Food and Retailing Cultures: Zaragoza

On a few occasions before, I have come back from somewhere and commented on the quality of food and/or retail culture that I have observed. I have then contrasted it with our own paucity of offer. I know this can be an unfair contrast and there are good things being done here, but it is a contrast nonetheless. Whether it is Lisbon (Part One and Part Two), Helsinki, (twice), Rome or in this case Zaragoza, it puts our cities in the shade.

The latest EAERCD (don’t ask) conference was held in Zaragoza last week. We flew to Madrid and then caught a non-stop train to Zaragoza; it clocked over 300km/h on the way and was light years ahead of anything in the UK. Contrast One.

On the last day there we did have a couple of hours to wander the centre and old town and two further contrasts caught my eye. The first was the food. Italy gets most of the plaudits but the food culture in Spain gives it a run for its money. This was brought home in Zaragoza Central Market.

The Market itself appears to be based normally in a large building in the form of a standard (if impressive) market. This is undergoing renovation. I fear that in the UK in a similar situation some odd compromise would be in place and the stall holders would be left to try to fend for themselves. Here, a pop up portakabin market hall had been developed and stall holders traded from there.

As the photos show, the market is thriving with fabulous displays of fish, meat and fruit and veg. The range and quality was far in excess of what we see normally and in our supermarkets. I also liked the bags to take your whole Iberico ham home in – that tells you a lot about the food culture. As did the offal and tripe stall; people know about food. Contrast Two.


Wandering around the centre in the cool of the morning (it would be too hot later) it was also clear that Zaragoza had pride in some of its historical stores. A collection of historical shops and cafes, exhibiting a nice variety of signs and lettering as well as store styles, had been protected from the march of time. These were not as numerous or as splendid as in Lisbon, but in total they really said something about pride in place. A further contrast.


The collection of photos here illustrates some of the stores, signs and lettering. They speak of a bygone era but have a role in the present. The fact many of the photos show closed stores is purely a function of the time of day. But who can’t be impressed by the signs and the style exhibited? Our equivalents have in most places been lost; and in that we have lost so much more than a sign or a building. Our sense of place and identity has also been much diminished.


About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Architecture, Consumer Lifestyle, Food, Food Retailing, Heritage, Lisbon, Local Retailers, Markets, Places, Retail History, Retail Planning, Shopfronts, Signage, Spaces, Streetscapes, Town Centres, Uncategorized, Urban History and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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