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. :)


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

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?

Link love: Things to do in Barcelona


Ready to soak up some culture in Barcelona? ;)

I’ve got a whole bunch of half-written blog posts on places I’d recommend to take visitors, but since those aren’t quite ready yet, I’ll share a few resources I’ve found helpful over the last few months:

+ Le Cool: A mix of art, culture & shopping.

+ BarcelonaYellow: All sorts of info, from nightlife to apartment rentals to transportation.

+ The Spain Scoop: Travel advice & tips, especially helpful for folks making a long-term move.

+ BCN Week: A weekly newsletter on events, culture & politics.

+ Barcelona Life: Even more info on nightlife, restaurants, entertainment & more.

What am I missing? Tell me your favorite Barcelona sites & ‘zines.

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?

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


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

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.


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


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 :)

pics from Thanksgiving in Barcelona

Who’s ready for some food porn?

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve already seen most of these pics, so apologies for the duplicates. I haven’t been taking my nice camera out as much as I’d like; it’s quick iPhone shots or nothing.

On Thursday, Shelby and Dawson came over for Thanksgiving at my apartment.


We enjoyed a spread of ham, cheese, bread, mashed potatoes and salad.


And I successfully made mini pumpkin pies in the toaster oven. (HOLY YUM.)

mini pies

We stuffed ourselves silly, and then somehow found more room in our stomachs for a late night dinner with Dawson’s cousin and his wife, who were visiting from Germany. We went to Paco Meralgo in l’Eixample district and sat at the bar (reservations are required for tables). It’s a place I’ll definitely take other visitors. (The bombas – deep-fried balls of meat and potatoes with a nearly spicy sauce – are a personal favorite.)

Paco Meralgo

Then, on Saturday, my new friend, Jessica, invited me to a Thanksgiving feast at her place. She hosted sixteen people and roasted four (four!) chickens. She also made stuffing, so I was basically in a carb-induced euphoria all night.

roast chicken

I loved the mix of nationalities represented: people from Spain, France, Andorra, Turkey, Italy and the U.S. They were super welcoming of me and switched back and forth between Spanish and English to help translate parts of the conversation that I didn’t catch.

group shot

I didn’t get a very good pic of the group (probably because I was too busy loading up my plate with a third helping of mashed potatoes), but you can visit Jessica’s blog for a better shot.

I did, however, get a pic of the pastel de chocolate that her friend brought for dessert. The girls erupted in a chorus of ¡Qué guay! upon seeing  it.

pastel de chocolate

After dinner (at, ahem, 1:30 am), we went to a club, and you’ll be happy (or shocked) to know that this self-confessed early bird stayed out dancing until nearly 5:00 am. The club played hip hop music on its first floor and a mix of pop and 80’s music on its second, and I pretty much loved every minute of it. (I didn’t love waking up in a foggy stupor at noon today, but I think I’m slowly adjusting to Spanish time.)

I’m learning that the holidays here are a magical time − the lights, the decorations, the parties, the get-togethers − and I’m feeling pretty lucky to be experiencing all of it.