IberiaNature A guide to the natural history and food of Spain

Food shopping in Catalonia

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.

Like most modern European shoppers, people in this country are increasingly using supermarkets to stock up their fridges. These can be either neighbourhood establishments or huge malls set in acres of carpark on the outskirts of town, and more often than not belong to French or German chains such as Carrefour or Lidl . The Spanish chain Dia only holds its own by not even emptying the packing crates, and Pryca sells as many non-comestibles as foodstuffs.

Although modern Spaniards increasingly rely on frozen food, many dishes involving seasonal ingredients are still only served at the appropriate time of year. On the other hand, there is a long tradition of food preservation, by curing, salting, smoking, bottling or canning. Many comestibles, including some "seasonal" ingredients, such as asparagus, are likely to come out of a tin, jar or bottle. L'Escala and Santoña anchovies, Basque sardines and Galician mussels and cockles are canned or jarred and proudly displayed in the very best establishments, including posh bars and restaurants. Quimet y Quimet, a diminutive tapas bar in Barcelona , specialises in all kinds of Denominación de Origen [see below] products in bottles, jars and tins, including piquillo peppers and some frightfully expensive canned clams, tuna belly etc

The local market still plays a far more important role in most Spanish food shopping than it does in Ireland or Britain . The amount and range of food on show is incredible. Some stalls sell only potatoes, or only onions and garlic, but there will be several varieties of each. Others will sell only the produce of a certain farm or co-operative or region, but will leave you lost for choice. The meat, fish, game and poultry stalls are carefully segregated, and sub-segregated amongst themselves, so that e.g. sausages are never sold by a beef stall, and venison does not appear beside quail. There are stalls displaying extraordinary arrays of fresh fish and seafood from Tuesday to Saturday, although I am told that you have to be careful and be prepared to pay extra if you don't want to be fobbed off with a rehydrated look-alike. Shopping in the market is apparently full of such pitfalls for the unwary, but to an innocent abroad like me it all seems great fun. I enjoy the ritual cry of Qui es l'ultim? [Who's last (in the queue)?], the elaborate greetings such as ¡Reina!, ¡Princesa! and ¡Guapo! or even just jove / joven {young man - remember I'm 45 years old!], and the aggressive little old ladies with shopping bags on wheels, apparently designed like those of Ben Hur's rival's chariot.

The local market provides "healthy competition" not only for the supermarket, but also for the traditional local shops, which are gradually disappearing, and will soon be endangered with extinction. Carn / carne / red meat can be bought in the carniçer / carniceria , if you are prepared to queue interminably and listen to all the local gossip. Benches are often helpfully provided. Most towns have at least one shop licensed to sell only horsemeat. Cured ham, sausages etc. are available in the xarcuteria / charcuteria ; these names are also applied to the produce sold. These shops also sell cheese, in the absence of a specialised formatgeria / queseria /cheese shop. Poultry and egg shops are virtually a thing of the past, as are the old dairies, which used to keep a cow or two even in the middle of Barcelona or Madrid ! Fish shops are rare. Greengrocer's chains appear to be a modern phenomenon, and tend to have horrible names like Fruit's , which set my teeth on edge. Ultramarines are supposed to sell exotic food, but nowadays are just like any other corner shops selling anything and everything, called colmados in Spanish. I particularly like the Catalan name Quevieures , meaning "whatever you see". In my district of Barcelona, called the Raval, these shops are virtually all run by Pakistani, Indian or Plilipino families, who work very hard and stay open until almost midnight seven days a week.

The Instituto Nacional de Denominaciones de Origin ( INDO) maintains the " Denominación de Origin" (DO) program for a broad range of agricultural products, from olive oil, wine and cheese to certain peppers and aubergines. A DO is basically a quality control device.


Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.




See also

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.



Francis Barrett's Deconstruction of Catalan and Spanish Food

See aslo a brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice


Site visitors Individual visits in December 2006: 40,604