Friday, July 26, 2013

How to grocery shop in Madrid

I've written a guide to eating out at restaurants in Spain, but what if you're new to Madrid or Spain and need to buy some groceries?




Main grocery stores

Here are the main grocery stores in Madrid (also found throughout Spain):

Mercadona


Mercadona
Source: Wikipedia

Mercadona was by far my favorite grocery store in Madrid last year, so I'm listing it first.  During my first year in Madrid I didn't live near one (they're aren't too many in the city), so I never went.  This past year there was a Mercadona right next to my Tues/Weds school, so I went often.  It's always clean and there's a great selection of items.  This is where I'd buy hummus and gluten-free items (they have lots!).  Highly recommended.



Dia
Dia
Dia, Source

All three apartments in which I lived in Madrid were all about a block from a Dia supermarket.  Dia has cheaper prices, so I'd go there more frequently for basics and every day purchases, like baguettes and rice.  If you're living in Madrid, get a Dia card -- you get new coupons every month.  Just ask about it at the check-out counter and they'll give you a slip to fill out with your name and address.


Carrefour
Carrefour
Carrefour, Source
My favorite reusable bags (pictured below) came from Carrefour -- but I never shopped here regularly during my two years in Madrid.  It just wasn't the closest grocery store to me, but I think the quality's great! [Update: While living in France from 2015-16 I shopped regularly at Carrefour and really love it.]

Carrefour reuseable bags, Spain
Source


OpenCor
OpenCor
OpenCor, Source

I never shopped here regularly, since there's a much smaller selection and higher prices, but take note that OpenCor is open 18 hours a day (until 3am), 365 days a year.  I went here on New Year's Eve with my grandma and mother when they visited, since every other grocery store was closed for the holiday.  


Alcampo

Alcampo
Alcampo, Source

Alcampo is gigantic.  It sells more than just groceries: clothes, books, musical instruments, electronics, school supplies, etc.  So if you can't find something at a smaller grocery store, chances are high that you can find it in Alcampo.  There aren't many in the city since they're so big; I can think of two Alcampos that I know of in Madrid.  So if you go, prepare yourself for lots of people and a huge store.  My Tues/Weds school last year was near an Alcampo (across the street from Mercaonda), so I'd go there a few times when I wanted a bigger/different selection.


Corte Inglés


Corte Inglés (Source) Supermercado, Source

Don't go grocery shopping here!  Unless you have piles of money to use up, that is -- Corté Inglés is an expensive place to grocery shop.  They do have a wider selection of health food / dietary restriction items though, so you might want to explore it just to know what's available.

Two other grocery stores off the top of my head are Eroski and SuperSol.  I don't have anything special to say about them - they're just more grocery stores you might happen to live by in Madrid.


Eroski
Eroski, Source


superSol, Source

Important things to know about grocery shopping in Spain


- Bring your own plastic or reusable bags.
You'll have to pay a few cents for each bag you need at most grocery stores.

- Don't touch the fruit!  
If the fruit is self-serve, there will be plastic gloves readily available.  In Spain you must be wearing a glove to touch the fruit.  At other grocery stores someone works behind the fruit counter -- tell them what you want and they'll touch the fruit and bag it for you.

- Bring change and have patience in line.  
Some grocery stores have a minimum amount you must purchase in order to pay with a debit/credit card (at Dia it's 14 euros).  Most people still pay with cash and count out exact change, so be prepared.  Not all places (Dia, for example) are always able to break 20s and 50s.  I'll never forget the first time I was waiting in line at a Dia, and the cashier asked everyone in line if they had a $5 or a $10.  Someone from the line passed up a $5 so the cashier could make change for the current customer.  This happened often enough there, but the first time I was really surprised.

- Milk and eggs will not be refrigerated.  
Milk is prepared differently in Spain (Europe?), so the boxes of milk don't need to be refrigerated until after you open it.  I found this kind of nice, because you could stock up and buy six bricks at a time, then leave them in the cupboard.  I put my eggs in the fridge after I bought them, but for whatever reason they're not refrigerated in the store.

- Peanut butter is not a Spanish staple.
You can find most food items from the USA in Spanish grocery stores, but not peanut butter!  Try an herbolario -- that's where I bought my rice milk.  Herbolarios also have vegetarian, low sugar, and diet foods.

- You can take single items from packs.
This mostly applies to beverages, and it's fantastic. You can take out a single can of soda from a six-pack's plastic rings, or open up the plastic from a package of 2-L water bottles to take however many you need. That's why you'll see open packs on the shelves. (You'll notice the price listed is per single unit.) I've also seen yogurt packs split apart to take however many singles you want—but not the kind with a cardboard case around the yogurts.

- Grocery stores are closed on Sundays.  
This one took a while to get used to, since Sunday is the grocery shopping day in the states.  Plan ahead and make sure on Saturday that you have what you need to get you through the weekend, otherwise you might be stopping at an OpenCor!


Did you find this post helpful?

Take a look around the rest of the blog, and feel free to email me if you have any other Spain questions! (rebewithaclause [at] gmail [dot] com)

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Gracias!

27 comments:

  1. Thanks. This is super helpful. I was trying to figure out which grocery stores had the best quality of fresh fruits and veggies. :)

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    1. Glad it was helpful! Does your neighborhood have a frutería? That's another great place for quality veggies at a good price : )

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  2. Gotta say thanks for all the useful information around here! I'm moving with my girlfriend mid-october and I try to get as much info as possible! Do you know how much money we have to plan in for an unfurnished "exterior" apartment, in a safe area, supermarket/metro super close and other entertainment in walking distance (5-15min)?

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    1. Thanks for commenting - glad you're finding useful information, Rob!

      It shouldn't be hard to find a supermarket nearby, as the majority of people in Madrid walk to their grocery store multiple times a week. Cost of apartments does vary based on your neighborhood, so it really depends where in the city you'd like to live. I've also only ever looked for single rooms, not rooms/apartments for a couple, so I would browse some of the apartment-searching websites that I list on this post to get an idea of current rates for what you're looking for. Hope that helps!

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    2. Hi Rebecca! Just read this page again as we arrived yesterday and wanted to thank you once again! ;)

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    3. You're welcome! I really hope you enjoy living in Madrid!

      Feel free to email with any other questions you may have as you settle in.

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  3. Hi Rebecca ,

    i really found your post VERY Useful , i have been in Madrid for 3 weeks and will return there to live 3 more YEARS !! i had hard time to find items in the grocery stores with English Nut. Facts and all that , do you have any idea if any of the above Grocery stores do have an English ingredients and facts written on ! as one of my kids is allergic and it would be reaaallyy helpful to know that there is a store

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    1. Hi Suad! Glad the post is useful to you! There is an "American Store" in Madrid, but everything is way more expensive than the Spanish brands, so it wouldn't be a place to do your everyday grocery shopping. It's more a place for Americans to treat themselves with something from home every once and a while.

      If one of your children has a nut allergy, I recommend getting an allergy card in Spanish (Here's one site that sells them, but you can look around for others). Then you could use it at grocery stores until you learn which products to avoid and which are safe. Mercadona is a great grocery store to try. Good luck!

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  4. This post is very helpful! My daughter recently left to study in Spain for a semester and I was wondering if there are any on-line grocery stores that I can order food for her and have it delivered to her apartment? I used asda when my son was in Scotland. Anything like that in Madrid?

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    1. Hey there! Just google "comprar alimentos online" which is basically "buy groceries online". There are plenty, including bigger ones like "carrefour". But even with limited to no knowledge of Spanish, supermarkets are a breeze - and very cheap!

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    2. What a great idea! When I lived in Korea, I'd order from iherb.com because shipping was only $4! And it came in ~3 days! You could check and see if that's the case for shipping to Spain as well (ships from California, website is in English).

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    3. That is also a great idea! Unfortunately many people (including me!) are clueless about how the whole "import taxes" situation is resolved. In some countries (and some delivery companies) are you asked to pay on delivery, other times you have to go to customs and pay there (which is a huge pain in the butt!) and sometimes you are not asked for taxes at all. Somebody with knowledge care to shed any light on this matter?! :)

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    4. Thanks for the input... keep it coming! My daughter will grocery shop herself- but I'd like to send some treats that she wouldn't buy for herself- including a birthday cake for her birthday next week.

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    5. True, Rob—I'd forgotten about the differences in customs between the two countries. I bet a box of goods worth more than $20 would be slapped with a nice fee upon entering Spain.

      If you want to send treats that she wouldn't buy for herself, I'd buy peanut butter and other U.S. candy she can't easily find in Spain (send whatever she likes) and mail it in a package. Don't insure the package, and write that its value is $20 or less. Otherwise she'll have to pay a big fee to even receive the package, and sometimes this involves a trip to the airport, which is a HUGE pain.

      I never had trouble receiving packages, including a brand new kindle, and that's what my mom did when sending stuff in the mail. Good luck!

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  5. The milk thing is definitely not European, I'm from the Netherlands but unfortunately can't stand the milk sold in Spain. Some of the bigger supermarkets will have cold milk.

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    1. Hah, thanks for sharing! I don't eat dairy, so I drank rice milk when living in Spain—don't even know what their "regular" milk tastes like!

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    2. Hah, i knew i wouldnt be the only dutch person immediatly going 'no its definitely not a european thing!'. i always fight over the milk thing with my boyfriend (spanish), he wants the unfridgerated milk so you can - as you said - stock up. i find spanish milk and just the idea of milk that holds forever disgusting and cant deal with anything other than 'normal' milk, meaning the fresh, dutch kind ;)

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  6. Surprisingly, Dia sells a quite excellent 74% dark chocolate bar for a remarkably low price.
    I hoped to order a large number of them online at the following URL, but they only seem to ship within Spain.
    Any ideas?
    http://www.dia.es/compra-online/products/breakfast-sweets-and-bread/chocolates-and-sweets/bars/p/71852

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    1. Yes, they only ship within Spain! I guess you'll need to make a Spanish friend? :)

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  7. We have just booked to visit Madrid arriving next Good Friday! Should I be prepared to pack some food in suitcase? All grocery shops will be closed?

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    1. Hi there! OpenCor will be open, as it's open 365 days a year! :)

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    2. Others will probably be open as well, but the entire OpenCor chain will be open—so not to worry!

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  8. Hello!
    I am from Spain and I look for an American product, ha,ha, so maybe this is not the best post, but I'll ask anyway: does anybody know where I can find "Coast" soap in Spain? I am from Alicante but any online shop with delivery is find with me. I really want that specific soap, I have a history with it :)

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    1. Hi there! I'm not sure if this soap is sold anywhere in Spain, but maybe you could order it online from the USA? Here are the stores where it's sold there: http://www.coastsoap.com/where-to-buy/
      Good luck!

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  9. Thanks so much for this post! We are moving to Spain (utrera, andalucia) and people keep telling me how much different grocery shopping is there and as I have a husband and 3 kids to cook for I've been trying to figure out what is so different! So thanks for the info!

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    1. You're welcome, Jojo! The other element is that you can also buy your fruits/veggies from a frutería, bread from a panadería, meat from a carnicería, etc. So you can get various ingredients from specialized shops, or find all of it at a supermarket.

      I really enjoy grocery shopping in Spain, hope you do too! Best of luck with the move!

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