian Generalitat, Pasqual Maragall, were said to have apartments here. I find it a little lackluster compared to other plazas – and its cafés are nothing special (I learned the hard way by buying an overpriced, bad coffee here) – so take a quick peek and then leave. (It’s on the right on La Rambla, about one third of the way up the street.)

Next stop: Boqueria
La Rambla, 91

boqueria

a pic I took on one of my first visits to the Boqueria

Barcelona has so many wonderful markets, and the Boqueria is one of the liveliest. You can find all sorts of things here: meat, cheese, fresh bread, sweets, fruit, wild mushrooms, hot peppers, nuts, and more. Throughout the market there are also crowded bars where you can muscle your way in for a snack and a glass of cava (or wine or beer, or whatever you fancy). Despite being on one of the most touristy streets in the city, the Boqueria maintains its local appeal.

Continue up La Rambla until you hit Plaza Catalunya at its top.

Next stop: Plaza Catalunya

I’ve never actually spent time in Plaza Catalunya; it’s less than relaxing and basically serves as a central meeting spot in Barcelona. But it’s worth a meander and moment to collect your thoughts. (Do I sound like a tour guide or what?)

Look back toward the sea, and you’re looking toward Barcelona’s old town: the Gothic district and La Ribera (referred to more commonly as El Born). Look away from the sea, and if you can look past the monstrous Corte Ingles, you’re looking toward the more modern L’Eixample.

On the northwest side of the plaza, find Passeig de Grácia and head north (away from the sea). ;)

Next stop: Casa Batlló and CASA Amatller
Passeig de Gràcia, 43 and 41

I love Casa Batlló (on the right) and its equally stunning neighbor, Casa Amatller (which isn’t a building by Gaudí). Casa Batlló, restored by Gaudí and partners, is like a Willy Wonka building: all candy-colored and shaped.

Casa Batllo

My blurry pic …

... and another angle by sincretic (on Flickr)

… and another angle by sincretic (on Flickr)

Apparently, the skulls and bones on the balconies represent the victims of the Dragon of Evil, and the scales of the rooftop represent the dragon’s body, having been killed by St. George.

A look inside will cost you a hefty 17€. (My cheap ass, therefore, has not been in!)

CASA AMATLLER

Casa Amatller

picture by edomingo (on Flickr)

To Casa Batlló’s left you’ve got Casa Amatller, designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, who also served as mayor of Barcelona. The building’s facade includes a sculpture of a princess, said to be the architect’s daughter, and animals pouring streams of chocolate, a nod to the house’s original owner, a chocolatier.

Casa Amatller

picture by Sarmale (on Flickr)

Casa Amatller isn’t open to the public.

Continue north on Passeig de Grácia; the next stop is on the right side of the street.

Next stop: La Pedrera, aka Casa Milà
Passeig de Gràcia, 92

La Pedrera

picture by me, while I dodged traffic

La Pedrera means The Stone Quarry, and it’s an apt name for this building, with its wavy facade and wrought-iron, kelp-shaped balconies. The roof was originally meant to hold a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, but the building owner, Pere Milà i Camps, asked for a design change, and now the building’s colorful chimneys are some of the Gaudí’s most recognized work.

LaPedrera

picture by Mary Hutchinson (on Flickr)

You can pay 16.50€ if you’d like to go inside – and up to the roof.

La Pedrera sits on the corner of Passeig de Grácia and Carrer d’Arago. Head east on Arago.

Now begins the longest walking section of the tour, so take your time. Said another way, Stop in a café for coffee/red wine and a chocolate croissant! Yum. I’ll wait …

Six long-ish city blocks later, turn left on Passeig de Sant Joan. Head north for three long blocks, and turn right on Carrer de Provenςa. In four blocks, you’ll run into Sagrada Familia and gasp (either because it’s so huge or because that damn thing is still under construction).

Next stop: Sagrada Familia
Plaza de la Sagrada Familia

Sagrada

another iPhone pic, possibly better than my others

So, yes, more than 100 years later, Sagrada Familia is still under construction. It’s monstrous, and it’s controversial.

I’ve been past it at least eight times since I’ve lived here, and I always notice something else upon returning. In fact, it’s meant to be overwhelming to the senses, as it’s supposed to encompass the entire history of the Gospel. Read more about its meaning and symbolism here.

Sagrada Familia

an ominous pic by juanma.castilla (on Flickr)

A visit inside costs 13€, and I’ve heard again and again that it’s absolutely wort the price of admission … but I still haven’t been in.

Sagrada Familia

A pic of the inside by aurelian (on Flickr)

On the northeast side of Sagrada Familia, find the diagonal street called Avinguda de Gaudí. Continue northeast on this avenue until you run into our final stop.

LAST STOP: Hospital de Sant Pau
Carrer Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 167

Sant Pau

my partly-shaded picture

I’d jogged by this building a few times before I realized it was a hospital. It’s simply too striking; decorated with mosaics and ceramic tiles, it looks more like a church or really fancy old school. It was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, who also designed the Palau de la Música Catalana and Casa Lleó Morera. If you’d like a tour inside, you can arrange one from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm on the weekends only.

Hospital de Sant Pau

a better picture by Claudi.cat (on Flickr)

Hospital de Sant Pau

Another pic by Claudi.cat

And there you have it. Pretty good all for a half day’s walk, right?

If you’ve got energy to burn, hop on the metro (stop: Lesseps, then walk ten minutes uphill) or take a cab to Park Güell, Gaudí’s infamous city garden.

Coming soon: An architectural tour of the Grácia neighborhood :)

Where I live now: L’Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona

I live in a shared flat near Sagrada Família, in what locals call Dreta L’Eixample (dreta is Catalan for right) because it’s on the right side (and to the east) of a large avenue, Passeig de Gracia. On the left side of Passeig de Gracia, the neighborhood is called Esquerra de L’Eixample (esquerra, as you might guess, is Catalan for left).

Here’s a view from the balcony of the flat:

my flat

I feel very spoiled that I spend most dinners on the balcony.

L’Eixample is really beautiful. Full of wide avenues and even wider intersections, and made up of tall apartment buildings in pastel colors, nearly all of which are dotted with wrought iron balconies.

balconies and shops

On Sundays, the street-level shops aren’t much to look at, but during the week, those graffiti-covered doors are rolled up and the shops look, well, shop-like.

The left side of L’Eixample is closer to the University of Barcelona, and it’s also a bit trendier, as it’s closer to high end shops and more expensive restaurants. I’ve been told it’s become a popular gay neighborhood, and it’s a little livelier than the right side.

On the right side, we’ve got Sagrada Familia, so there are a lot of tourists around that block, but wind your way into the other streets, and it’s got a much quieter, local feel. I love walking around my neighborhood on Sundays, when everything’s closed up; it feels like I’ve got the entire neighborhood to myself.

l'eixample

Pink is one of the most common colors for apartment buildings. A little reminiscent of an Easter egg, no?

L’Eixample is also the location of Oxford House, where I’m taking the TEFL course:

Oxford House

It’s a 10 min walk from my flat.

Not all of the flats in L’Eixample are quite so charming and posh. Some look a little more standard:

example of a flat

This building’s a little more modern, maybe a little less swoon-worthy, depending on your tastes.

During business hours and during the week, L’Eixample is a lot more bustling, and since it’s made up of quite a few main thoroughfares, the traffic gets thick (or, what I consider thick, but the locals tell me the traffic isn’t that bad). I’m forever dodging cars and waiting for streetlights when I go jogging.

Speaking of which (this is supposed to be a running blog, isn’t it?), I didn’t run at all during the week, as I was busy with coursework, interviews and some new private classes I’m teaching (yay!). But I finally got out for a 45-minute run on Saturday, and it was glorious.

Remind me to lace up my shoes and head out for a run the next time I feel stressed, okay? It’s the best cure.

In other news, I’m eating my way through Barcelona one chocolate croissant (and bocadillo and tortilla española) at a time. I think I’ve mentioned this already, but good grief, I can eat. (Perhaps I should be making up for it in more running mileage per week? Um, yes.)

Today I went to a food festival called Mercat de Mercats (in Catalan, it directly translates to Market of Markets), where a bunch of food and wine vendors set up tents and stalls to sell samples.

Mercat de Mercats

It was forecast to rain, but we got lucky. Blue skies and lots of hungry people.

Believe me when I say it was hard not to try a little of everything, but I’ve got my budget strictly in mind so I went with tortilla de patatas (still my favorite, no matter where I go), an empañada with meat filling and pineapple slices drizzled in dark chocolate.

And I couldn’t resist a few truffles for the road:

Mercat chocolate

Too beautiful to eat, you say?

I’ve got just one week left of the TEFL course, and then I’ll be released to the confusing and maddening world of figuring out how to earn a living here. (I should note that I won’t be talking about it too much on the blog, as I’ve been advised to be discreet for various reasons, so just know that it’s something that’s likely stressing me out a bit and causing me to reach for the nearest glass of vino tinto.)

If you want to know the story behind the story because you’re considering a TEFL course in Spain – or you’re just curious – follow me on Twitter and we can chat there or by email.

So, tell me: What’s the best bite you ate this weekend? How do you find time to run when your schedule’s on the ugly side of hectic? What are the best three adjectives to describe your neighborhood?