Madrid is the capital of one of the healthiest countries in the world, which means that you’re spoiled for choice when shopping for food.
There are grocery stores, indoor and outdoor markets, fishmongers, charcuteries, butchers, bakeries, and delis everywhere. You can find everything you want just by stepping outside your front door and going for a stroll through the barrio on a sunny day.
But how do you go about deciding where to get the good stuff? For starters, it’s time to discard what you thought you knew about grocery shopping, and learn to think like a local. That means saying goodbye to getting everything in one place. Forget supermarkets, and think individual shops and stalls that specialize in just one thing, and sell the highest-quality versions of it.
Here’s how to navigate the different options for grocery stores in Madrid, and ensure you get the best of the best.
Indoor Food Markets
Every neighborhood has its own indoor market, and shopping there is an integral part of Spanish culture. Locals will be on a first-name basis with vendors, who probably already know what many of their customers want out of habit. That’s pretty impressive for such a large capital city—each neighborhood is like a village.
What to shop for at an indoor food market in Madrid
- Produce. Here’s the key equation for getting fruit and vegetables: seasonal plus local equals better tasting produce and more sustainable agriculture. Find out what’s in season, make sure it’s grown locally and go for that.
- Cured meats and cheeses. Look for delis and charcuteries, then brace yourself for some major indecision. Acorn-fed Iberian ham, cecina (dried and salted meat) from León, Asturian blue cheese, Spain’s famed Manchego—you name it, any deli stand worth its salt will have it.
- Seafood! Wait, what? Madrid doesn’t have a sea. True. But as the capital of a country surrounded by the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, the freshest and best quality seafood is shipped to Madrid first thing every morning.
- Beef, pork and poultry at the butcher (often in separate stalls). On the other hand, sometimes you’ll find the butcher sharing the same stall with those selling cheeses and cured meats.
How to shop at an indoor food market in Madrid
- Go in the mornings to beat the crowds. Most stalls close in the afternoons, between 2–5 p.m., and some won’t open again till the next day.
- Don’t expect an orderly single-file line. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a ticket from the dispenser to know when your turn is. Otherwise you need to find out who’s last in line, by asking, “¿Quién es el último?” (Who’s last?). Wait for that person to take their turn and then when the vendor to calls out “Siguiente!” (Next!), you’re up!
- Usually the vendor does the picking for you, so don’t touch the products!
- Get used to thinking in kilos and grams, as opposed to pounds. A kilo is around 2.2 pounds.
- Don’t buy seafood on Mondays. In Spain fishermen don’t go fishing on Sundays. You want your aquatic goods fresh!
- Keep things local and seasonal by buying organic produce directly from the growers themselves at a weekend farmer’s market.
For a more in-depth explanation on market etiquette in Spain, take a look at our guide to Spanish food markets.
Delis, Gourmet Grocery Stores and Vegetarian & Vegan Grocery Stores in Madrid
Remember that much of what you can get from indoor markets is also available at individual shops lining your neighborhood streets. What to get and the protocol for getting it is pretty much the same as at the indoor markets, but it can be hard to know where to go.
If you want the best of the best, rest assured, Madrid is home to many well-established gourmet food shops that are clean, cozy, and welcoming. There’s also a growing number of vegan and vegetarian shops in Madrid to satisfy the growing demand for plant-based products.
These gems are basically old school Spanish convenience or grocery stores. Sadly there aren’t as many left as there used to be, but a select few are still holding on. Shopping at one is a very Spanish way to stock up on all kinds of foodie treasures including honey, liquor, salted cod, sacks of legumes, pickled peppers and many special canned goods.
At some places you might want to bring an empty bottle of wine or olive oil so you can fill up straight from the barrel!
How to shop at an ultramarino like a local:
- Just as in the indoor markets, ask “Quién es el último?” (“who’s the last in line?”). Lines aren’t a thing here. Knowing who’s last will let you know who you go after.
- Once again, you’ll be ordering by weight, and in kilograms.
- Since most ultramarinos have been replaced by supermarkets and newer convenience stores some of those remaining have been modernized with their own bar and a restaurant, where you can taste their goods before deciding what to buy! Visit Cuenllas to see one like this.
Insider’s tip: Madrid is home to the oldest ultramarino in Spain, opened in 1870. A step inside is a blast into the past. Go there!
It is indeed a Spanish custom to go to the nearest bakery—which very well may be right below your apartment—and snag a big loaf of recently baked bread to take home for breakfast.
For the true bread lovers out for the best loaves, here’s a list of tips collected from the experts.
How to spot a good bakery in Madrid (and in the rest of Spain):
- Variety is actually not always a good thing, especially if it’s a place with few bakers. Avoid establishments with many different types of bread, but with just a few samples of each, and with few bakers. That’s an indicator that the bread isn’t actually homemade, but just baked on the premises.
- You see bakers busy at their work stations covered in flour and dough. Though it may not be baking time when you’ve dropped by, a bakery with no traces of flour anywhere should raise suspicion.
- The aroma of the place makes your taste buds sizzle before you’ve even had a bite.
- The bread you get isn’t light as a feather—the real deal should have some weight to it.
- Real bakers know their bread, and are proud of the fresh loaves and rolls they have to offer. They will lovingly share their wisdom with you regarding what to choose. If you speak a little Spanish, you’ll know you’re in the right place if the bakers there have a lot to say about what they make.
Isaac’s passion for food and culture has grown steadily after living abroad since 2005. He sees Madrid as a magical playground where it’s so easy to get around on foot, and there are always so many different things to do. You could say he has traveled quite a bit, but his favorite way to travel is through the written word.