For anyone planning on getting a small apartment for rent in Barcelona for a short stay, it is worthwhile learning how to feed yourself on a limited budget so that you can get the most out of your experience and your budget. Although Spain is currently undergoing a recession and food is available from most cafes at very reasonable prices, you’ll save a lot of money if you make the effort to cook at home. There are dozens of markets located all over the city, some that are open every day of the week, and others that operate as farmers markets that only trade on certain days and times, and with a little bit of know-how, the right equipment and time to invest in shopping and cooking, you’ll be able to enjoy the sights of Barcelona and only spend about 30 Euro a week. Here’s how.
To start, get yourself into the right mindset. Just because you’re eating cheap doesn’t mean you diet has to be unbalanced, nor your food poor. The wonderful thing about having fresh produce markets at your disposal is that it is they are typically cheaper than the supermarkets and of comparable quality. Added to that the proliferation of good quality seafood that is available in Barcelona and accessible butchers, or carnicerias, as well, you aren’t forced into dining out for every meal to get a healthy meal. You can cook tasty, well balanced meals at home for less than you’d spend otherwise as long as you remind yourself that it is possible. Added to that the pleasure gained from enjoying something you’ve created for yourself with ingredients you’ve picked up that day and you’ll never want to shill out paper money for a cafe breakfast again. It is simply a matter of considered shopping and a little bit of leg work.
To start with, it helps to have a list of recipes under your belt that you are confident in creating yourself. If you are a little bit more open minded, free yourself from recipes and explore the markets to discover what is cheapest. A good rule of thumb is to maintain at least one source of starch for each meal, so get some rice, pasta, lentils (the classic Spanish favourite), potatoes and bread to be the cornerstones of your meals. All of these will cost a pittance here, as they make up the bulk of people’s diets. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also at the lower end of the price index in terms of consumables, so load up on things that have versatility in the kitchen. Aromatic vegetables like onions, celery, carrots, fennel and capsicum are indispensable in the kitchen as they are included in most soup, stock and stir fry recipes, and have the added benefit of storing well in the crisper draw, so be sure to include these staples in any shopping trip.
The next step will be your protein. Your shopping budget each week can be extraordinarily reduced if you maintain a vegetarian diet but if you can’t bear the idea of not having some sort of meat or fish in your meals, approach the issue with the cost in mind as a factor. The cheapest cuts of meat are usually the fatty cuts, or cuts that have a lot of connective tissue. These cuts don’t lend themselves to styles of cooking like frying or grilling, however they are perfect for casseroles, stews, soups and braises – anything that involves a long cooking time, so try and include these styles of meals into your weekly rotation of recipes. Another smart option is to buy whole cuts and portion them yourself. It does take a little practise to cut apart and portion a whole chicken or fish into a week’s worth of meals, but you have the added bonus of the carcase, or fins and head, of the animal to turn into soup or use as a base for stock that can add a flavour kick to another recipe later in the week.
The last cheap cooking tip revolves around oils and fats. Olive oil is a staple in almost every meal in Spain, and is much cheaper here than in other countries, so try substituting olive oil into your recipes instead of other fats. Keep in mind that extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoke point, so it’s not practical for things you cook at high temperatures (think stir-fries, grilled meats and pan-frying), but it adds a layer of fresh grassiness to any meal it is introduced to. It’s also indispensable in salads, and if you want to try marinating your own ‘boquerones’ (something I’d definitely recommend you try) you can’t go past it. If you want to add an extra dimension of flavour but don’t want to use olive oil, the fattiness of chorizo is a great alternative. Similar to bacon drippings, the roasted paprika flavour can be substituted into any recipe to give a flavour boost to simple pastas and salads.
Once you have your recipe rota decided upon, and have done your shopping and cooking to, there is still other ways to cut down on your food costs and time spent in the kitchen. Any time you’ve made too much of a particular dish, save your leftovers to use as an easy tapas-style dinner when you’re feeling lazy, or as flavour additions to other meals later in the week. Left over chicken soup can be used as stock for a risotto a few days later, left over marinara sauce can be added to a ragyu or curry later in the week and any bones can be saved to make stock that can be frozen and used up to three months later. Granted, this isn’t as useful if you’re only planning on staying for a few days, but if you’re looking for an apartment rental in Barcelona for a few months, forward planning, thoughtful shopping and frugality in the kitchen can help save hundreds of euro which can then be spent on enjoying everything else Barcelona has to offer.