Thursday, July 15, 2010

Shopping in Asturias

One of the biggest challenges since relocation has been to alter our mindset from one of "I want something - I'll go to the shop and get it now" to, "I need something - I'll put that on the list for future reference". The shopping experience is a completely different concept to what Luis and I are both used to. Partly this is due to the cultural differences i.e the economy (consumerism happened much later here), opening times (most shops close at 1pm until 5pm and do not open after lunch on Saturday for the rest of the weekend), perception of food (fast food and food on the hoof is just taking off), and partly due to our location, living an hour away from a largish city means that larger or unusual purchases have to planned for. I use the word challenge as it has meant learning a whole new way of thinking and behaving.

Ideally it would be great if we no longer had to use shops and were totally self-sufficient but that is unlikely to happen although increasingly we rarely have to buy fresh vegetables and provide for most of our needs though growing our own or receiving food as gifts from villagers and family (there is an informal network of excess food exchange). This can include: eggs, fresh rabbit, fruit, cider, vegetables, meat, and preserved food such as Pisto and chorizo.

Markets are plentiful in and around Asturias and although interesting to wander through and browse they tend to be expensive for fresh foods such as cheese and fruit so we source cheese from a local factory outlet where it is about half the price. Flour, we buy in bulk - organic, in sacks, 25Kg a time sourced from a local organic farmer who buys in bulk. A number of specialist markets visit throughout the year including artesan/craft, clothing and jewellery. Vans offering various goods still visit the villages either daily or weekly - the bakers, frozen goods, fruit and vegetables and ice cream van (9pm on a Thursday evening!)to name a few. Scrap collection vans tour the villages weekly calling out for metal and machines and every couple of months the whistle of the peddling knife and scissor sharpener can be heard advertising his services around the lanes.

Local supermarkets are small and have limited stock but useful for a small weekly shop. The larger supermarkets and superstores (DIY, Electrical and Clothing) tend to be in the larger cities such as Oviedo or Gijon. We tend to plan our trips to these shops and purchase bulk and/or items that are difficult to source locally.

One of the joys of shopping here is the plethora of small independent shops like I remember from my childhood in the UK, the hardware shops (Ferrateria) where you can buy just 6 screws if you wanted all neatly wrapped up in paper or the numerous bakeries, each known for their own speciality cakes or bread. There are local butchers selling fresh, good quality locally produced meat and products, haberdasheries, dressmakers who will shorten trousers or repair clothing, old fashioned shoe shops where you have a choice of 10 styles, barbers where the menfolk gather to gossip, the agricultural cooperative where you can buy seeds/seedlings, plants and fruit trees, plus a range of local craftsmen producing anything you like in wood, metal, glass...Each shop with it's own quirky character (note the sign for the Ferreteria held together with masking tape!) and ambience, some helpful, some not so helpful, most well stocked however dated it may be, all in all much preferred to the faceless chains and large corporations. Fish can be bought fresh from the docks if you are discreet (fishmongers and restaurants take priority).

What this means to us is that we need to plan much more than we used to, we need to shop around for best prices and higher quality, and we are much more aware of the mindless shopping and consumerism we were seduced by back in the UK. Breaking away from the large supermarket culture has its downside but supporting smaller local businesses and enterprise certainly makes life more interesting.


  1. Sounds ideal , a real step back in time.

    I live in a village , though not remote, and i love our "storecupboard dinners" I guess organisation and a bit of spaontaneity at the market(what looks good on the day) keeps it interesting!

    I am new to your blog and love the lifestyle you have created for yourselves . Just don't know how you cope with the heat!

  2. Thanks for your comments - few more mountains here than Lincolnshire! The heat isn't bad here on the north coast - rarely gets above 26 degrees in Summer and rarely drops below 0 degrees in Winter.


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