Plaça Comercial once housed the city’s main food market. Shops on the surrounding streets were occupied by food vendors. (Historically, El Born was an area populated by workers and many streets are named after the speciality – for example the glass makers were on C/ del Vidre). In 1972 the Mercado Central was moved to the outskirts of Barcelona into the enormous MercaBarna and with the 1992 Olympics began a slow slide into gentrification.
El Born still retains a lot of charm but more and more, the old and local have been replaced by the new and foreign.
Which is why finding a shop like Jaime J Renobell under the picturesque stone arches of Passeo Picasso instead of a 5-star hotel is noteworthy. Imagine a dusty shop selling lentils and paprika under the arches of Rue de Rivoli in Paris or those of Regent street in London.
For 3 generations, this family have been selling pulses, dried fruit, nuts, flours, spices, sugars and a small range of condiments. Last time they counted, they had 1,700 products on their books.
What I love most about the whole thing is how busy they are. Typically there are about 5 members of staff in green smocks. They are serving customers that walk in off the street, cut to the Catalan grandmother with her shopping trolley who has been buying her pulses here since she was first married. All the while that they are dealing with the public, the staff simultaneously are filling up telephone orders from nearby businesses.
Chances are, they own their shop. I know this to be true of El Magnifico roasters just up the street. Owner Salvador Sans tells me that if he didn’t own his shop, he wouldn’t have been able to stay in business. A fact that was illustrated this week when a gorgeous antique fishing tackle shop Casa Calico announced it’s closure following a 500% (five hundred) rent hike.
It’s a 1/2 kg minimum for most bulk items but trust me, this is the place to stock up. Chocolate, cocoa powder, nuts, pulses – I always leave weighed down and happy.
Jaime J. Renobell
Paseo Picasso 34
08003 El Born