Saturday, January 1, 2011

Madrid: Eating Organic

One of the things I love about Spain is the high quality of the fruit and vegetables.  Spain is among the top agricultural growers in Europe, providing everything from olives to strawberries to milk and bananas.  For those used to seeking out organic produce, however, the experience can be frustrating, especially when you first arrive to Madrid. Organic milk and yogurt are readily available (we buy it at the local Carrefour).  If what you crave are fruits and vegetables without pesticides, that takes more work.

First off, one finds that there simply is no equivalent to Whole Foods.  There are many supermarkets, there are many traditional mercados.  There are not, however, large, organically-minded supermarkets.   I did some exploring. First, when we moved to Spain in 2009,  I visited Natursi and Ecocentro. Natursi is a medium-sized store that sells grains and cereals, perishable items (such as tofu and yogurts) and it has a small organic produce area. The produce was extremely expensive and, for the most part, did not look good. (I know organic fruits may be smaller than those treated, but these looked shrivelled). I like Natursi for buying different kinds of flour. The cornmeal they sell is from Italy, bright yellow-orange, and is of very high quality. They also sell quinoa, many healthy breakfast cereals, and a variety of seeds for sprouting. I’ve also bought dried seaweed, and shelled sunflower and pumpkin seeds in bulk. The prices are high.

Ecocentro has two adjacent stores and a vegetarian restaurant. It is a lovely store, full of stuff: grains, honey, supplements, perishable items, the most expensive maple syrup in the world (from Canada). The produce area is even smaller than at Natursi, and the items are already wrapped in trays. The vegetables and fruit looked fine, but the selection is limited, the prices high, and I prefer to choose my own vegetables instead of buying a prepacked bundle.

I continued searching. I was told the Mercado de Ventas had a floor of organic products. This seemed promising. The Mercado de Ventas is an enormous traditional market, of multiple stories, with hundreds of stalls selling meats, fruits, vegetables and other foods. The organic area was a whole floor, but it was mostly empty. There was some produce, some nuts, eggs and milk, but it looked like a ghost town, with several areas closed and hardly any customers. They had some nice products (including organic breads and wines) but it was not what I was looking for.

At this point, when I was started to get discouraged, I discovered two places I loved: the Alcala de Henares Botanical Gardens and Daiqui. I was surprised: the Alcala Botanical Gardens sells vegetables in the warmer months. In the late spring, summer and early fall, you can go to the gardens, walk to their organic model farm and buy whatever they’ve harvested that morning. They only sell produce on Friday mornings. There’s little variety, but the quality is superb. I did not come upon this place until August. When I finally found it, I bought the most amazing tomatoes, peppers, eggplants. They also sell eggs, but they run out so I never got to try them. They will only sell you one bag of goodies, to promote fairness (they have more customers than produce), and the bags come in two sizes: small and big. Last season, they charged 5 euros for a big bag of veggies and 3 euros for the small ones, which is to say, they give away their bounty. Their peaches had been attacked by bugs last year, but they generally sell peaches too. Maybe I dreamed this place up?

Before I came across the botanical garden above, I found Daiqui, a co-op of organic farmers, located in Ourense (in the region of Galicia, on the northwest corner of Spain, on top of Portugal). They have a website, and every week they update the produce list. Most of the products are from their co-op, but a few come from other organic farms in Spain. They sell most of all vegetables and fruit, but also some packaged organic products (flour, cereal, even some cleaning products). And they sell the most amazing walnuts, in the shell. As a child, I lived in the country in Argentina, and we had a few walnut trees in our property. These walnuts were as good as those I had from our trees.

I’ve placed several orders from Daiqui. A few months ago, you could check their stock online but had to either call them or e-mail them to place an order. Recently, they’ve automated it and you can place the whole order online. The website is in Galician and in Spanish, and its easy to navigate.

You place an order up to Monday and they deliver on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The produce is excellent and super fresh. I was ecstatic when my box arrived: the chard, the green onions, the broccoli were all among the best I’ve ever had in my life. The prices were reasonable for organic produce, especially since I shared an order with my parents, so we could split the shipping charge. (The first time, I paid about 30 euros for a big box of produce, including shipping).

At Daiqui, you can choose your own items, or you can get the preselected mixed box of seasonal items. Right now, you can buy the box for 30 euros if you’re near the farm and 34 euros for the rest of Spain, shipping included. If you buy it right now, the box includes: one green or red cabbage, one bunch of turnip greens, one broccoli or cauliflower, one bunch of leeks, one piece of winter squash, one kilo of carrots, one kilo of onions, two kilos of potatoes, ½ kilo of fresh fava beans, ½ kilo of walnuts, one kilo of chestnuts, one kilo of kiwis and one kilo of apples.

c/ Doctor Fleming 1
28036 Madrid
(next to the Bernabeu stadium)
Another location at c/ Guzman El Bueno 28

C/ Esquilache, 2
 28003 Madrid

Mercado de Ventas
c/ Virgen de la Alegria 10
28027 Madrid

Jardin Botanico Juan Carlos I de Alcala de Henares
Campus de la Universidad de Alcalá.
28805 Alcala de Henares, Madrid



  1. Interesting. I thought organic would be big in europe. Luckily, we are very spoiled here in california with great selection of organic meats, dairy, and produce.

  2. Spain actually grows a lot of organic produce, but it gets shipped to the wealthier European countries, like Germany, France, the UK, the Netherlands, where they are more commonly sold.

    One of the things we miss about Los Angeles is going to the Hollywood Farmers Market on the weekends and getting fresh fruits and vegetables. There are so many options for organic foods there.

  3. How are you guys so prolific with the writing when you are getting ready to travel?????

    Keep it up!

  4. Writing is our break from packing and emptying our apartment! I hope we're able to write even half as much while traveling.

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