Grocery Shopping Spanish Style

I know I mentioned before on TRIS that I’m a big fan of grocery shopping over here in Spain. Not only does it always feel good to buy things, but you get the added bonus of filling up your refrigerator and pantry with (in my case) interesting new delicacies!

Ha, okay I am exaggerating a little…. most of the grocery store products here are similar to what we have in the US, but there’s enough new stuff here in Spanish grocery stores to capture my interest.

Perhaps you are rolling your eyes in annoyance at the computer screen at this moment thinking of how much you hate the idea of food shopping. Fair enough (sometimes I use to get annoyed going grocery shopping in the USA), but imagine this scenario: being able to walk 2 minutes from your house to a grocery store that has cool new products like you’ve never seen before combined with a slightly different supermarket layout/system from what you’re use to in the US.

Wouldn’t that make for a fun-filled experience??

Now can you see why grocery shopping is one of the highlights of my week? 🙂

Alright, even if I failed to convince you, I’m sure you’d still enjoy a “sneek peek” into a food shopping experience in Spain, right?

¡Echale un vistazo! (Have a look!)

The Spanish Supermarket Experience

Part I: Arriving to the store

Here is a photo of the front of the nearest supermarket to our house. I got there by walking. And no, I’m not a pathetic loser because I go the supermarket by foot. I would say that 95% of the people who go to this supermarket do the same as me – walk there from their home. In fact, this supermarket doesn’t even have its own parking lot/parking garage – therefore unless you’re lucky enough to nab a parking spot on the street – you’re stuck trekking it there like me!

Part II: The Entrance

Don’t expect a “greeter” to hand you a shopping cart at this supermarket once you walk in- those babies are limited! The majority of people use these mini rolling baskets to do their shopping with (photo to come). Also, be aware if you’re carrying a backpack or shopping bags from other stores – the people working at the supermarket might make you lock them up in a locker! (to prevent stealing – I think?)

The Spanish "Nocilla Theft Prevention System"

I suppose these lockers can also be used for your comfort – ha I remember one time I was walking around town with two baseball mits (long story, don’t ask) and I was tired of carrying them with me so, being the clever Ray that I am ;-), I popped into a supermarket and locked up my annoying gear in one of their lockers and came back a few hours later to pick them up! 🙂

Moving on, something else curious for me that exists in the front of this supermarket in particular is a receptical for recycling a certain household product… any guesses to what it might be??

That big red box is a place to bring your used “cooking oil” so that you can recycle it instead of dumping it down the drain! (I guess oil is bad for the environment? or is it bad for the pipes to put oil down the drain?) In any case, I highly doubt these exist in the US (well in my part of the country) – where I come from we rarely use oil to cook food in our homes.

Shall we continue along?

Part III: Fruit and Dairy Section

Now that you’ve checked your bags at the door, have safely deposited your cooking oil, and have helped yourself to mini basket, it’s time to let the shopping commence!

Check out the lovely fruit selection they have at this particular supermarket!

Looks so good I could just grab a piece of that fruit! ....o wait....dang It.....

It really is a pretty spread isn’t it? Did you notice how everything is tidy and well organized? – That’s no conscience! At this supermarket you’re not allowed to touch the fruit or vegetables yourself – instead a worker comes over to help you and you have to tell her “how many pieces” or “how many kilos” of a certain product that you want.

Ha, this always causes controversy with Diego and I! We can never agree on how fruit or veggies to much to ask for – (he errs on less and I tend to want larger amounts) Let’s just say that the fruit ladies are very patient individuals!

Got ****?!

Here’s a blurry snap shot of the refrigerated dairy section. It’s jam packed with yogurt! Another dairy products that’s a staple here is cheese (don’t have a photo of the cheese section – the fruit lady was beginning to give me strange looks at this point so I wanted to move along as quickly as possible). Dairy products that are not popular/almost non-existent here are: creamer for coffee, cottage cheese, and sour cream.

Finally, do you notice something here that’s missing from the traditional dairy section of a supermarket?? Read on to find the answer!

Part IV: Exotic Products

Okay so we have fruit, yogurt, and cheese in the US – big deal right? Well, be prepared to feast your eyes on some new European delights!

I flew all the way to Spain to see soggy asparagus?!? 😉

Do you recognize these bad boys? I wish I could say that these were jars of some strange sea food product, but sadly they are merely some lame vegetable. Kidding aside, can you guess what is in these jars…? It’s asparagus! For some reason it’s popular to buy them swimming in liquid in glass jars…. also many times you eat these soggy white asparagus with mayonnaise…. intriguing right? Also, it’s common for hot dogs to come packaged like this – in glass jars submerged in some type of salty brine. Have you ever seen jarred asparagus and/or hot dogs in the US? I certainly have not!

"Give me 3 kilos of your finest octopus!"

If you read my post about our squid lunch, then you probably remember me talking about how you buy your seafood fresh from the “fish lady” at the supermarket. Here is the evidence! All the seafood is fresh and sitting out displayed on a bed of ice. You tell the lady what you want and how much and she “guts it” and gives you advice on how to prepare it. 🙂 I really wanted to get some up close pictures for you of the types of fish and seafood that are available – but I felt like a werido walking around snapping photos with  my large IPad 😦 So I guess you’ll have to take my word for it and deal with my blurry “paparazzi” shots.

P.S. See that lady’s blue basket?? That’s what you use to do your shopping with (many times) instead of a shopping cart!

And now, remember when I talked about what was missing from the dairy isle? Well, here it is! Located across from the cereal and breakfast food….


Here in Spain you buy your milk warm and straight from the shelf – it only needs to be refrigerated after you open it. I think this is the weirdest thing for Americans to see when first experiencing a Spanish supermarket. Don’t be afraid folks! It’s just that here they “pasteurize” their milk in special way (maybe it’s even a different technical process than pasteurization? I’m not sure…) so you can buy it in bulk and keep it in your pantry and only store it in a cool once it’s been opened. Also, do you notice how mini the containers of milk are?  My Spanish friends do buisness with liters, not gallons – so you purchase your milk in liter or half liter size containers!

It’s the same story for eggs – they’re not refrigerated here in the supermarket – but most people put them in the fridge once they arrive at home. Do you think this is true of eggs in the US? Do they necessarily need to be refrigerated at the store? Are our eggs treated differently than the eggs here? Now this I’m curious about! (Side note: the majority of the eggs here have brown shells, not white shells like in the USA!)

Are you ready? I’ve been saving the best for last….

Please excuse me while I gnaw away at my leg of meat with hoof still attached...

This is called Jamon Iberico – and it is one of Spain’s most famous delicacies. Basically it’s a special type of cured ham that comes from a special breed of pigs. (I’m very accurate in my descriptions, aren’t I) 😉 Unlike what I wrote in the comment under the picture – you don’t eat this ham by chewing hunks off of the bone, ¡Ni se te ocurra! Don’t even think about it! Instead, you consume it after you have thinly sliced small paper thin pieces off of the leg.

The result is something like this picture. I’m not much of a pork fan – but I will admit that this stuff is excellent! Unlike any meat I’ve had before – and 100X better than beef jerky or whatever type of cured meat we have in the US. This stuff is pretty pricey though – I think one of those legs at the grocery store was selling for like 70 euros, but you could spend much more! Also, I’m no expert but I know that the best type of ham comes form pigs that were only fed acorns! How funny!

Part V: The check out

Okay, so now that you’ve filled your mini basket with 3/4 kilo bananas, a few yogurts, a quantity of cleaned  and filleted fresh salmon, a few jars of canned asparagus, and some warm milk and eggs (you passed on the jamon since you only brought a 50 Euro bill), you’re ready to pay and walk home!

"I call this my 'desk job'"Now, a women seated on a cushioned rolling office chair will total everything up and send you on your way! I think it’s great that many supermarket cashiers get to sit while they work – it’s kinda unnecessary to make them stand up, right? Ha, I remember when I worked at a chocolate confectionery – one co-worker and I always fantasized about being able to work seated from rolling chairs and have at our disposal long sticks with claws at the end so we could grab the candies without having to get up from our chairs! If only we had know that half of our wish could have come true if we had worked at a supermarket in Spain! 🙂

Phew, that’s all the time I can dedicate to blogging today! Hope you enjoyed this supermarket recap – there are tons of other interesting things that I’ve left out. So I guess if you want the real experience, you’ll have to come to Spain to visit me and see for yourself 😉 Happy shopping and Until the next time!

PS: Other interesting tid-bits:

Coupons are not common at supermarkets.

At this store plastic grocery bags cost 5 cents.

There isn’t a “bagger” , you put the groceries in the bag yourself.

However, in the country of Mexico there are “baggers” (usally teenagers) and it’s customary to tip them!


16 thoughts on “Grocery Shopping Spanish Style

    • Thanks for the comment! Glad you could relate 🙂 I got really excited to see you had written something because you’re the first non family/close friend to respond on my blog! hehe Thanks again!

  1. The check-out is like Aldi! They sit and you bag yourself with mainly the cloth bags. I actually was listening to the radio the other day,and they mentioned how (I assume people from other countries), thought it was weird we kept our eggs in the fridge. And the milk is interesting as well to keep out. I kind of like the idea of no carts, it prevents shoppers from over shopping! That probably just adds to our obesity rate here. Plus after you buy a fair amount of food there, you get to treck home with your bags for extra exercise 😀

    • you got it! 🙂 I think you must have lived in Spain in a previous life 🙂 – I know I`m curious about the egg thing – I wonder if they really do need to be kept refrigerated at the store – seems like a lot of wasted effort/energy!

  2. I was going to ask about hauling the groceries back home after shopping, but I think someone already said you walk them back. But what if you are not in walking distance of the grocery store? Are there so many of them that you can find one on every corner near where you live? Now you have me curious about other types of stores you have in Spain:-) I’m sure you are a fan of them as well! You should go on a tour of D’s pharmacy!

    • We think the same way! The next type of “store” I want to profile is a pharmacy! 🙂 And to answer your questions, yes there are a ton of mini grocery stores where we live (we also live close to the downtown in a a nicer area) – but larger grocery stores do exist like we have in the US and most people drive to those. Oo and there is also a service where the supermarket delivers your groceries to your house for free if your purchase is over a certain amount. I’ve never done that but I’m sure it’s also a popular option.

  3. Some products are “irradiated” which keeps them from following natures actual cycle. I know it’s done to some vegetables, maybe to milk and eggs? Check it out and let me know.

  4. Oh! I forgot! We have the white and green asparagus in glass jars……maybe they are more common in the neighborhood Gold Coast groceries.

  5. Pingback: The Weirdest Things I’ve Consumed in Spain « The Ray in Spain

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