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Shopping in Spain

By Mr Grumpy - Fri 5th Mar 2010

Shopping of any description (or at least as the non-Spanish would understand it) is always difficult in Spain. As with so many aspects of the lifestyle here, on the surface it can often seem idyllic, but when you look below the surface you will see the many annoying problems.

Almost every book and magazine on the subject of relocating to Spain will paint a rosy picture of getting up every morning to buy fresh bread from the local bakery and then strolling around the market to buy fresh produce. But is this ever the case?

Any newly arrived expat starts off by intending to do all of the weekly shopping at the local family stores and the market stalls in the Town square - we’ve all been there and we’ve all done that. It’s probably only after a few weeks that the realisation dawns that whilst the quality of the food is undeniably great, the range is largely seasonal – and let’s face it, any Brit will tell you that things can get pretty hairy on a Saturday morning in Tesco’s if they run out of Papaya or Guava – we love our choice of products. You can imagine how well it is taken if things like Onions or apples are not available anywhere to be seen in the market that week!

ES_Sale 300x250

It is this reason, along with many others, that gives us Brit’s one of the excuses we need to head for the Supermarket.

Then there’s the issue of communication – half of the fruit and veg - let alone the meat and fish – that I see on many of the market stalls is completely alien to me so I don’t know the word for it English, let alone Castilian or Valenciano. And even if I did I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Another reason to head for the Supermarket – It’s easier to go for the brand names and commercial presentation that is easily recognisable.

Anybody who lives beyond staggering distance of the town square will know that it is also necessary to take the car with you to cart all the shopping back home - which brings the whole issue of parking into the equation. Parking in almost every town centre is usually either done illegally (more often than not on a roundabout or zebra crossing) or simply not available. Add in the extra traffic on market day and it can be a nightmare.

So easy parking becomes another attraction of the supermarket.

It’s also impossible to get all of the shopping done at one stall – as every trader only seems to have two or three products on offer – sometimes only one (enter crazy garlic stall lady) and therefore queuing 15 minutes, behind the locals who have nowhere better to be, at 6 or 7 separate stalls can become a little trying. Neither myself nor my partner have the time to spare to write off an entire morning shopping for what would be just a fraction of our weekly requirements.

So once again, it is easier to go shopping to a ‘one stop shop’.

So, for a variety of reasons, the majority of Brits in Spain are drawn towards shopping in the Supermarkets – but the problems don’t end there! Rather than being the massive corporate giants that are seemingly everywhere in the UK, where there are multiple brands of almost every product available on sale, the reality is a little different in Spain.

It seems that many of us fall into the habit of doing the weekly shop in more than just the one Supermarket. There’s the LIDL or ALDI for the basics – especially the bottled water as many of these products are much cheaper than the other supermarkets, and make the trip worthwhile. Then there’s the Larger Spanish Chain Supermarket to buy the Meat and Fish, bakery products and so on.

The final supermarket that divides opinion is the British Supermarket, Iceland, with it’s dozen or so shops throughout Spain. I love Spanish food and Spanish products, but being a busy guy and having the typically English penchant for convenience food, it too has it’s place as a Supermarket that I have to visit.

Most Spanish Supermarkets will only offer a small selection of questionable frozen Pizzas, or maybe a tin of soup or pre-packaged tortilla as a nod towards the dreaded convenience food.

In a society where many families live in a multi-generation house, I think that it’s great that Grandma can prepare a 3 course meal from scratch every night of the week, but in the real world myself and my partner both work and have a toddler to run after aswell, so don’t have this luxury. Every once in a while we just like to put on a DVD and chuck a curry in the Microwave.

Whilst that doesn’t make me the devil incarnate, it means that I have to go to Iceland to do this and fall into the trap of buying a trolley load of other stuff that I don’t really want or need aswell.

…So last month when a local entrepreneur started to offer deliveries to Spain from a number of UK Supermarkets, you can imagine how this set the cat amongst the pigeons.

Comment on this Blog

I know the Spanish can be very shrewd business people, and that there is very often something going on under the surface that us expats can only guess at. I can therfore only assume that I am missing something when over the last 18 months my tiny Town has seen 3 Baby & Toddler shops open, only to close a few months later. One of the shops has stood empty for 4 months only to re-open this week - as a baby & toddler shop ! - Why haven't these people learned from their predecessors that there just isn't the demand in this town of about 2000 people ?
Caroline - Tue, 19th Jul 2011
I wish I knew myself ! - I think it probably came down to a combination of things, all of which were (in hindsight) badly thought out and under-prepared. HERE is a link to the closest thing to a pre-quel (excuse the shameless self promotion)
Mr Grumpy - Thu, 19th May 2011
I have looked all over this blog for your pre-quel to living in Spain - i.e. the why you did it and how eventually - can you point me in the right direction? If not, please can you write it :)
Sam - Thu, 19th May 2011
The height of glamour ! - Friday nights will never quite be the same again.
Mr Grumpy - Thu, 19th May 2011
You have a choice? Wow we only have Hyperdino in Fuerteventura...although Lidl have just opened their first store in the capital!
Sam - Thu, 19th May 2011
Paul, the Mrs & I love and often cook Spanish food at home, we just don't buy it from the market and, like you, regress to buying it from the local supermarkets. Sad maybe, but when they can cater for a guy in a rush, who doesn't live in the village and therefore will have a car in need of parking somewhere, then maybe I can be persuaded otherwise.
Mr Grumpy - Tue, 26th Apr 2011
We're retired (still in our 60's tho')& live quite busy lives here in the Basque country. We tend to shop in the village Eroski supermarket & have even been known to eat pizza! However, it's a pity you have to resort to convenience food, even tho' you sound busy, etc. My wife is Basque, so I have an advantage, but may I recommend 2 or 3 simple meals that can be prepared in no more than half an hour (apart from the beans, but these can be cooking for 2 hours on the day before ): tortilla (spanish omelette) patatas a la Riojana paella red kidney beans As for deliveries from England, I went on a website recently & was staggered at the price; double for most things, such as Ryvita, which I've eaten for breakfast for years, but buy similar from Lidl or Corte Ingles. If anyone wishes the above recipes in English, I'd be only too happy to send them. As a footnote, we recently went to the Algarve & lo & behold, passing thro' villages in Extremadura, we found orange trees still laden with fruit when they could have been used for maramlade!
Paul Attard - Tue, 26th Apr 2011
I mistakenly stumbled into my local market earlier today. The amount of old women dragging their ankle-breaker shopping trollies behind them and then stopping dead in the middle of the (painfully narrow) streets to hold a conversation every 10 feet reminded me why I avoid the place.
Jo Green - Tue, 26th Apr 2011
for those wishing to make marmalade, that great British tradition, a word of warning. You cannot buy "Seville" oranges in Spain. Maybe those who live in & around Sevilla might be lucky to find some, but those living further afield, such as in the Basque country, impossible to find bitter oranges. You need to go to a Leclerc or similar in France around mid February to buy them. Alternatively go shopping in England!!!!
Paul Attard - Sun, 11th Jul 2010
Another good reason not to go to the market and go to the supermarket in the peak of the summer is just to take your time and bask in the coolness, it is so refreshing, i even find people come with me to wander just for this reason...
Louise - Sun, 11th Jul 2010
can anyone explain why books are so expensive in spain??
Paul Attard - Thu, 17th Jun 2010
I was back in the UK last week and after nipping into Asda for a pack of tea bags I got carried away, and as a result had to book an extra suitcase to bring all the things I bought back to Spain with me. It wasn't so much the variety of goods that just aren't available here in Spain - more the fact that many things are so much cheaper.
Pauline Gee - Tue, 4th May 2010
Very true. I started off in the markets, but now go to the supermarkets - Lidl, the local spanish one and then Iceland for some much needed convenience food and cheaper products (I too have a toddler and work!). Actually the Iceland nearest to me usually has loads of Spanish people in it as well!
Michelle - Thu, 8th Apr 2010
What about shopping for Clothes, Furniture or even Kitchen appliances ?... where exactly do the Spanish get their crazy prices from ? I'm like a small child in a toy shop whenever I visit Tesco's when I'm back in the UK !
Jo Green - Wed, 17th Mar 2010

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