Making the most of markets in Spain

Markets are still very much a way of life in Spain. With a vast choice of food and other items, what should you look out for to make sure you get value for money?

Image
One of the joys of Mediterranean life is going to the market. Local people use them, as do tourists, but do they always offer good value? Some Spanish towns have both daily and weekly markets and they serve different purposes. The weekly markets are similar to those in Britain, in that they sell a variety of goods, whereas the daily markets are there to offer fresh produce only.
 

Daily markets - not all stalls are the same

 
When you visit a daily market in a Spanish town, you will probably find stalls both in the market hall and outside. Those inside pay a higher rent and so they may charge more than the stands in the open air. There is another factor in play here, though, and that is competition. There are numerous stalls, so there is a need to keep prices competitive. Some stallholders will regularly have less expensive fruit than others, while their neighbour may offer cheaper lettuces. You need to get to know your local market and the stall owners to get the best value from your shopping trips.
 
You need to get to know your local market and the stall owners to get the best value from your shopping trips
 
In larger towns and cities the markets are very large and pride themselves on the displays that the stallholders create. A visit to La Boqueria in Barcelona, for example, is rather like visiting an art exhibition, as the fruit and vegetables are laid out in wonderful compositions. Of course, you are there to buy, and deciding which stall to use is no easy decision. Walk around and look - just because a fruit is shiny and perfect, doesn’t mean it is really the best on offer. 
 

Use the 'little' people

 
Tucked away in a corner or outside will be the smaller stalls. These are usually the local people selling their own produce. You can’t guarantee that they won’t have used a pesticide, but as chemicals are expensive, they will only use them if really necessary. Often these are the stalls that offer best value and quality, even though the potatoes may be funny shapes and the pears and lemons all different sizes and colours. The prices are generally lower than those of the larger stalls too. The eggs will have been laid that morning and once you become a regular customer you may be given little “treats” like a bunch of parsley, or an extra cabbage.
 
Once you become a regular customer you may be given little “treats” like a bunch of parsley, or an extra cabbage
 
Organic stalls now feature in most markets. They will be local producers and will offer whatever is in season. Expect to pay more, but if you are a believer in the health benefits, what’s a Euro extra here or there?
 
Fish and meat are of course available. They will usually be more expensive than the supermarket, but are good especially for fish caught locally, or for meat reared in the region. If you are buying small quantities, markets, local butchers, or fishmongers are the best choice. 
 

Larger for choice

 
Locals will only sell what is in season and they can grow at the time. For other produce, you need to go to the larger stalls which offer more choice and often have imported fruits and vegetables. Prices will vary. A half a pineapple on one stall can be almost 1€ cheaper than on another. Don’t be afraid to say “no thank you” (no gracias) when you are given a price.
 

Weekly markets - Foods and non-preishables 

 
Every town will have its weekly market, which may be on any one of the seven days of the week. These markets rotate around an area so that there is a market open somewhere nearby all the time. Like food markets, they are open in the mornings, usually until 1.00pm. 
 

Clothes, bags and scarves

 
You will find a large number of stalls selling clothes and accessories, but many are in fact selling the same items all sourced from the same wholesaler and often imported from China. Seek out the stands that sell locally made and designed goods, which may be to one side of the main market. You will pay more for their offerings, but you will get better quality and will be supporting the people in the country in which you live. Of course, we all buy a pretty scarf at 3€, but you know that it wasn’t made in Spain.
 

Kitchen goods, leather and other items

 
Stalls selling kitchenware are there for local people who can’t get to larger shops. They are quite expensive, but you may find that one gadget that you have been looking for, or a particular size frying pan. Shops are generally a better bet for kitchen items, though.
 
Leather goods are top of most people’s list at a market. Well, there is leather, and there is leather. A lot of it is made in China or other countries, so look out for shoes and bags made in Spain
 
Leather goods are top of most people’s list at a market. Well, there is leather, and there is leather. A lot of it is made in China or other countries, so look out for shoes and bags made in Spain. They are better quality and will last, but of course, they will cost more than an imported item (though not necessarily much more). Markets offer good value for shoes in particular - think around 35€ upwards for Spanish made footwear, which is cheap by UK standards and compares favourably to shoe shops in Spain. If you are just looking for summer trainers, sandals or tennis shoes, the markets are definitely worth a visit.
 
Finally, do you need a suitcase or a rug? You can find these and other varied items in Spanish markets. Some are good value, but check the item carefully and if possible ask the stallholder questions. In coastal areas, most market stallholders speak some English. 
 
Haggling is really a thing of the past, sadly. I used to enjoy the banter and the feeling of achievement if I managed to get the price down. Nowadays, market prices are fixed – unless you arrive at 12.55, just as the stall owner is packing up. Then you may walk away with that real bargin after all...

Further reading for Living In Spain

Image

Finding work

There are a number of ways that UK expats can fund their lifestyle in Spain.

Read more..

Image

Social life in Spain

Find out as much as you can about your new community and find new friends.

Read more...

Image

Heathcare

Arrange health insurance and locate your new local hospitals and practices.

Read more...

Image

Education in Spain

Emigrating with school-age children? Learn more about schooling in your local area.

Read more...