Today in the supermarket down the street from my apartment, I passed two people next to the spice rack and caught the tail end of a comment about particular spices being hard to find. Countless times I have grumbled about not being able to conveniently pick up some peanut butter, or the more difficult to find tofu, and the spices that line the shelves in the Caprabo, Dia or Suma shops leave little to the imagination. You can find pepper, oregano, cinnamon but finding something different for baking or your favourite Asian inspired dinner is a bit of a tall order. As a foreigner in Barcelona, sometimes finding things that you expected to find in a supermarket is tricky.
I commiserated with them silently as I grabbed a few essentials and headed home in a rush before work.
Eventually I got tired of being a grump. Shopping in Barcelona is different to home, and just because I’m used to something else, doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find what I am looking for. I set out to change my attitude and find what I needed. So often friends or family visiting me here ooh and aah over how amazing all the different stores and markets are, so unusual and far more colourful and exciting than visiting a mall or shop back home. So why did I always find it so frustrating?
As a tourist on holiday, wandering for hours around Barcelona, sampling all it has to offer; the smells of freshly sliced cheese or jamon, oggling over the shellfish on mountains of ice, the red, yellow heaped spices in the market, is exciting and a sensory overload. You have plenty of time, you are not rushing between work and home, wondering what to cook for dinner, or where to get THAT ingredient. You have all the time in the world to savour the trip from one stall in the market to a store down the street. For someone used to the convenience of being able to pick up everything in one shop after work, before heading home after a long day, the thought of having to criss-cross the city to find ingredients is daunting and frustrating. But not impossible.
If you know where to look, you can find almost everything you could have at home, and perhaps with a little prior reconnaissance and planning, the experience of shopping in Barcelona as an expat will once again be exciting, you can again appreciate the diversity of living in Barcelona, and indeed find that elusive spice. Convenient? No, but it is interesting and fun!
I stopped to make an attitude adjustment, got out of my usual routine and took an hour or two to actually explore further afield, going into different produce shops that I may have walked past, but never entered because there were more conveniently located supermarkets close to home. I made a mental note of items that were available in each shop, that I couldn’t find in the store closest to my apartment. And surprise, surprise, it was actually possible to find a whole array of products that if you had asked me before, I would have said, “No way, they don’t exist in Barcelona!” All in walking distance to my home!
Now I know exactly where to go to find things, and even if they aren’t conveniently located in one shop, I make time to enjoy the exploration of a new shop or neighbourhood and I stock up, if I don’t think I will be passing that way again. I have begun to enjoy the adventure again, and see Barcelona and shopping as something to be appreciated for what it is.
A few tips:
If you are looking for oats or cereals, almond milk, different and unusual vegetables, spices that are out of the ordinary, try your local organic supermarkets. Here are a few!
http://www.sorribas.com/ ( the Sorribas store I visit is located in Gracia on C/ Asturies)
http://www.ecoveritas.es/barcelona (Veritas also offers loads of items that you wouldn’t find in a normal supermarket- different kinds of flour, useful for baking, as well as loads of varieties of beans and rice)
http://www.wokimarket.com/ ( a few locations around Barcelona, you can find an assortment of organic food, and they also have a restaurant. I usually buy tofu, or get my Japanese nori and miso here at the shop closer to home, if I don’t have time to go to Raval)
http://www.atasteofhome.eu.com/ (Craving British comforts? This is the place to go!)
The Corte Ingles on Plaza Catalunya has a food market where you can find items not generally available in other supermarkets.
If you want different spices or flavourings, especially if you want to cook Indian, or Asian style food, head to Raval! A wander around will reveal all manner of stores filled with the smells and spices from South East Asia, Pakistan, China, Africa and the various Philippine shops have all sorts of interesting foods. You can also find shops offering halaal meat and food. I recommend the large Asian Supermarket more or less on the corner of c/ Balmes and c/ Bergara ( near plaza universitad), it’s a great place to do a big shop, and is filled will all sorts of condiments, curry pastes, noodles, and the list goes on! They have pretty much everything, including fresh vegetables. Nearby there is also the Superstar Asia Food on c/ Tallers which also stocks a variety of noodles, tofu and fresh veggies.
Oh and Peanut Butter? You’ll find that at the convenient store located on your corner! It may be a little pricey, but at least you can buy a tub at 11.30pm!
I still haven’t managed to track down the illusive “Allspice” that I used to buy in South Africa (great for baking and cooking!) but I haven’t given up, and in my new quest to discover what other shopping Adventures Barcelona has to offer, I hope to find some soon. In a place where you can actually buy Ostrich eggs at the market, and let’s not forget about all the amazing seasonal foods like truffles and mushrooms, as well as a vast array of seafood, I really don’t have anything to complain about! So good luck finding that missing ingredient, and do let me know of any close held shopping secrets!